Sunday 26 October 2014

Gey swappy

This blogpost so very nearly turned into the third instalment of 'The Perils of Listening in English'.

Yesterday, a lady turned up at work, looking for a second-hand racing bike. Fortunately, this week, the Yard had a couple of them 'in stock', and my cycling customer opted for the rustier of the two, as she intended to break it down for spares.

Bearing in mind the time of year and the likelihood of inclement weather, I asked the lady if she cycled much during the Winter, to which she replied that she did. This was the reason for the purchase of the racing bike, as it would provide the rider with the opportunity to huddle down over the handlebars and reduce wind resistance.

"But it can still be gey swappy," she added as she swung the bike onto a carrying frame at the rear of her car.

Several of my brain cells triggered a system-wide warning that this wasn't the time to open my stupid gob and make a guess at what that meant. Instead, I rewound the conversation in my head, played it through again and politely asked the lady to repeat what she'd just said.

As I later found out, 'swap' has five different meanings in Orcadian dialect*, but in this case it referred to a gust of wind. So, I would conclude that 'gey swappy' is 'very gusty'. Yep, I imagine that cycling in Orkney through the Winter months (actually, any time, really) is prone to this effect.

Incidentally, 'gey' meaning 'very' does indeed derive from gay. It is used in much the same way that it is in English, in phrases such as 'the experience was pretty bad'.

This morning, following a leisurely start to the day courtesy of the clock change from BST to GMT, Our Lass cajoled me into going for a walk, despite the overcast conditions, blustery winds and the omnipresent threat of rain. OK, yeah, I'm just a wuss, but as we parked the car nearby to the Covenanters' Memorial in Deerness, Our Lass's phone beeped to inform her of an incoming text. The message was from one of the most outdoorsy folk we know, who was happily sharing the news that she was cosily tucked up indoors, with a wood-burning stove and her hi-fi giving it max therms and volume respectively. My response was not repeatable.

Still, we had an entertaining three mile amble, out through farmland, across a moor and back along a cliff top. We saw our first Barnacle Geese of the Autumn, a big flock of Golden Plover and Turnstone, a female Sparrowhawk and the occasional Rock Pipit. We returned to the car, rewardingly tired and rather windswept.

Aye, hid wis gey swappy, beuy.

* As defined by Gregor Lamb's 'The Orkney Wordbook'.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Size is relative

This is a guest photo-blog by First Born (the peedie muckle sister, seeing as she's our elder daughter, but not as tall as Second Born).

All of the following images were taken by FB.

Saturday was unexpectedly warm, that is, unexpected by the population of Orkney and the woefully-incorrect weather forecaster for the region. Still, every cloud..., eh?

Our Lass and FB went to Yesnaby on the west coast, soaking up the rays and admiring the views.

The following day, in more normal October weather for Orkney, they ventured to Rose Ness.

Stormy baptism

Our last visitor from South, for 2014, left yesterday.

It's probably just as well. Today we're in the teeth of a storm, gusting 80mph winds, horizontal rain and all three ferry companies reporting cancelled sailings.

Even this font is struggling to remain upright...

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Sunday 12 October 2014

Smaller wheels

Orkney has its challenges when it comes to changing your car. There are a few dealers on the island, but for a greater choice, it involves a journey to the Scottish mainland, to Aberdeen or Inverness.

There's the internet, of course, but for someone who's loathe to buy a pair of shoes on line, purchasing a car without a test drive or a good look around, didn't seem like a great option.

However, that's just what happened!

After several fruitless searches on national dealers' websites that were either bereft of stock or hopeless to use without re-entering your parameters each time, I found a reputable chain that had an example of exactly what I was looking for.

In South Shields.

That's the one in Tyne and Wear.

In England.

Not exactly on the doorstep, I had to admit.

After all the negotiations and paperwork had been sorted out, it was agreed that a rendezvous in Inverness was a satisfactory compromise so, on Thursday, I caught an early ferry across to Scotland and drove south.

The journey down to Inverness was relatively straight forward: a large flock of Whooper Swans feeding in a field in Caithness; countless thrushes flying over my bonnet; and a lone Jay swooping across the dual carriageway as I approached my destination.

Then it was time to swap cars...

The thirsty 4x4 was loaded onto a flatbed truck and I was given the keys to frugal motoring and not being able to see over hedges.

The above photograph is cropped to remove the front of our new vehicle, just in case anyone is remotely upset at the registration plate. There isn't anything to be remotely upset about but, someone, somewhere, may take objection to it. At least, I know that it would be accidental, as opposed to the thin veneer of denials dripped out by the BBC and Top Gear. It would indeed be ironic if, in this instance, the Top Gear team were the innocent party.

So, motoring fans, I'm sure you're itching to know some vehicular facts about our new set of wheels. From my point of view, this boils down to which mp3 track was the first to be played through the in-car entertainment system. I don't have many tracks on my phone, but sufficient to fill a 2 hour driving stint, so I spent a few minutes pondering the most appropriate inaugural song to play:

John FORDham's 'The Voice'... too obvious.
Within Temptation's 'Faster'... best not, eh?
Joe Walsh's 'Life's Been Good' featuring the line "My Maserati does one eighty five."  Er... no!

In the end, I pressed Shuffle and was rewarded with Lone Star's 'Bells of Berlin'. My emotions being fairly well summed up by the lyric "I can feel sadness, I can feel joy. Between the two I'm torn." No more off-roading opportunities, but much more cash in my pocket. Sigh.

Driving back northwards, the road followed the coast for a while. The tide was very high in the Cromarty Firth, such that grassland above the littoral zone was underwater. In one of those snapshot moments, I noticed that on a short stretch of coastal fencing, three Buzzards were sat, patiently waiting for their next meal to reveal itself.

With half an hour or so to kill before the return ferry, I detoured to Duncansby Head Lighthouse for a photo opportunity with the new wheels.

I know, I know... how am I going to squeeze fifteen bags of garden waste into that?

Post script, 17.51 14/10/12: I reckon ten maximum, but it handled six no bother this afternoon :o)

Saturday 11 October 2014

Autumn migration

A few days of wintry storms, earlier in the week, brought all manner of tired and hungry migrating birds to Orkney.

Judging by the amount of text alerts, urgent emails and Facebook postings, it seemed that, during the following days, every clump of bushes in the archipelago was harbouring a rare bundle of feathers. As OTT is bereft of such habitat, I was on the wrong side of grumpy (and, no, I haven't accepted a role in 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs').

On Wednesday, just as I was about to leave for work, a pair of Robins chased each other into our garden. During the past few months, seeing even one Robin was a highlight, so two was a bit of a bonus. Then, a warbler appeared on the fence across the road, but disappeared before I could think of trying to ID it. And work beckoned :o(

By late afternoon, when I returned from the Yard, I was once more resigned to blissful ignorance of the avian diaspora occurring all around us. But as I was shutting the garage door, a movement in the garden caught my eye. Robin? Nope. Redstart? Yes!

Dashing camera-wards and returning in time to grab a few images, I was so thrilled that one of these wee birds would visit our home.

I texted Our Lass, so that she was aware of the possibilities upon her return home and then resumed watching and photographing the Redstart.

Our overgrown garden is teeming with invertebrates of all shapes and sizes, so I guess it was actually quite a good place for a pitstop.

Our Lass did indeed have the opportunity to see it, as it has hung around for four days so far. After studying the field guides and asking wiser heads than mine, it was concluded that this was actually a Black Redstart, not a Common one, so our garden list is suitably enriched by its presence. Whilst we both watched this little gem of a bird, three Chaffinches put in an appearance, along with a Song Thrush and a few Redwings. Magic :o)

And today, Our Lass spotted a male Blackcap, which I managed to set eyes on as I returned from work.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

The Perils of Listening in English, Part 2

At the end of a recent shift at the Yard, I was preparing to lock up when a chap in a red boiler suit appeared, casting his eyes this way and that. I began to explain that most areas of the Yard were now shut and asked if he was looking for anything in particular, so that I could target my 'unlocking'.

In a broad accent, he replied that he "didnae want oot at aal", but he had "gey many spoots", if I was interested.

Fortunately, I knew that 'spoots' were the local name for razor-shells as, when we spent last Winter on Burray, we would occasionally see folk out on the sands of Echnaloch Bay searching for them. Sherlock Holmes-like, I figured that the red boiler suit indicated that he was a fisherman. Not being aware of any gender issues with razor-shells, I also assumed that they were not, in fact, gay, but that my customer was referring to 'gey', as in 'very'.

Having the knowing is one thing, but in a recycling context, how do you answer a question like that?

OK, we're a kind of reclamation yard, but just not that kind of clam.

My scarlet-clad companion must've recognised the signs... the confused expression... the struggle to find the right words... the big sign saying 'numpty southerner', so he took pity on me and slowly explained that he was working in a nearby housing estate, replacing all the soffits, guttering and downpipes. Rather than putting all the unwanted plastic into landfill, he correctly figured that it was re-usable and was offering it to the Yard.

Like the Moon rising over the horizon on a hazy night, my face must've gently lit up with understanding, as I realised he meant spouts, not spoots.

"Aye, we can always use those, many thanks," I replied, embarrassed yet again.

Monday 6 October 2014

... and season to taste

Defining the seasons in Orkney is a tad tricky. On the one hand there's a wealth of evidence, not all of it anecdotal, that points to representation of all four on a daily basis, especially if you're outdoors. Another point of view is that the seasons occur in the normal order experienced further south, but not necessarily for similar durations. Meteorological norms and equinox/solstice mathematics just don't provide sufficient resolution with which to view the Orcadian year.

For example, after a comparatively mild and benign September, which allowed us all to pretend it was still Summer, today (6th October), it would appear that Winter has arrived. So Autumn 2014 was about 5 days long!

With a gale force to severe gale force weather system blowing in from the south east, the morning's high tide at 10.30 prompted a temporary closure of the Churchill Barriers. Police cars were visible at the southern end of Barrier 2 and the north end of Barrier 1, preventing access to the small island of Lamb Holm.

Though we can't see Barrier 2 from the house, the sea spray blowing across Lamb Holm and the neatly-horizontal windsock are a reasonable indication of conditions.

From the northern end of Barrier 1, Graemeshall Road tracks the eastwards along the coast, and in doing so, will make for an interesting journey for the next six months or so.

Saturday 4 October 2014

Oh, soffit!

It was inevitable, I guess...

Following the success of the 'mystery' brassica in our garden and the abundance of Large White butterflies visiting the plant, there was always going to be a long game playing out through the remainder of the Summer and into next year.

A while back, as Our Lass and I sat outside enjoying an afternoon's sunshine, we noticed caterpillars heading for the hills, or at least across the path and up the wall of the house.

Over the course of several days, chrysalides appeared on the soffit boards all around the property, as this year's larvae pupated to prepare for next year's population of adult butterflies.

A few days after that, I noticed that a few of the chrysalides were missing, and I presumed that they'd been discovered by a predator and eaten. To be honest, I couldn't think which of the birds visiting our garden would have the ability to do this, but I let that pass. Possibly wagtails?

Later still, I saw that many of the chrysalides had what appeared to be tiny balls of fluff alongside them. This did puzzle me, as I couldn't figure out what was going on.

Then, yesterday, whilst idling looking through the excellent 'Bugs Britannica', by Peter Marren and Richard Mabey, to find some information on bristletails, I spotted a photograph that nailed the reason once and for all.

A species of parasitic wasp had laid their eggs in the growing caterpillars and whose own larvae has consumed the caterpillars from within and then finally emerged from the chrysalides to pupate themselves. Gruesome, but that's how evolution works in the insect world.

So, yes, in a way the pupae were the victim of a predator, but not at all in the way I'd imagined. The unfortunate caterpillars had carried their assassins with them during their epic journey up the wall of the house.

Oh, soffit!

Wednesday 1 October 2014