Wednesday 29 November 2017

Found it!

Better late than never, as they say...

Here's the link to the Beatles' programme mentioned in yesterday's blogpost:

If you've not seen it, but would like to, there's a week and a half left to watch it on catch-up.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Song cycle

A few weekends ago, I was searching through catch-up tv for something interesting to watch, when I spotted a documentary about the Beatles, originally broadcast in June this year. I don't know how I missed it at the time, but no worries, that's the beauty of catch-up services.

The documentary was about the making of the Sergeant Pepper album, which is now 50 years old, and was presented by Howard Goodall. From the old Victorian poster found by John Lennon in a shop in Kent (which became the lyrics to 'Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite') to the invention of the variable speed tape machine to allow two takes at different speeds to be mixed together ('Strawberry Fields Forever'), it was a very interesting programme. The band's producer at Abbey Road studios was George Martin, who was an integral part of the creative process of recording such an innovative and ground-breaking album. Sadly, I can't find the link to the programme now, my apologies.

Then, the other evening, I was browsing through a social media feed (OK, it was Facebook), when I happened upon a link to CRMK (Community Radio Milton Keynes), which was broadcasting 'Between Two Worlds', a progressive rock show, hosted by an acquaintance from our time in MK. There was an eclectic mix of tracks, none of which I had heard before (I hadn't even heard of the bands!) and I think I will be 'tuning in' more regularly in future. Some of CRMK DJ Kev Slaymaker's shows are available on Mixcloud.

This morning, my thoughts turned to another formative music programme on the radio, Radio One's Friday Rock Show which ran from 1978 to 1993 and was broadcast between 10pm and midnight on a... you've guessed it... Friday evening. For much of the show's time, it was hosted by Tommy Vance (TV on the radio) and was essential listening after lights out. Today I have been reminiscing with the show's theme tune, 'Take It Off The Top' by Dixie Dregs and also the tune which accompanied the weekly quiz, the Friday Night Connection, 'Theme One' by Van Der Graaf Generator.

In listening to the latter, I learnt that 'Theme One' was originally written and recorded by none other than George Martin, also 50 years ago, for the launch of Radio One. Should I have known that? Probably not, I was only five years old at the time.

Saturday 25 November 2017

Stuff On My Phone (8)

I mentioned, a few SOMPs ago, that thinking of my favourite bands or artists, it is a difficult task for me to narrow down the track selection to a single song. This scenario is further complicated when, having finally made a choice, the track in question isn't then available from the media library with which one's mobile phone is aligned. This is a problem which requires a creative solution (rather than purchasing a different phone, as that would just be pandering to global consumerism).

Back in the day, when picture discs were all the rage, I bought the most pop-tastic, tune-catchingly commercial, multi-layered rock album of all time (possibly), 'Hysteria' by Def Leppard.

The Leps are a Sheffield band who were at the forefront of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) in the late 70s and early 80s. They have gone global, had more than their fair share of tragedy and disaster, and are very much de rigueur in the Tense clan.

Certainly, as youngsters, First and Second Born were keen to explore the mysterious environment that was their dad's LP collection, and I can only assume that this picture disc was responsible for some of what followed. I suspect that if Second Born was asked to state her religion, she would devoutly admit to worshipping at the altar of Def Leppard.

Oddly enough, my favourite Leps track isn't on the 'Hysteria' album, though there are some stonking tunes on it (and seven hit singles). Nope, the song that holds me in its thrall is 'White Lightning' from the 'Adrenalize' album of 1992. This album was the first one released after the death of guitarist Steve Clark, and so featured some of his ideas and songs. His great friend and fellow Leps guitarist Phil Collen had to mimic Clark's style on the latter's guitar parts, in what must have been a poignant time in the studio.

'White Lightning' was an unfinished Steve Clark track, so Def Leppard used it to create their own tribute to their lost bandmate and his tortured soul. Whatever our temptation: alcohol, drugs, gambling or pleasures too numerous to mention, there's a salutary tale here for all of us. And a sonic smorgasbord of spine-tingling riffs from the one they called White Lightning.

But, as I said earlier, I can't download that track so, instead, it is a web link to a Youtube page (at least whilst there's still a Youtube).

Shown for illustrative purposes only - does not play (try the link above).

Monday 20 November 2017

Talk to the animals

There's a house I've visited a couple of times recently, carrying out some work for the owner. In the course of this work, I have needed to go in and out of the house many times, and usually did so through a conservatory leading into a kitchen.

The household includes a cat, which is usually found in the conservatory, either scoffing food or having a snooze. As I am a stranger to the home, said cat normally scarpered when I journeyed through his (I think) world, escaping via the hole where the cat flap should be or hiding in some dark recess of the conservatory.

Every time I visited the house.

Every time I walked through the conservatory.

I even took to talking to the cat to reassure him that I meant no harm but, presumably, the cat assumed that this was a bluff and was having no part of it.

Exit cat, stage right or left, take your pick.

But the very next time I went back through the conservatory... every single time... the cat would be back again.

Today, the story was the same, despite the fact that I now knew the cat's name (which I will not reveal here to save his embarrassment). Personalised and placating banter from me cut no mustard with the cat.

Until the very last time, as I was leaving the house at the end of the task, I said goodbye to him and he sat still, didn't even move a muscle. Smugly thinking to myself that I'd built some bridges with the animal, I was just about to close the door on my way out, when I heard a noise.

Slowly turning around and gently opening the door once more, I looked at the cat. Yup, he was still there. Obviously awake. Not scarpering. Then I heard the noise again. It wasn't coming from the cat.

I scanned the room slowly. At the opposite end of the conservatory, perched on a shelf, was a Blackbird. Moreover, a Blackbird whose state of anxiety had just gone up a notch or two, with the addition of a human to its list of woes.

Leaving the door wide open, I stepped over the now-rooted-to-the-spot cat, moved around to the other end of the room and managed to coax the blackbird towards the door, hoping that in its fear of me, it didn't forget the greater danger from the cat. As luck would have it, the bird was all over that plan and made good its escape, bursting forth through the doorway and alarm calling as if every Sparrowhawk in Orkney was on its tail.

I looked at the cat, who gave me a stare in return. A stare that said, "See that hole where the cat flap should be? That flippin' bird hops in here every day and pinches my food!"

Sunday 19 November 2017


Here in Orkney, there has been one gale after another of late, such that many folk were feeling the onset of cabin fever, or at least in need of some respite from the horizontal weather. This morning was much calmer, with plenty of blue sky and a generous helping of golden sunlight.

As we ate breakfast and gazed out of the lounge window, we spotted a solitary sparrow-sized bird perched on a wire fence. As it was on its own, we surmised it probably wasn't one of the local House Sparrow flock, and so it proved. Recourse to binoculars revealed a male Chaffinch (can't remember the last time we had one of those in the garden), who was very interested in the habitat created by the local community allotment.

It was chilly, certainly cold enough for a bit of frost, so we wrapped up well and, by heck, it was great to be outside, simply for the sheer joy of it. We wandered down to the shore, passing a field that contained a big flock of Golden Plover and a few Lapwing. After all the recent rain and hail, there was still quite a lot of standing water, especially in the pastures near the old kirk.

Around one of the temporary pools we counted thirteen Moorhen, all intent on searching for their own tasty morsels, but keeping an eye on each other in case someone else struck gold.

As it was nearing high tide, the birds on the shoreline were quite close to us, giving good views of Snipe, Turnstone, Redshank, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover. A flyover by a large helicopter heading out to the North Sea put up into the air all manner of birds: geese, waders and ducks, the latter including a small flock of Red-breasted Merganser.

Turning down a track, we followed this for a while, in the company of a pair of Stonechat, who flitted in front of us, between fence and ground, for a good few hundred yards.

On the return journey, the sun was at our backs, so the views were much improved.

Above is a photo of Castle Howe (left), the site of a possible Iron Age broch, with the old kirk further around the bay (on the right). The hills of Hoy, across Scapa Flow, can be seen in the distance.

And here's a closer view of the bay and kirk. Did I mention that it was great to be out in the fresh air?

The rest of the day was filled with gardening (Our Lass), washing the van (Me) and sorting out the recycling (also me), before the lowering sun brought a chill to the air once more and we retreated back indoors for a welcome mug of hot chocolate.

Friday 17 November 2017

Stuff On My Phone (7)

The delicate skill of awakening someone from their slumbers is not an art that I've needed to perfect or have previously required. At Tense Towers, I'm usually the first out of bed in the morning and blundering kitchenwards to fire up the kettle. You would probably have to ask Our Lass how she is normally roused from her sleep, but I've found that the soundtrack to my losing a slipper in the pitch black, stumbling into a door frame, creating a disco lightshow as I struggle to find the correct switch and clattering about with kettle and taps will sort of do the trick.

Last night we had a guest staying over who remarked, in passing, that her alarm clock woke her gradually by serenading her with the song of a Blackbird. To be fair, there can't be many finer ways to regain consciousness. No pressure, eh?

So... whilst stood by the boiling kettle, I mused that, y'know, I have a few audio clips of Blackbirds on the Voice Recorder of my phone. Cue tiptoe-ing along the corridor to the door of the guest room, transporting a bluetooth speaker and a cheeky grin.

Once I was ensconced out of the way, at a safe distance and at the allotted  time, I opened up the audio file, checked that the phone and speaker were connected, and pressed 'Play'.

I now know that Voice Recorder doesn't work through Bluetooth, or at least not when I'm driving it at 7am in the morning.

But, better late than never, here's a Blackbird, accompanied initially by a Nuthatch, with plenty of other twitterings in the background.

Sunday 12 November 2017

Stuff On My Phone (6)

I've probably mentioned before that the song list on my phone has one quirky rule... no artist can feature more than once. This paints me into a bit of a corner if a band has several tracks I like or, as in this case, several albums' worth of tracks that I adore. Yep, for those big movers in the Tense Towers CD shelves, it's a whole other order of difficulty to choose just one song. Often, I will opt for a track that wouldn't be my usual first or second choice but is, instead, a song that best captures the spirit of the band or artist. To my ears, anyway.

As this has been a weekend of remembrance for the fallen in too many wars, and as the thought takes a hold in national consciousnesses that all death in war, both military and civilian should be remembered, my choice of Rush track will perhaps not be too much of a surprise.

Coincidentally, and bringing things right up to date, as I type, Second Born is actually in China on a work assignment.

'Territories', by Rush, is from their 1985 'Power Windows' album. The lyrics resonate through the centuries. One day I hope they will be unnecessary.

Saturday 11 November 2017

Autumn colour

Two weeks ago, I journeyed south to Stevenage, in England, for an equipment familiarisation course. It was a ten day training block condensed into 4 days, and was consequently pretty full on. By the end of the fourth day, my head was swirling with information - specifications, procedures, equipment IDs and protocols. Unfortunately, there wasn't the opportunity to take in much wildlife to free my mind, although whilst sat at breakfast in the hotel one morning, a Magpie and a Carrion Crow quartered the car park looking for tasty morsels. The short commute on foot from hotel to training establishment was invariably sunny and dry, so at least I could take in some Autumnal colour. Sadly, after a day in a basement staring at presentations, the return journey back to the hotel was in darkness.

The only other wildlife I can recall was my room mate for the week...

Back in Orkney, the weather wasn't long in reminding me that those four degrees of latitude encompass a broad range of temperatures. Here's a selection of images from the last week.

A mid-morning shower (right) offers a tantalising arc of rainbow (left of centre).

A near-dawn view west prepares us for a roller coaster day of weather with this helping of candy floss.

Late afternoon and a shower tracks its way between Cantick Head lighthouse (left) on South Walls and a WW2 searchlight control tower (right) on Flotta.

Another morning shower, this time of hail, driven on by a gale force westerly. Notice how I stayed indoors for that photo.

And, finally, an afternoon hail shower over Scapa Flow.

Today feels icy and raw, so after a brief sojourn into Kirkwall for lunch, we're now sat snug in our lounge, trying to catch glimpses of the Snipe in the field over the road. They're keeping hunkered down and I don't blame them. Meanwhile, a flock of Redwings are bathing, yes, bathing, in small puddles of water and then sitting on a wire fence to preen. A hardy bunch, those Scandinavian thrushes.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Stuff On My Phone (5)

Back in the day, I was a bit more of a petrolhead than I am now. However, owing to a huge deficit of driving talent, my motorsport prowess was largely confined to the navigator's seat, in various forms of rallying from competitive forest stages to tarmac 'night navigation' exercises.

Later in life, when First Born gravitated towards picking up a map, I was enlisted to move over to the steering wheel side of the car and, together, we enjoyed some success at local club level.

My final motorsport foray, years ago now, was back in the co-driver's seat for an all-nighter in the lanes of the South Midlands with one of the local club's young guns. It was a fitting challenge to bow out on, borderline legal and really good fun. However, since then I have drifted away from burning fossil fuels for entertainment, although I do still sneak a peek at the World Rally Championship highlights package offered by Channel 5, when opportunity presents itself.

What has this got to do with my phone?

Well, to someone of my vintage, rally highlights on the telly were synonymous with one song... Propaganda's 'Duel', a remix of which became the BBC's theme tune for their rallying coverage.

Here is the original, but take care, it's very 80s...

And here's some rallying footage from the same era, kicking off with the tune.

Bringing us up to date, and inspiring this blog post, Wales' Elfyn Evans won the British round of the World Rally Championship last weekend.