Sunday 24 March 2013

Ee, but it's grim up north

Second Born has gone off to Austria this week, though she's not the only one with designs on a winter holiday. Our Lass and I went to visit First Born in the frozen North and happened upon a snowflake or two ourselves. And it may have been the 'wrong' side of the Pennines for two folk raised in County Durham, but we had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

This is the view from our room at the Turnpike Inn on Rishworth Moor, looking across Booth Wood Reservoir to the M62 and beyond.

From here, it's only about 20 minutes' drive to to the village where FB lives.

But not this way...

The A58 at Blackstone Edge

Or this way...

The B6225, on the edge of Milnrow
Still, when we finally got through, we were able to go for a nice walk without having to worry about snow at all.

Yes, we get the drift
Just look at the size of that (the snowdrift, that is)

Sunday 17 March 2013

Meanwhile, in the natural world...

In a morning that brought sleet, snow, rain and hail in equal measure, the pair of Crows that  occupy the old Ash tree, behind Tense Towers, began to titivate their nest for the coming season. Despite the weather, they battled the elements to collect and transport a selection of twigs to upgrade last year's des res into the sort of contemporary accommodation that any discerning corvid would desire.

After breakfast, we drove down to Hanson Environmental Study Centre to drop off some books for the second-hand stall run by the Friends group. On a fence post by the single track road into the reserve, we were surprised to discover a very bedraggled Barn Owl, scanning the adjacent pasture for prey. I guess the rain that has been omnipresent for the last few nights has made hunting difficult and hunger has driven this bird to be out in daylight in less-than-favourable conditions.

Having completed our literary errand, Our Lass and I had a potter to the Near Hide and back, spotting the owl once more by the old Oak in the paddock and then glimpsing a Kingfisher and a pair of Pintail from the hide. At the end of the boardwalk, a few Coltsfoot were braving the elements though, wimps that we are, we didn't stay out too long.

Back at the Centre, we popped in for a cup of tea and a chat, entered the 'Guess the name of the Otter' competition to win a framed photo of one of the stars of Autumnwatch (no, it isn't Michaela, Chris, Kate or Martin) and even bought a book to grace the recently-created space on our shelves. Despite, or possibly because of, the miserable weather, there were visitors enjoying the view from the warm, dry Centre and watching the bird feeders or the occasional passing Muntjac deer. Very civilised and all in a good cause. Many thanks to the kind-hearted team of Friends volunteers who give of their time and effort to provide this facility for permit holders and the local community.

And even better news, there's only four weeks until the dragonfly season begins!

Friday 15 March 2013

Not over and out

It had been an ordinary day in an unremarkable week. Routine after routine washed through the hours in sympathy with the squalls of rain falling from a grey sky. Now, driving home from work along the pot-holed ribbon of tarmac that was my daily commute, my mind wandered on auto-pilot, dwelling upon some inconsequential thought to stave off the acknowledgement of a life in a rut.

Perhaps this was why my guard was down? The mundanity of it all seeped into my soul and an unfeeling fog masked my senses. It left me defenceless and totally unprepared for Fate's next roll of the dice.

As the queue of traffic inched slowly forward towards the traffic lights in the centre of town, a familiar face appeared on the other side of the road. Eyes met, recognition dawned, a shared history played in fast forward through my mind. Tongue-tied, too slow to speak, the moment gone. I watched, enthralled, as the vision of beauty disappeared from my view, a last glance in my door mirror and... gone. How would it have been possible to say the words that resided in my heart? Would it have been appropriate to voice those feelings? After all, we were both with other partners now. It would be very wrong and yet... 

The decision had been mine, I had thought it was for the best. So long ago. But even now I know there's not a day gone by when I haven't thought about him.

Yes... him.

Don't be shocked, you must've known. Have you not seen it in my eyes? The hesitation of wondering whether I'd done the right thing in calling it off. The occasional lack of loyalty to a new partner. All these thoughts, and more, surfaced in a rush. Was he happy now? Did he ever think of me? Jeez, have I really not moved on? He looked well, which pleased me greatly. More than I could've expected. Damn! This isn't the way I wanted to tell you, but perhaps it is fitting.

Sometimes a car can really get under your skin. Taffy the truck, I miss you, you great lump of rust, rattles and reminiscences. May your essential Series 2 Discovery-ness live on forever.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Conclusions to be drawn from "Shetland"

Following yesterday's blogpost regarding BBC TV's Shetland crime drama, and the less than favourable reaction the programme has sparked from numerous corners of the polygon of taste, here's a few thoughts:

  • Gentle drama has its place on the continuum of programme-making;
  • Gritty drama is best experienced on the hard shoulder of a motorway;
  • If every succeeding crime drama had to be more gritty and tortuous than the last, then we'd soon be stuck between lots of tiny rocks and a hard place;
  • Shetland (the island) has lots of big rocks in many hard-to-get-to places;
  • I rather enjoyed Shetland (the programme), thanks;
  • To be relevant, crime drama should reflect time and place;
  • Any crime is best not experienced.

The Scottish Government's latest statistics on Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2011-2012, make for sobering reading (ah, if only that was the case, the figures would be even better).

The below extract, from page 29 of the 2012 Crime and Justice Series Statistical Bulletin, illustrates my point:

For anyone attempting to over-analyse this, Shetland is the line with the second lowest number of crimes and the highest percentage of clear ups. It isn't an exact science and there will be other factors, but on the face of it, wouldn't we all wish those stats for our own neighbourhood?

In fact, the only programme-making crime in "Shetland" was the lack of otters.

Monday 11 March 2013


Part One of the BBC's latest crime drama, set amongst the dramatic scenery of Shetland, has brought a mixed bag of reviews from the critics, good and bad.

The eponymously-named programme does not bear the title of the Ann Cleeves' book, Red Bones, from which it is dramatised, but I guess this does allow for other books in the series to be aired under the same label.

None of the above withstanding, Our Lass and I watched the episode mainly for the scenery, not for any comparison to Scandinavian crime dramas of recent yore. And we weren't disappointed. Whilst a little greener in hue than we remember (don't forget that it was filmed during the unseasonally wet year of 2012), the stunning backdrop of Shetland was always going to steal the show. In addition, comparisons to other series are probably pointless, as the thing that really shines through is the precious sense of community that can be experienced on Shetland and Orkney (other outer islands are available). A fast-paced, weapons-heavy, tortuously-twisted plot would be hideously and erroneously out of place in this particular landscape. Long may it remain so.

So we will be eagerly awaiting this evening's denouement with happy anticipation.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Grouse grouse

In recent days, I have read several blogs that have urged me to sign an e-petition.

The first was Mark Avery's always entertaining and instructive blog, Standing up for nature, which seems to tackle any wildlife issue head on with a good deal of common sense.

The second was Alastair Forsyth's Literate herring, this way, a tale of Orkney mainland, sorry, Mainland birding and, therefore, very dear to my heart.

The petition calls for licensing of upland grouse shoots in an effort to tackle the problem of illegal persecution of raptors (birds of prey).

Having spent many a pleasant hour watching hen harriers gliding serenely around North Hoy, South Walls, Hobbister, Cottascarth, Rendall Moss and Birsay Moors, for me it's a given.

Kindly read the submission at the below link, and if you feel the same way, please consider adding your signature.

Just don't get me started on the vast areas of land that are managed for only one species, so that another species can enjoy blasting it out of the sky for fun.

Biodiversity? Give over.

A spot of sun

Today, I finally got around to looking at my DSLR photos from our Welsh holiday in February. There weren't many, in truth, as you may recall that the weather was somewhat on the damp side and most of the camera work was consequently done on my phone.

One particular shot was of a very weak Sun, barely making it through the clouds, taken during a walk from our B+B near Chepstow. I must point out that, in hindsight, this was a very stupid thing to do. Sun, camera lens and human eye do not make for good bedfellows without some sort of solar filter. I really should know better.

More grey, Tense? Surely not.
Anyway, there I was reviewing the photos this morning, and thinking to myself, "Yeah, I pretty much centred the star in the shot... that makes a nice change. Shame about the mucky lens, eh?"

There's a speck of dust two thirds of the way up the disc on the centre line and also one on the far left just below centre
Only later in the day did I wonder if perhaps they weren't specks of dust on my lens?

A little internet searching brought up this interesting fact for the day in question, Saturday 16th February 2013.
Or looking a little closer...


Putting aside the fact that I shouldn't have been doing it, I didn't even know that you could do it!

Friday 8 March 2013

Taking one for the team

Bradford has been in the news quite a bit recently. This neighbouring city to Leeds, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, has seen hard times following the de-industrialisation of the area, but a few good news stories have put it back on the map in recent months.

Firstly, there was the football team's amazing run in the Capital One League Cup. Having beaten a string of clubs from the Premier League (Wigan, Arsenal and Aston Villa), the lowly League 2 side only ran out of steam at the last hurdle, losing 5-0 to Swansea in the final at Wembley.

Then, last week, none other than the Caped Crusader handed in a fugitive at a local police station. Honestly, you couldn't make it up. However, it later transpired that the Batman in question was known to the wanted man.

So, what has all this got to do with yours truly? Not much, as it happens, although...

Way back in the 1980s, research into worker absenteeism was being carried out at Bradford University (coincidentally, this was the very academic establishment that a younger, more science-smitten, Tenselet was due to attend to study Pharmacy/Pharmocology. But that is, as they most definitely say, another story).

Any road up, a human resources tool bearing the Bradford name was subsequently developed to highlight the different levels of disruption in performance between frequent short-term absence and single instances of prolonged absence. If I understand the concept correctly, this was originally intended to be used by HR staff to better appreciate the resultant effect on the whole company. However, there seem to be numerous reported instances where it is instead used to target individual members of staff.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating frequent "duvet days" or institutionalised malingering. Hell, no. As a manager in a small department where staff resourcing can be changed daily at best, or even (cringe) hourly, the ability to accurately plan ahead for the best manpower solution is a distant Nirvana.

On the other hand, using this tool too bluntly is always going to discriminate against anyone with a chronic illness, compared to another employee who, say, breaks their leg whilst skiing. This is no subtle knife.

Even dedicated, normally healthy staff are going to succumb to the odd bout of short term illness. With Bradford Scoring in place, they have several stark choices:

  • ring in sick and take the mathematical consequences;
  • book precious holiday to disguise the time off;
  • go to work anyway and infect the rest of the workforce. 

Personally, I would prefer my staff to use their holiday entitlement to have a proper break. To be able to recharge their batteries, lift up their spirits and spend a relaxing time with their loved ones. In this way they would arrive back at work full of vim, vigour and motivation to do well and work hard.

Being easily bored by having nothing to do and nurturing a zero tolerance attitude to daytime tv, I have often gone to work when I should've stayed at home for the sake of my health. However, if the ailment is contagious, then exporting your illness to the rest of the department or wider working community is not going to do anyone any favours, neither your colleagues nor your company.

So today I am at home, racking up the numbers with a miserable cold. Bradford may not appreciate it, but at least my work mates will.