Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Hunger pangs

I was transported on two trips down culinary Memory Lane at the weekend.

On Saturday, Our Lass and I were invited over to West Mainland for afternoon tea with a couple that she knows through work and a book club. So, with passports and visas at the ready, we made our way to the Lyde Road.

After the obligatory tour of the premises (including some blue sky thinking about uses for three out-buildings) and before I stood at the window gazing out at the amazing view for much longer than was reasonably polite, we were served tea. Crivens, the cakes were delicious! There was an assortment of queen cakes, flapjacks, rock cakes and shortbread. I've not sampled such a spread since I was a lad. It took me back in time faster than the intro for a temporal anomaly episode of Star Trek. In fact, if my taste buds were to be believed, I should really consider the possibility that a Federation food replicator may have been used. Talk about "just like my mum used to make"!

The next day, as Our Lass sat down to watch Countryfile, the BBC's flagship 'Let's not upset any farmers with anything too controversial" programme, I thought my ears were deceiving me when the presenter (a good Durham lad) uttered the word 'panackelty'. Again, this was a dish that I hadn't sampled since I was a mere Tenselet, and having just returned to 2017 following the Cake-athon, I was swiftly whisked back to the 1970s once more.

All this calorific cogitation reminded me of a visit to a tea shop a couple of months ago, which I had been meaning to blog about, but I'd not got around to it. Amongst the many wondrous cakes and confections on display was something that I hadn't previously heard of, let alone tasted...

Fifteens. So named because the recipe requires 15 marsh mallows, 15 digestive biscuits and 15 glace cherries.

Sadly, there were only two slices.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The pain within patience

It is that time of year, when places far south are already experiencing the verdant delights of Spring whilst, in the north, there is still an amount of patience required before the full spectacle of greening and singing and fluttering ventures forth.

This is the moment of greatest difficulty for me because, despite a trickle of returning Summer migrants, despite roadside verges glowing a vibrant floral yellow, nothing quite assuages the longing for dragons. And, ironically, St George's Day is a month shy of the typical first emergence date for Large Red Damselfly in Orkney.

So it is now that the yearning is at its keenest, with a palpable absence of some missing thing, some sight or sound to put the world back on an even keel, to end this misery in an endorphin-fuelled natural high.

It is said that you always remember your first time, but in truth, I cannot. There is no recollection of my first acknowledged odonate. This is quite strange, because I've always been interested in Nature and could travel in time and space to show you the when and the where of quite a few first species sightings: my first Corn bunting, atop an Ash tree on a lane near my boyhood home; my first Swallowtail butterfly, in a garden of a small village in the hills of Rhodes; and my first (and only) Black woodpecker, which flew past the trench I was stood in, within a German forest. It's a list full of pleasant memories: Basking shark, Otter, Waxwing, Marbled white, Edmonston's chickweed; but for the life of me, I cannot pinpoint the exact moment of the inaugural ode.

A childhood steeped in natural history was strangely bereft of their colourful lives. I noticed everything else, surely I would've seen one and remembered, if they had been there? Then, living abroad, where there's more of absolutely everything, still nowt, though I 'clocked' Black woodpecker, Black kite, Black redstart. Perhaps dragonflies were just too colourful?! It is so strange and perplexing to think that I had some sort of odo blindness, some blinkering effect that rendered them invisible to me but did not hamper an appreciation of other wildlife.

And so, it was not until well into my fourth decade that the scales were finally lifted from my eyes. The first actual memory, but I'm pretty sure not the first dragonfly sighting, was in the mid 1990s, with a Southern Hawker in the small garden of our home at the time. An early evening in Summer, a sun trap concentrating insect life and, for the dragonfly, a fast food restaurant. Me, mesmerised.

Yet it was still several years before I joined the British Dragonfly Society, a few more until I began recording every dragon and damsel seen, and yet more before I felt confident enough to acknowledge that they were an all-encompassing passion. Now, with four weeks to go to the beginning of the local flight season, the crushing weight of waiting presses hard upon my shoulders.

Soon, lad, soon. Not long until the bonds to an aquatic life are severed, until the ungainly emergence of new from old, an unfolding of wings, a burst of heat to flight muscles and the light of three hundred and fifty million years flashing in those all-seeing eyes. Soon, lad, soon.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

A splendiferous Sunday

With only one free day available over the Easter weekend, we were fortunate that Sunday was dry and bright. This gave us an opportunity to head across Orkney to look for some Springtime wildlife.

Our first port of call was Marwick Bay on the west coast. We walked south for about half a mile to some old fishermen's huts, where boats and equipment used to be safely stored above the high water mark.

As we returned to the car park, a Wheatear was flitting to and fro along the rocky shore and a skein of Pink-footed geese flew over our heads.

A little further inland, we tarried for a while in the bird hide at The Loons RSPB reserve. This was probably our most productive visit ever.

We saw our first Little Grebes and Shovelers for the year, and had smashing views of Gadwall, Teal and Reed bunting.

On the way home, we stopped off in Finstown and wandered into Binscarth Wood. The air was full of bird song from Wrens, Robins, Chaffinches and, another first for the year, Willow Warblers. The banks alongside the footpath were thronging with white Ramsons, yellow Lesser Celandine, Pink Purslane and a few early Bluebells.

The invasive Salmonberry was trying hard to recover its reputation by being the flower of choice for bumblebees. I managed to capture an image of this one, possibly a queen Buff-tailed bumblebee, with my phone. I'm not sure I could have done any better with my DSLR.

Then it was back home for that other traditional Spring activity... the first cut of the lawn. With the added responsibilty of being very careful to mow around at least some of the patches of Celandines.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Wildlife last week

We didn't lead a very wild life last week or, indeed, see much wildlife. Between the stormy weather and, er... rumblings of a more internal nature, we were laid low and bereft of our natural highs.

I made it back to work on Friday, with the result that my first meaningful wildlife encounter of the week occurred not in the gloriously open vistas of an Orcadian Spring, but in a dark, cramped loft. It was a close encounter, although regular readers can probably predict the actual words I uttered at the time. It's a spider from the genus Steatoda, more commonly known as a False Widow spider.

By Saturday afternoon, we were feeling better, so took a trip down to the old kirk. As soon as we stepped from the car, we spotted a male Wheatear perched on a grave stone, quietly running through his musical repertoire in sub-song. This was our first Wheatear of 2017.

In the ditches by the roadside, the Coltsfoot, Dandelions and Lesser Celandines had been joined by Marsh Marigold. A profusion of golden yellow welling up from the ground in a floral homage to the warming sun.

More signs of Spring were visible on Sunday with a fly-by Sand Martin as we wandered along a West Mainland track. However, the highlight of the morning was a distant view of a food pass between a male and a female Hen Harrier, way over on the opposite side of the valley. The below photos aren't great, just horrendous crops of images that weren't in focus anyway. For reference, the male is predominately grey, whilst the female is mainly brown and sometimes only visible against the background due to the white patch at the base of her tail.

The male approaches across the hill side, bearing a gift of food.

The female appears, seemingly from nowhere, to investigate the suitor's offering.

She closes in as the male extends his legs to offer the gift.

Food pass complete, the male banks away.

He resumes hunting (top) as she carries away the gift to consume elsewhere (bottom). Presumably, she is also testing that the male is a sufficiently attentive partner and a good hunter, factors that will have a beneficial effect upon her raising a brood this year.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Something in the air

Afternoon on the 1st April saw us enjoying some fresh air by the shore near to home.

Here are a couple of panoramas. Above is the panoramic view of Howes Wick, a small bay within Holm Sound, whilst below is another panoramic view, at Wester Sand, just around the corner from the Wick.

The kirkyard of St Nicholas' Kirk can be seen in both views. As can Our Lass too, as she continues her convalescence from recent surgery.

Spring was very much in the air, with pairs of Oystercatchers and Brown Hares feeling rather amorous. We are eagerly await the arrival of 'our' returning Summer migrants, as the whole breeding season gets into gear and releases its clutch.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

We're not at home to Mr Prickly

As hinted at by the blog name, on occasion, I am not without a small amount of tetchiness, with a side order of grump. I know, I know, it's unbelievable, eh? Because surely I'm the epitome of sweetness and light? OK, maybe not.

Some warm weather at the weekend was enough to turn a body's thoughts to contemplating the arrival of Spring and the imminent commencement of lawn mowing duties. But first there was the small task of checking the vast grassiness for weeds. To be fair, the whole garden is 'weeds', as nary a single seed of cultivated grass has been sown. This means that within the uncouth thatch is a riotous mixture of dock, buttercup, plantains, celandines and heaven knows what else. I am not too worried by this cosmopolitan assemblage as, apart from the areas left deliberately uncut, the mower blades seem to keep all in check. Apart from the thistles.

You see, the thistles have this thing going on where, for the first year they don't grow upwards, they grow outwards, producing a large but rather low rosette. Very symmetrical, very prickly, very below the radar of the mower.

So, in pleasant sunshine, I wandered to and fro, hither and thither, across the garden, searching for elusive thistles hiding away in the lengthening sward. Scarlet pimpernels they are not.

After a goodly while my eyes were beginning to ache but, eventually, me and my trusty trug trudged wearily back to the starting point, satisfied that a significant proportion of surreptitious spikiness had been rendered safe.

Coincidentally enough, although I was wearing stout gloves, I did not emerge from the encounter unscathed. Elusive Thistle = E.T. = Ouch!

Friday, 24 March 2017

Private investigations

Yes, it's true, I have been in dire straits. Not 'in' Dire Straits, mind, that's a whole other kettle of fish.

Ever since we moved to our lowly hilltop, whenever the atmospheric conditions and the weather have allowed it, a mountain has been visible from our lounge window, over the Pentland Firth, on the Scottish mainland. Early mornings or late evenings often give the best views, as does snow at higher altitudes.

It looks to be a long way away. So far away.

For several years, I have deployed compasses and maps in an effort to identify this mountain. I have tried to calculate angles and lengths of lines using trigonometry. I have even 'driven' along likely Scottish roads in Google Streetview, hoping for a glimpse of topography that matches the shape we can occasionally see from our window. Online searches for others with a similar need to identify a distant bit of geography have proved equally fruitless, as has asking people I randomly meet.

Actually, that last bit's not true. Last year, whilst walking on a West Mainland beach, I bumped into one of Orkney's more well-known beachcombers. The conversation wandered far and wide, eventually pitching up on the subject of my troublesome mountain. Not a problem, says my acquaintance, I'll send you a link.

And he did. Though I am ashamed to admit that I forgot about it.

This week, however, we have been visited by Second Born. Yesterday she asked about all the various peedie islands we can see from Tense Towers. With the help of the OS map for Scapa Flow, I was able point out and name all the islands and some of their features. And this is when I remembered the mountain and the web link.

Here's a photo of it from the end of January, just after dawn...

In case you're wondering, it's the white pointy triangle, just to the right of Cantick Head lighthouse. On the extreme left of the photo, is Dunnet Head lighthouse on the Scottish mainland.

And here, after a bit of tinkering with parameters, is the internet's answer to my conundrum, courtesy of Ulrich Deuschle.

So, Ben Klibreck it is, in central Sutherland. All 962m height of it. At a range of 116km.


The panorama-creating programme can be found here. It's not too difficult to drive, after all, I managed it!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Faces of Hoy

 A work trip to Hoy often requires an early start to the day. But, at the risk of missing the ferry, I had to stop to take a photograph of the snow-dusted hills in the distance, beyond the Hall of Clestrain in the foreground, and the island of Graemsay nestled in the middle.

Later, after the task was completed, this blooming Redcurrant bush, tucked away in a sheltered valley of the Mill Burn, caught my attention as I trundled along the road. When the verges are yellow with daffodils, Coltsfoot and Lesser celandine, the shock of pink always surprises me at this time of year.

Waiting for the ferry back to the Orkney mainland, just staring at this solid structure was giving me metal fatigue.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Ravening and ravishing in equal measure

When I threw back the curtains yesterday morning, the first thing I noticed was a pair of birds circling and gaining height. I didn't have my specs on, so couldn't immediately estimate distance or size.

Happily, this always leaves open the possibility of eagles rather than buzzards though, sadly, it usually results in gulls.

Once I'd donned my specs, it was obvious that the higher bird was larger and had a slower wingbeat, and also that both birds were still circling and gaining height. My overall impression was that the smaller one was trying really hard to mob the larger one, if only it could beat it in the climb. 

With my interest definitely piqued, I deployed bins to figure out whether we were dealing with raptors or gulls. As it turned out, it was neither, for I was now at the front door and could here the cronking of a Raven. To my astonishment, this was the smaller bird and, as I watched, it gave up the struggle to mob the larger bird, which was a Grey Heron.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a Heron flying that high, but it exited the climb with a leisurely drift northwards and a sense of a small victory won, as the Raven gave up the chase.

I could now take in the rest of the morning's view.

Over Scapa Flow, in the far distance, there was a dusting of snow on the tops of the higher Hoy hills. In the absence of even the slightest of breezes, the surface of the sea was like glass. It was quite idyllic, tempered only by the fact that, as often happens, it wasn't to last.

But, with a grand start to the day, I don't think either me or the heron cared.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Zoo of doom

The recent case of a Cumbrian safari park losing its licence, after the unacceptable losses of life of a member of staff and hundreds of animals, prompted UK media headlines along the lines of 'Zoo of doom'.

On the other side of the world, a zoo in Indonesia has long been labelled the 'Zoo of death' due to the appalling mistreatment of its animals.

Whether you agree with the principle of animals in enclosures as entertainment, or not (and I'm pretty firmly in the 'not' camp), within these supposedly tightly-controlled human-centric environments, we should be able to look after the welfare of a relatively small number of creatures.

And if we are unable to do so, what hope is there for wildlife in the wider world, the many species condemned to extinction by loss of habitat, pollution and our overconsumption?

Zoo of doom (photo courtesy of NASA)

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Seasonally disaffected

Just when you thought that I was mellowing in my old age...

Gentlemen of a certain vintage (and probably some ladies too, but I suspect mostly gentlemen) will remember the Top Trump card packs of the 1970s and 1980s. As I recall, their topics were most likely to interest boys, like military hardware and modes of transport, and the playground always seemed to have a group of lads competitively brandishing around numerical data. I was not immune to this behaviour.

The brand changed hands over the years and has moved with the times, such that there is now a wide variety of subjects with a much broader appeal. This is a good thing.

Recently, I was shown a modern pack, Awesome Animals, full of fascinating facts about incredible wildlife, all very inspirational and with the potential to propogate a love of Nature.

Within the pack there was a dragonfly! Yes, really! Oh, joy unconfined!


You just knew there was going to be a 'But...', didn't you?

Yes, dragonflies are awesome. Yes, they should be featured in a pack of cards about Awesome Animals. Yes, the informat... hang on a minute... oh, [expletive removed]!

We will leave aside my own rather biased opinion on odo Cuteness (somewhat higher than the stated 10%) and the science that shows dragonflies are both harmless to humans and useful in controlling midges (so a Mischief rating much lower than 72%).

However, I do take exception to the ID. The dragonfly in the photo would appear to be a Migrant Hawker, rather than an Emperor. And although the photo doesn't show the insect's abdomen in sharp focus, I'm willing to wager that Eve is a bloke. I don't have a problem with blokes called Eve, to be honest, but I would question the need to give another name to something that is already called Aeshna mixta. So, if a humanised name was required, perhaps Mick would have been a better option?

Ah well, only 71 days to dragonfly season...

Monday, 13 March 2017

Lightening the load

A couple of months ago, I hit upon the idea of occasionally blogging a photograph of the sun setting on the western horizon, taken from our front door. I didn't have a fixed plan of how frequently that 'occasionally' might be, but thought it likely to be every two or three weeks. Perhaps.

As things have turned out, it's taken two months for me to be at home, at the correct time, with the appropriate meteorological conditions. So, a very unfixed plan, indeed!

Here, again, is the image from 7th January, at 15.30...

to compare with the one from 11th March, at 18.00.

The lengthening daylight is making its presence felt now. Happy happy joy joy.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Kirk to enterprise

The old church down by the shore, St Nicholas' Kirk, often features in these pages. It is on our 'regular' route, whether we're pottering and nature watching or pacing and burning some calories. Usually the former. 

Yesterday afternoon, I noticed that the day had become very Spring-like, with warm sunshine and the gentlest of breezes. I know! So a wander down the hill was pretty much mandatory.

The roadside verges were showing signs of the approach of the Golden Era that is Spring in Orkney - daffodils by any habitation, Lesser Celandine in the ditches, Coltsfoot in the rough grass and Marsh Marigold spreading from ditches to wet pasture. I pondered that it would've been Mum's birthday today and she would have very much approved of this floral awakening.

When I arrived at the shore, the tang of rotting seaweed mingled with the shrill calls of numerous pipits, as they gorged on flies stirred to life by the sun's warmth. The old kirk no longer has a congregation, although no-one seems to have told the Starlings. Instead, a local group of volunteers are restoring the building and hope to create a heritage centre for the area.

By chance, yesterday, I also discovered that the kirk has its own blog and I have added a link to the relevant sidebar on this page.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Help from an unexpected quarter

It's been a while since the kitchen sink has put in an appearance on Imperfect and Tense, see here and here, but the current occasion does not signify any kind of milestone. Our Lass has popped down to Aberdeen for a few days, so my washing up duties leave little room for conversation about local or global happenings. 

Well, that's not strictly true because, a few weeks' ago, a spider took up residence in the corner of the kitchen window sill. Thinking back, I recall it was whilst I was listening to a cricket commentary on the radio, more intent upon the highs and lows of an English batting performance, rather than my healthy arachnophobia. The spider spent ages negotiating the cliff face of the kitchen wall before rappelling down the window frame and discovering a small hidey hole. And he/she is still there.

Although it's a stretch of the imagination, the upshot is that, technically, I'm not talking to myself. And another four pairs of eyes are handy for noticing if I've missed a bit of stubborn food detritus on the porridge pan.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Wild things

This week was book-ended by two wonderful Spring-like days, with blue skies, light breezes and drystane-dyke-to-drystane-dyke sunshine. In between Monday and Friday, it wasn't so pleasant, just to remind us that Winter is not yet ready to release the land from its cold iron grip.

Yesterday (Friday) morning, an open window allowed birdsong to radiate into our bedroom from the garden, as a Wren hopped and flitted from perch to perch, there atop a gate, here on a dyke wall, as he claimed a territory and searched for a mate. This high energy performance, always a wonder from such a small bundle of feathers, heightened the sense of anticipation of a season returning and the promise of life anew.

It also reminded me that on Monday, on North Ronaldsay, I had listened to another Wren. One with a distinctive island accent, slightly slower of song as if Time itself had less sway in such an idyllic setting. Or perhaps living on a small island encourages free thinking and a jazz interpretation of the world? Whatever the reason, the song oozed over the landscape, accompanied by golden light from a low February sun. Honey for the soul.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Edges and ditches

A day that begins with a flight on an eight-seater plane always feels adventuresome. I think it has to do with the altitude as much as the noisy, cramped confines of the aircraft. For inter-island flights, Loganair's Britten Norman Islanders are at just the correct height to engage in a spot of airborne reconnaissance, be it either a little aerial archaeology or discovering previously unseen water bodies which might harbour dragonflies. Not so low that the ground whizzes by in an unseemly haste, not too high that landscape features are lost in the general background. So a work trip to North Ronaldsay yesterday was a bit of a treat. The forecasted poor weather failed to materialise and I enjoyed a pleasant sunny day (for February in Orkney!).

The Winter sun cast long shadows, accentuating the lumps and bumps in fields, and giving tantalising glimpses of what once was, what might have been or what is yet to be discovered. Flying over the island of Sanday, a small cemetery near the coast came into view. The ruined church buildings (just walls, not one roof amongst them) drew my gaze, until I noticed that in the adjacent field was a set of crop marks that indicated more, but hidden, structures. There were definite rectangular walls with, at one end, a circular shape outlined. At the time, I wondered whether this was an earlier kirk, the round structure being a tower perhaps, but later, searching an online archaeology website, no such thing was shown. There was a well in the field, so perhaps the field markings were of a croft, and the circular structure was a drying kiln.

Whilst on North Ronaldsay, there was more archaeology right next to where I was working. It can be seen in the photograph below as a faint circular outline (thanks, Google!). The owner kindly explained what it was and how it was used.

And thank you to Bing, too, as the next photo shows the structure more clearly.

After I had completed my task, I took a few photos of the site from ground level.

It is a horse-driven mill, or gin. Two horses would access the open air platform by a short ramp on the west side, and then be harnessed to the main axle. A pit in the centre of the platform contains gearing to drive a horizontal shaft that runs under the mound and into a barn to power a threshing machine.

So, with work done and a few hours to kill before my return flight, I wandered around the island, enjoying the wildlife and the balmy conditions.

Walking along the edge of a field, I noticed that I was approaching a ditch with steep banks. At my presence, several Moorhen began running away, along the bank, traversing the tussocky ground with an ungainly and hazardous scampering. I was trying not to smile as their progress made them disappear and reappear from my view, and I had got as far as counting seven birds when my chuckling turned to consternation. The blighters had turned around and were running back! Had my mirth been the last straw? Was I to be the first birder in history to be trampled to death by a flock of angry railing Rails? The truth, when it dawned on me, was much more prosaic. A hen harrier was gliding up the ditch line and the group of Moorhen were now caught in an unintentional (at least on my part) pincer movement. Preoccupied with hunting, the harrier didn't register my presence until the last second, so I was fortunate to have a fantastic view of it as it climbed steeply up and flew over me. The Moorhen simply disappeared, melting away into who knows where.

Blue sky and burbling Starlings.

If this ditch retains plenty of water, it is going to be great for odes come Summer (can you spot the pair of Whooper swans?).

The setting sunlight catches some Atlantic breakers.
In the fading light, the Islander transported my fellow passengers and I back to Kirkwall. A pleasant day was rounded off with a clear, but crisp, starry sky. An infinite number of worlds, all with an adventure to recall in their twinkling eyes.

Those magnificent men...

in their flying machines, or so the song goes.

Last weekend, I was showing a postcard album to a visitor. Said album was put together by my father in the 1940s, I think, and features postcards of aircraft of the time. Somewhat predictably, bearing in mind the date, the majority of the subjects were war planes. I guess it was a good thing for the general public to be able to recognise what was flying above them during World War 2.

I remember this album from my childhood. It wasn't just birds that were flying around back then and capturing my interest. Aeroplanes were a massive part of the fabric of my life as a kid. The house where we lived was on the southern flight path into Newcastle Airport, so there was a steady stream of civilian air traffic overhead. Due to the proximity of the Pennine Hills and the many air bases located along the A1 road, there were also countless military aircraft about: small propeller-driven trainers (Bulldog), small jet-propelled trainers (Provost), as well as many fighters and bombers of the RAF and other forces (Hunter, Buccaneer, Phantom, Vulcan, Lightning, F111). For a rural setting, it wasn't quiet. In fact, the loudest noise I've ever heard, was a pair of Lockheed Starfighters directly over the house at low altitude. I guess I should be grateful that they made it over the house, their safety record wasn't great.

So, there we were at the weekend, browsing images of aircraft manufactured by the likes of Sopwith, Armstrong Whitworth, Blackburn, Bristol, Fairey, Vickers, Miles, Saunders Roe and Handley Page, to name a few. A bygone era, indeed.

There was one postcard that I didn't remember...

and on the back was this...

which left me rather perplexed, as I couldn't recall the flight ever being mentioned.

Fortunately, with the card was a letter, written much later (post 1993), which explained the circumstances. And I had forgotten about it, too.

So, my Dad was about nine years old when the flight occurred. But who knows when he put his name on the card! A bit of a scamp, me Dad, though to look at him, you wouldn't suspect it. And it took him 60 years to 'fess up!

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.