Tuesday 24 February 2015

Pictures at an Exhibition

My remit at work encompasses all manner of things that I've not been involved in before. This means that life is never dull, which is an admirable state of affairs, as it probably panders to my goldfish-like attention span. Quite why I've willingly chosen to position myself out of my comfort zone is a complete mystery. Not being much of an adrenalin junkie, and more than happy to avoid rushes of cortisol, one would be forgiven for thinking that I'd be looking for a quieter life these days.

So what could be more relaxing than a tour of an art gallery?

From mid-January until last weekend, one of the local galleries was hosting an exhibition by Orcadian artists, who had been given the brief to create works of art around the theme of beach-combing and recycling.

My employers were sponsoring the exhibition, as it fitted well with our aim of promoting a reduction in the amount of material going to landfill, as well as encouraging some new ideas for upcycling and re-use.

Half a dozen local artists contributed to the exhibition, with materials including natural objects (shells, seaweed, feathers, bones and skate egg cases) and man-made ones (sea glass, rope, driftwood, metal and plastic).

As any creative talent I think I might possess is centred around the written word, the visual and tactile artworks produced for the exhibition filled me with complete awe.

Here's just a few of the wonderful things on display...

Letter press blocks of themed words and paintings by Julie Switsur

Driftwood furniture by Robert Moore

Sea glass seahorse by Penny Martin
With the heavy weight of inevitably, like a storm wave crashing upon the beach, I was challenged to provide something to hang on the walls of the gallery.

Eek! I had no point of reference for this sort of thing, so found it all rather daunting.

However, there was a thorny issue that had been bothering me for some time, so I used this as my muse and channelled my efforts in a different direction.

On Orkney, it is not possible to recycle the plastic tops from bottles. The plastic bottles themselves, yes (if they're Type 2), but the lids, no (even if they're also Type 2). Please don't ask, you'd only be opening up a huge can of worms. And, yes, we do recycle cans (the worms are able to look after themselves, providing they avoid the non-native, invasive New Zealand Flatworm, that is).

After rifling through some of the still unpacked boxes in the garage, I unearthed a photo frame and a sheet of sandpaper. Looking on the work Facebook page, I found a photo of said bottle tops, whilst Google Images provided the outline of a man-made shape.

So here's my comment upon humanity and its likely legacy to the planet...

'Footprint in the sand' by me
Of course, it only occurred to me much later, that had I given it some proper thought, the muse, which maintained my sanity through my late teens. was sitting on a nearby shelf, just itching to release all that pent up angst.

So last week, passers by to Tense Towers could've been forgiven for wondering what the terrible noise was, as ELP was belting out from our hifi and I joined in on the choruses.

The Sage by Greg Lake (album cover design by William Neal)
Here's Greg Lake performing The Sage.

"I carry the dust of a journey, that cannot be shaken away.
It lives, deep within me, for I breathe it every day.

You and I are yesterday's answers, the earth of the past come to flesh,
Eroded by Time's rivers, to the shapes we now possess.

Come share of my breath and my substance, and mingle our streams and our times.
In bright infinite moments, our reasons are lost in our rhymes."

What a wordsmith.


Sunday 22 February 2015

On The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine

It could be said that the Tense household has reached an age and levels of activity and excitement that befit our hair colour. 


So, yesterday evening, when I wandered into the lounge, I was shocked to discover Our Lass reading from the sort of book that I wouldn't expect to see in her hands. The cover had been removed, but there was no disguising the subject matter. Well, they do say that a change is as good as a rest.

This morning, after a long lie-in to contemplate this new twist to our relationship, some wet celery was produced and, after that, things became somewhat steamy.

Just to be clear, I'm talking LFHW, not BDSM.

Yep, Our Lass was making chicken broth, using the carcass of last night's roast chicken and a liberal sprinkling of the contents of the veg, salad and herb shelves. Spice up your life, indeed.

Leaving the pot simmering gently on the hob, we drove down to Rose Ness for a walk along the cliffs towards the end of the promontory. A brisk south easterly wind, gusting to 35 knots, made our progress interesting, to say the least. Fulmars were enjoying the air currents, effortlessly gliding along the coast, though other bird life had the decency to look like they were struggling a bit.

Cliff top pools and a view out to Copinsay

Standing above a sheltered cove, we noticed several bits of wood and a length of rope on the rocky beach below. I scrambled down the cliff to see if anything was retrievable, though to be honest, to date, our beach-combing has been of a fairly lightweight dimension (shells, glass, a small fishing float, that sort of thing).

Once at the bottom of the cliff, I took the opportunity to photograph a sea stack and then set to, untangling rope and sizing up the wood.

I'm still not exactly sure what possessed me, but I arrived back at the cliff top carrying a pine log about three metres in length. Our Lass looked at me quizzically, for it wasn't a certainty that it would fit in the car, even if we could carry it all the way back to our parking spot. Discretion being the better part of valour, I temporarily disappeared back down the cliff to gather the rope.

Neither of us are as fit as we used to be, so the motivation for this escapade would have to be the desire to create a garden feature using the wooden pole. Taking stock of our options (crossing five hundred metres of moorland, climbing over a gate, then traversing another six hundred metres of rough pasture), we tried various methods of transporting the log. Rolling it along worked well for a while, where the vegetation was short. Carrying it at waist height was less successful, Our Lass veering off at an angle to our intended direction. In the end, we settled on carrying it on our shoulders, but as I now had the rope as well as the heavy end of the log, photos were impossible.

Finally, back at the car and our internal thermostats well above normal operating temperature, a swift calculation revealed that the log was too long to fit in a Ford Fiesta, even with one end resting on the dashboard. Fortunately, we had enough rope to lash the tailgate down, so that the gusts of wind didn't try to rip it off its hinges. We carefully made our way home and unloaded our booty, a definite ramping up of our beach-combing efforts.

By now the broth was filling the kitchen with a wonderful aroma, I just wasn't sure I'd have the strength to pick up a spoon to eat it.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Is there room for another in this marriage?

It's National Nest Box WeekI didn't know until someone mentioned it on Facebook. 
Commenting that this was an event with which I was unfamiliar, several folk wrote back, in shock, at my lack of engagement during the 30 years of the scheme.

It is a bit odd, right enough. How can I not have known? Where have I been all this time? How many bundles of feathery fluff have not made it into the world because I was blithely unaware of NNBW?

[Hangs head in shame]

"My name is Tense and I have a problem... "

So, I got with the programme, I went online and I sent off for the information pack from the BTO.

And, b-b-b-baby, you ain't seen nothing yet. Sorry, not that BTO.

I'm happy to be corrected if I'm wrong, and I'm pretty sure that First and Second Born will gladly point it out if necessary, but I've not put up a nest box at home during my adult life (so far, he added hastily). The only reasons that I can think of for this curious state of affairs is that we were either only in an area for a short time or, when we were putting down roots, we were surrounded by neighbours with cats.

There is a nest box in our garage, transported all the way from Milton Keynes (where it had remained in several garages), after one or both of the girls had constructed it years ago at an RSPB event. It may now finally see the light of day.

But what I would really like to construct or purchase or encourage a particular bird to build is... well, if you've clicked on the links, you'll already know it's a House Martin nest box. We have the space, we have the habitat, there are House Martins that frequent the neighbourhood during the Summer and I have an idea where to site a box.

The only trouble is, it's above a window that Our Lass looks out of when she's pottering in the 'shed'. And as idyllic as the Orkney scenery is, it pales a little when viewed through the sheen of loads of House Martin poo. It's not a prospect that she finds encouraging.

However, I love House Martins, as anyone who can remember this early I&T post will recall. And I think Our Lass probably loves them enough, too. They remind us of holidays in a wee cottage in Shropshire, with burbling Martins nesting outside the bedroom window. They remind us of Summer evenings, with flocks of hirundines swooping through the air, devouring any small insects on the wing. Their gentle, bubbling chatter is a tonic to the ears, as listening to it is a means of escaping the frenetic background noise of 21st Century life.

This afternoon, the information pack arrived.

Operation Opaque Window is go!

Sunday 15 February 2015

Black holes and revels

Tenseworld is a bit of a cultural desert, save for an occasional attendance at a rock or folk gig. As I'm not a keen theatre goer, Our Lass loses out a bit in this regard. Whilst in Milton Keynes, the situation was mitigated to good effect by Second Born, who would regularly take her mum to the local multiplex cinema to see a film.

Since moving to Orkney, this solution has proved somewhat unfeasible, with the result that movie-going duties have fallen to me. Through the Winter, we have visited the small cinema, located in the local leisure centre in Kirkwall, at least once a month and enjoyed some excellent films.

Last night, there was a 'Meal and a movie' offer in place for St Valentine's Day, so we availed ourselves of the opportunity, together with a free glass of bubbly with our meal and a free glass of wine with the movie.

Fittingly, the film was The Theory of Everything, an adaptation of Jane Wilde Hawking's memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. Though I did read A Brief History of Time years ago, I'm more familiar with another facet of Professor Hawking's work, a sample of his voice used on Pink Floyd's Keep Talking, from their 1994 Division Bell album, and more recently in Talkin' Hawkin' on The Endless River album. There's another connection here, now that I think about it, Hawking's thesis for his doctorate was Time, which is one of the more famous Floyd tracks.

It was an enjoyable movie and, as this blog purports to be wildlife-based, I can say that it seemed accurate as far as birdsong was concerned. I don't think I need to trigger a spoiler alert before I mention the Swifts heard screaming around the university buildings in Cambridge, the Blackbird (and possibly more, I wasn't paying proper birding attention) singing in Stephen's parents' garden, or the Tawny Owl calling in a wooded French camp site. They weren't involved in the twists of the plot, but certainly didn't detract by being out of place or time. Rather appropriate, then.

Friday 13 February 2015

Date night

Nope, this isn't a pre-Valentine ritual, honest.

The idea for this post was triggered by an article I read this morning on the BBC News website, regarding the date. Although, to be more precise, the day of the week and the day of the month .

Here's the article.

This day and date, or at least, any Friday the thirteenth, does have some significance for me personally. Not for superstitious reasons, but for the fact that I was born on a Friday the thirteenth.

I touched upon this topic a few years ago, in an anniversary post.

And, oddly enough, when taking my 'A' Levels, way back in the mists of time, my reference number was... oh yeah... 13.

One could be forgiven for a certain amount of doom-laden prophecy and a peedie bit of tenseness, I reckon.

But no, I am blessed with a wonderful family, I share the planet with a host of fantastic species and, whilst the family 'clan' motto is rumoured to be Non sine periculo (Not without danger), go on... tell me... what isn't in this life?

Don't have nightmares!

Thursday 5 February 2015

You wait ages and then several come along all at once

As we approach the first anniversary of moving into our wee Orcadian home overlooking Scapa Flow, I can categorically state that there's been very little shipping at anchor in the natural harbour during the past year.

Yeah, there's ferries steaming back and forth: the Pentalina makes the trip to Gill's Bay several times a day; the Hamnavoe occasionally graces the Flow with her presence, if westerly gales make for unpleasant sea conditions on t'other side of Hoy; and a peedie Orkney Ferry chugs back and forth between Hoy, Flotta and Houton. And, ok, there was a small coaster that broke down a while back and was towed into safe waters until spare parts could be sourced, but that's about it really. 

So imagine my consternation, one evening earlier in the week, when this was parked in the view...

She's the RFA Fort Victoria, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary oiler replenishment ship. According to the local paper, prior to a recent refit at the Cammell Laird yard in Birkenhead, she spent a good deal of time in the Indian Ocean helping to track down pirate groups off the Somali coast. A snowy Hoy must make quite a change!

Then, a couple of days later, another vessel hove to in the safe anchorage...

This is the crude oil tanker Alsace, which due to the sodium lights just visible in the above photo, looks like a whole street when she's all of an orange glow at night. Again, The Orcadian, our local paper was on the case.

I wonder what will turn up next?

Whither shall they wander

Someone asked me the other day if we feed the birds in our garden. I replied that we didn't actively do this, at least not in a bird table and peanuts and seed feeder and fat balls sort of way, as our unkempt garden is full of weeds and worms that fit the bill, so to speak.

Perhaps, one day, when we have shrubs and bushes aplenty to provide cover and habitat, we may take the standard route to attracting birds to our garden.

Until then...

Greylag geese are a bit of a problem in Orkney. A large and increasing feral population causes an amount of damage to crops such that, for the last two years, there's been a cull of numbers in the Summer. Hopefully, this action doesn't impact upon the wild population that migrates to Orkney for the Winter.

I wonder if I could train them to eat dochans?