Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Perils of Listening in English, Part 1

Being a ferry-louping in-comer, from south of the river (or at least the Pentland Firth), it's taking me a while to tune my ear in to some of the Orcadian dialect.

Both Our Lass and I have become aware that the language continuum between English and full bore Orcadian is much wider than the 'either one or the other' that we had initially thought.

In conversations with work colleagues, customers or clients, it has been apparent that there's a level of dialect which can only be described as 'half throttle'. By this I mean that it is delivered slower and with fewer dialect words than if the conversation is between two Orcadians.

At this early stage in our education, we are grateful for this relaxation of the official language, especially as two Orcadians in conversation would not necessarily speak in this fashion.

Having said that, there are pitfalls aplenty and, unfortunately, yesterday I committed a faux pas at work. A customer pointed across the yard and asked if we wanted any chairs for our recycling site. My gaze followed in the direction of his outstretched arm and I saw several plastic chairs stacked beside a walkway. I quickly responded with a full description of the usefulness of plastic chairs for a project that donates loose items of scrap to schools to encourage creative and imaginative play at break times.

The customer listened intently and patiently, but with an increasing amount of confusion. When I paused for breath, he hurriedly said, "Not chairs... chars! Those glass chars over there."

In the Orcadian dialect, the English 'j' is pronounced 'ch', especially at the beginning of words. And I had walked straight into the linguistic minefield.

Crestfallen, I looked beyond the chairs to a box that was full of empty jars.

"Er, yeah, we accept those, too," was all I sheepishly managed to say, as I looked for a handy fish box to crawl under.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mellow meander midst a meadow

An email arrived in my inbox at the weekend, inviting Orkney Field Club members to a wildflower walk in a meadow near Finstown. We had not attended any OFC meetings for several months, due to other stuff getting in the way, so we jumped at the chance to immerse ourselves in a bit of natural history.

I met Our Lass as she left work and we went into Kirkwall for tea. This was a treat, too, as we don't eat out so much these days. Then we drove over to Finstown for 18.30 to meet up with the group.

It was a sunny evening, though with a north easterly breeze, as fourteen of us climbed up towards Heddle Hill, pausing only to look at the splendid display of blooms in the community garden.

The meadow in question is unimproved (no fertiliser, so low in nutrients), with underlying sandstone bordering on limestone. It is grazed through the winter by sheep and cattle, which helps to keep the grass sward in check and increases the chances of wildflower seed dispersal and a good contact with the soil.

Immediately upon entering the pasture, it was obvious that it was a special place, with plenty of Northern Marsh and Heath Spotted Orchid (plus a fair bit of hybridisation). Also in profusion were Common Twayblade, Butterwort, Lousewort and Lady's Mantle.

Fewer in number, but a joy to see, were Fairy Flax, Moonwort, Ragged Robin, Eyebright, Wild Thyme and a Speedwell species, plus a small amount of Bog Asphodel that won't flower for several weeks yet.

Unimproved? In a way, it's a bizarre description. How can you better this?
Heath Spotted Orchid, Dactylorhiza maculata
Moonwort, Botrychium lunaria
Possibly... Marsh Lousewort, Pedicularis palustris
Unidentified fungi
Our thanks to Penny Martin, Jenny Taylor and John Crossley for organising and guiding this field trip.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Tuesday's Gone

The rock cognoscenti amongst you may recognise the above name of a track from Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Pronounced...' album, but this post has more to do with High North than the Deep South.

When we moved to Orkney from Milton Keynes, we knew there would be some things we would miss, like big bunches of trees and near constant birdsong, and also some things we would not miss, like the drone of motorway traffic and the lack of far horizons. What was harder to quantify was figuring out which things would surprise us for better or worse, in a not too dissimilar way to Mr Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns.

Of late, I had come to realise there was a small gap in my weekly routine, a tiny unfilled moment, that was only noticeable through the lack of some... undefined... thing. What the heck was it? It nagged at me for a while, until my thoughts and a particular day of the week and a realisation achieved a perfect syzygy.

Bell practice at St Andrew's Church in Great Linford. See under Regular Activities on the linked document.

I hasten to add that I didn't participate in this cacophony of campanological capers, I was merely an interested bystander, soaking up the atmosphere of listening to the gentle peal of the bells as the tolling sounds wafted across paddocks, canal and open spaces between St Andrew's churchyard and the garden of Tense Towers.

Every Tuesday evening.

It was a permanent fixture of our life in Milton Keynes. One that was so subliminal, yet so defining of place, an English village church bringing sonic succour to this pagan's ears.

And I miss it.

Fortunately, another Tuesday night ritual has presented itself. In Orkney. In Summer. Holm Sailing Club's snipe racing in St. Mary's Bay, just the other side of Churchill Barrier 1 and viewable from OTT.

Some sort of cosmic harmony has been restored.

Tuesday's Back... with the wind.


I've been having problems with Blogger for a few days, but couldn't figure out where I'd gone wrong, let alone how to correct my error.

So my sincere apologies to a few of my fellow bloggers, who had to suffer a bit of a rant as I unloaded my frustration onto the page. Sorry, people :o(

The reading list of blogs that I follow normally shows the latest 30 or so posts. Of late it only showed 1, and although it offered a 'View more' button, this was not functioning. I searched high and low for some spurious check box that I must've accidentally activated, but without any success.

This has meant that posts from bloggers that I'm following have been published but I don't have a ready means of knowing that, unless I happen to log on whilst their post is still the latest one to appear.

It turns out that it's a known issue with Blogger, not a Tense fubar.

I guess it's probably best if I just chill now and wait for the cavalry.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

One less brick in the wall

This news story caught my attention this morning.

Whilst not big on the monotheistic Abrahamic religions, I can appreciate that this project is a step in the right direction, away from the fundamentalist cliff edge of the world going to hell in a handcart.

It is a small ray of hope, shining out from a once dark place.

Interestingly, I recall from a 1988 visit to East Berlin (as it was then), the strange tale of the television transmitting tower. This tower can be seen in the background of the photo accompanying the linked BBC report. It was built in the late 1960s, by the Communist authorities of the German Democratic Republic, and completed shortly after a campaign to remove the crosses from all the churches in East Berlin. The Communists weren't big on religion, full stop.

Unfortunately for the regime, light striking the globe of the tower produced the effect that is amply displayed in the accompanying photo... a cross. All attempts to scatter the light and prevent the manifestation failed, so it became known locally as the 'Pope's revenge'.

Strix-ly for the birds

On Thursday this week, there were a few ruffled political feathers when the Labour Party press team's Twitter account was hacked.

Other political parties, the media and just about everyone else, then made hay with the comedic potential of the situation.

I couldn't help a little chuckle myself, if I'm honest, until I considered my position.

Sat in our lounge, I pondered my circumstances. Not including those featured in the bird ID books on the shelves to my right, I was surrounded by a veritable flock of owls. They are the ornaments in vogue, it would appear, successfully out-competing my dragonflies and hares.

For clarity, the collective noun for a group of owls, whether in an Orcadian lounge or in slightly more natural surroundings, is a parliament (yes, really!) or a stare.

I also chuckled at the hyphen that had 'accidentally' crept into the BBC reporter's name in the linked story.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?"

(It's a rubbish interview question, not least because if I'd tried to answer it five years ago, I would have been so wide of the mark, the application form would have needed to be size A0.)

But the point is... well... this is a bit of a milestone... it's my 500th blogpost on Imperfect and Tense.

So, in recognition of where it all began in 2009, with a little encouragement from Second Born and that first tentatively spurious reference to Dodie Smith, I give you 2014's version of my profile picture.

"I read this sitting in the kitchen sink..."

This post refers to the launch of the 'other' photo.
But what's that logo?


My immense gratitude to Our Lass for the photos, to Second Born for the fantastic shirt and to Dodie Smith for writing 'I capture the castle'.

And on a solstice too. Hopefully, bang on the Summer solstice to the very minute (09.51GMT, apparently).

Friday, 20 June 2014

Back title

Who's this scouring the map shelf for inspiration?

Photo courtesy of Our Lass
My thanks to Second Born for a wonderful gift :o)

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Static electricity

About mid-month, I receive bank and credit card statements, so spend a pleasant half hour of an evening ploughing through these and a pile of receipts, attempting to reconcile the whole shebang.

Much tippetty tapping ensues on the computer keyboard, an occasional frown crosses my visage when things don't add up and, as happened this evening, complete befuddlement occurs when something odd crops up.

We haven't paid for any electricity for two whole months... not a bean... narda... £0.00.

Now that's a tariff to savour.

'Cept it'll all end in tears, of course. So I sent a chatty email to the company who I thought were my energy provider and I'm now waiting for an electronic reply, or an urgent knocking at the door, or a loud "Ker chung!" as all power to OTT is shut dow

Friday, 13 June 2014

Life sentence

Earlier in the week, I arrived in town a little early for a dental appointment. To pass the time, I popped into the Orkney Library to scour the 'Gardening' shelves for a book on polytunnels.

This endeavour proved unsuccessful, but another book did catch my eye...

The sub-title is 'How vagabond plants gatecrashed civilisation and changed the way we think about nature'.

This isn't going to be a book review, especially as I've only just started reading it, but mainly because plenty of better folk than I have already written excellent articles about the book. Here's a selection:

So, not long later, there I was sat in the dentist's waiting room, leafing through its lush pages.

One of the first sentences that I read stated ominously:

"Dock seeds still germinate freely after sixty years."

So it rather looks like the Rumex obtusifolius in our garden will easily outlast me.

Sunday, 8 June 2014


At the end of May, when we returned from holiday, the OTT garden had changed character. Whilst the mild weather had encouraged the docks to grow, they were no longer the tallest plants in the garden. To our surprise, that honour (if that's the correct terminology) went to a crop of an agricultural-looking Brassica species.

Photo courtesy of Our Lass
Photo courtesy of Our Lass
During the past week, I have been weeding an area at the front of the house. It's where we tend to sit in the evenings, perhaps with a glass of wine, watching the world and its wildlife go by and monitoring the sun on its trajectory to setting (which, at the moment, is after 22.15). Hidden amongst the more invasive plants have been some real wildflower gems, such as Common Ramping Fumitory and Hemp Nettle (ID thanks must go to John Crossley, the Orkney plant recorder, whose helpful advice is absolutely invaluable).

Common Ramping Fumitory, Fumaria muralis. Photo courtesy of Our Lass
This morning dawned bright and clear, with a warm sun and the lightest of breezes. Washing up after breakfast, it was fantastic to look out of the kitchen window and see loads of butterflies nectaring around the garden. Later, we went out to investigate, and discovered that they were mainly Large Whites and Red Admirals, but with plenty of Silver Y moths as well. It struck me as odd that most of the insects (also including the bees and flies) were visiting the Brassicas rather than the as-plentiful Buttercups. 

The unloved Buttercup patch
Brassica Central
Our Lass pointed out that none of the surrounding fields had any Brassicas as a crop, so she recommended that I had better leave some available for the insects, as opposed to ripping them all out of the ground. And so our first bit of garden design 'happened', partly in response to these insights, but mainly due to the insects voting with their tongues. Let's just say it's an evolving design. The south western corner has been designated as a 'no weeding/no mowing' zone. This nectary triangle also contains a large clump of nettles, which should cater for the life cycles of several species of butterfly.

The majority of the remaining area at the front of the house has now been mown. The mower was put on its highest setting and I prayed fervently that I missed any stones or rocks. It is never going to be a pristine lawn, but it will be interesting to see if anything else interesting grows, now that the larger plants have been cut down to size. As I write, House Sparrows are dust bathing in some of the bare areas of soil, before fluttering off into the Brassicas to try and catch insects. They're about as successful in their efforts as I am in ID-ing the mystery plant.

Mystery Brassica being photo-bombed by a Red Admiral. Photo courtesy of Our Lass
For now, let's just say it shares some, but not all, of the features of Charlock, Oil-seed Rape, Swede, Wild Cabbage/Turnip and White/Black Mustard. It's a Brassica.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A few holiday highlights

During our week on mainland Scotland, staying in a cottage near Aberfeldy in Perthshire, there were a few other wildlife highlights besides the Spotted Flycatcher pellet and the various damsels and dragons.

Spoiler Alert: For any arachnophobes, there's a spider at the end :o(

This Welsh Poppy, Meconopsis cambrica, in the garden of Cluny House near Aberfeldy, had two wee visitors. 

Also at Cluny House, we saw a Red Squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris, collecting moss for its drey.

It athletically moved from branch to branch, gathering a larger and larger bundle, until...

it performed a hasty dismount and was marked down for style by the Chinese judge.

Whilst in the hills above the village of Dull (yes, really), we found a Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly, Boloria euphrosyne, and...

a day-flying moth, the Speckled Yellow, Pseudopanthera macularia.

At the rented cottage, there was a regular visitor to the satellite dish, Antenna rustii, just outside our bedroom window, a Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica. Whilst this shot was taken late afternoon, he also visited every morning at 03.30, to treat us to his version of the dawn chorus, possibly the longest that I've ever heard a Swallow sing.

In the Beech-lined valley of the Birks of Aberfeldy, some of the hillside was carpeted with Bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scriptus...

and the occasional Chickweed Wintergreen, Trientalis europaea.

In between my odo-loco moments at Keltneyburn reserve, I spotted a Silver-ground Carpet, Xanthorhoe montanata montanata

And also some Yellow Pimpernel, Lysimachia nemorum.

Lastly, and most definitely not least, this Raft Spider, Dolomedes fimbriatus, was seen in a bog pool at Garten, possibly feeding on a diving beetle.