Saturday 24 February 2018

Stuff On My Phone (12)

I have thought long and hard about whether to include this particular track in the SOMP series, as it's one thing subjecting readers to my dubious taste in music, but a completely different kettle of fish to launch an ear worm on an unsuspecting group of kindly folk who, for some inexplicable reason, keep coming back for more.

Y'see, I hope that the series doesn't actually need the links to the music tracks, as it's as much about the personal story of why the tracks are special to me in some way and are, therefore, loitering on my phone.

To that end, there's not a link in this blogpost, but that's mainly because the song is an absolute ear worm, at least to me. I'm not sure how contagious an ear worm can be, but I really wouldn't want to unknowingly inflict one on anyone. The choice will be yours.

Oh yeah, that 'thought long and hard' comment at the beginning of the post, it was about 3.2 microseconds. I only downloaded the song recently, having been blithely unaware of its existence and huge success at the top of the charts in 2013. I happened upon it earlier this year when it was used in a tv advert by Peugeot, promoting their 5008 SUV model. We'll conveniently gloss over the fact that Peugeot probably don't have a Stargate-type facility with a portal to a world where whales happily leap over causeways, eh?

As befits the status of ear worm, I can't remove the song from my head, so have done the only thing that will eventually lead to its eradication. I've downloaded it and play it a lot. At some distant point in time (possibly when a major French car manufacturer has invented the afore-mentioned portal) I will become bored with it, but current evidence makes that supposition unlikely.

Wanna risk it? John Newman's 'Love Me Again'.


Here at Tense Towers, the weekday breakfast cereal of choice is porridge. The raw ingredients are oat flakes and water in roughly a 1:2 ratio. There's really not much that can go wrong with the recipe, as long as one of us is about to give the mixture an occasional stir as we blunder about the kitchen in a semi-awake state.

With a fresh packet of our chosen cereal just opened, Tuesday produced a sense of puzzlement to our breakfast ramblings. There was a distinct aroma in the kitchen as the oat flakes cooked, not unpleasant, just not expected.

On sampling the end result, we discovered that the porridge had a distinctly nutty flavour, again not unpleasant, just not expected. Our Lass wasn't keen to repeat the experience, however.

A gentle enquiry to the oat flake manufacturer asking if they had changed their 'recipe', and quoting the batch number reference, produced a response that could be either fact or flannel, who knows? Apparently...

'On checking our records we did have an issue with the kiln during the manufacture of this batch  where it recycled more than once, which would have caused a toasted effect to the oat flakes, making them taste more nutty as you have described.  Although the taste, texture and appearance will be affected the product is still safe to eat.  As a corrective action if this issue re-occurs we will look more closely at the finished product by taking more samples throughout the run to assess if the taste, texture and appearance are acceptable to be packed into our finished product.'

We gratefully accepted their offer of a replacement.

Wednesday morning saw us opening another packet, from a different batch, and normal service was resumed. The other bag is now in the dry baking ingredients cupboard awaiting the opportunity to be recycled into a crumble topping or some flapjacks where, at least, the nutty flavour will be more acceptable to discerning palates.

Come Friday morning and I was doing porridge alone, in a cramped cell. Well, I say 'cell', it was a cabin on the overnight ferry to Shetland. As befits my grumpy nature, I can't be doing with socialising at that time of day, never mind the queueing and buffeting at the buffet of communal eating. Instead, I had brought along a couple of small pots of 'just add boiling water' porridge, to be consumed in the tranquility of my own company. That's external 'tranquility', rather than in the sense of filtering out all the inconsequential fluff that pings about inside my head.

For the avoidance of doubt, no, we don't use milk, don't stir it with a spurtle or put salt on the finished article. Our Lass will use a peedie bit of sparingly-sprinkled sugar, but I usually just eat it as is, although lately I've been trying to use up a jar of bramble jelly that's too runny for jam sarnies.

Monday 19 February 2018

Wideford Hill

On Sunday, the weather in Orkney was just about as peachy as it is possible to be for February: sunny, calm and with temperatures climbing through zero.

We have not had a long (for us) walk for some time, so set ourselves the challenge of climbing Wideford Hill, just to the west of Kirkwall.

Here is a view of Wideford Hill from Tense Towers...

at a distance of about eight miles (thank you, Google).

We didn't walk from home, but parked at the leisure centre in Kirkwall, navigated our way around the sports pitches and took the path leading through Muddisdale. Patches of frost-laden vegetation and the odd icy puddle were a reminder that we're not out of the woods of Winter yet. However, there has been much tree planting in this area and a few signs of an impending Spring were visible. The buds were beginning to burst on the bare sticks of Dog Rose (or possibly Rosa rugosa), with a few tentative leaves sampling the cold air. Alder catkins loitered in small groups on twig corners, whilst the branches of Ashes were stacking their decks with Ace of Spades buds.

The gentle climb continued alongside a golf course, then, after crossing a road, we began a rougher ascent up a muddy farm track. Our pace wasn't warp speed, but we were doing grate.

Stopping to catch our breath, here's the view back down the track at the point where pastures gave way to moorland.

And now we were ready for the final push to the summit.

As the gradient increased, our speed necessarily diminished, which is just another way of saying "Let's stop for a photo opportunity."

Once at the top, we took in the views from the trig point,

then the vista looking back towards Kirkwall,

before we retraced our steps a short way downhill, then contoured around to visit the Neolithic burial chamber which sits on the western slope of Wideford Hill.

Thinking out loud, we realised that the last time we were here was our first Orkney holiday, twelve years ago.

Then, as now, it was impossible to resist the temptation...

There are three burial chambers leading off the main chamber, as well as the original west-facing entrance. Many of the stones in the main chamber were covered with Victorian (and later) graffiti, a temptation that we were able to resist.

On our way back to Kirkwall, I spotted this Yellow Brain Fungus on a Gorse bush, one of the few spots of colour that we saw. Yes, I know it's orange.

In some of the sheltered ditches, a few Lesser Celandine flowers were beginning to open, as if instead of photosynthesising, the plants were radiating sunlight back into the world.

And in a very predictable denouement, we returned home for tea and cake. 

Sunday 11 February 2018

Air to ground missive

As the light faded after a cloud-obscured sunset, Our Lass and I stood at the lounge window, gazing out towards the distant snow-covered Hoy hills. In this, the coldest Winter since we moved to Orkney four years ago, the vegetation of field and garden seems to be shrinking back into the earth. Bitingly cold winds and extremity-stinging hail take their toll on all life, both plant and animal.

With the grass gradually leaching its greenness through various shades of straw towards a pale brown, in the field opposite I noticed a darker colouration. Possibly a long dead stump of a dochan, but with the teasing potential to be a Hare hunkered down against the elements. As it turned out, it was neither of these things, my binoculars revealing a raptor, possibly a Sparrowhawk, busy plucking a kill. The failing light made it tricky to be sure but, whilst Our Lass kept her eye on the bird, I risked a dash for the camera. Halfway there, she informed me that the bird had flown, spooked by a pair of Hooded Crows. I returned to the window as the Hoodies saw off the bird of prey, and watched as they pottered around the area where the kill had occurred. The raptor must have taken its hard-won prey with it, as the crows found little to reward their mobbing efforts.

Today's fleeting glimpses of the competition for food have brought home just how tough it is to survive in this harsh environment. The waders and waterfowl at least have the shore and the shallows to provide daily sustenance, but the corvids need all their cognitive abilities and cunning, and the raptors their agility and talons, to make it through to the approaching Spring.

Aerial antics

What was I thinking?! It doesn't seem very long ago that I was typing the words 'The local family of Ravens rarely become involved in these shenanigans...' when I was reporting on the corvid on corvid action which could be witnessed from the front door of Tense Towers.

Then, this afternoon, between wintry showers of hail and snow, I noticed two birds locked in aerial combat. They were some distance away, both dark in appearance, with one much larger than the other. It wasn't until I had jettisoned my laptop and picked up my bins that I was able to identify the twisting, turning shapes as a Hooded Crow (smaller) and a Raven (larger). The binoculars, too, were then cast aside as I grabbed my camera and headed for the front door.

The Hoodie appeared to have some food in its beak, upon which the Raven had clear designs. As the dogfight continued, climbing up into the deep blue then spiralling and diving down, I struggled to keep the distant specks in (a) view and (b) focus. Occasionally, the squabble over food disappeared from sight altogether, as the birds dropped down towards the shore and behind a hill, but then they would zoom back skywards to continue the melee.

I could not possibly imagine what it must be like to run pell mell with, for instance, an apple clamped between my teeth and being chased by a burly rugby union centre, intent on relieving me of it. (I so wanted to write 'hooker' in that last sentence, but that would have sent a mixed message and possibly resulted in a different outcome.)

Soft furnishings

I have to admit to a small and rather bijou rant the other day. You're probably wondering, "Can a rant be described as 'bijou'?" Please allow me to explain.

Picture the scene, if you will. A home, a lounge, a two-seater recliner. As they say, sofa, so good.

The seasoned observer will notice the two cushions on the right of the photograph. This is where I normally sit. If your thoughts have moved on to "Really?! Whilst he's not particularly macho, he doesn't sound like a soft furnishings kind of guy?" then award yourself a bonus point.

Continuing the explanation, I should also point out that Our Lass sits on the left, usually with the cushions, but when exiting said seat, the cushions mysteriously end up on 'my side'. Hmmmm.

If you've just heard several clicks, that'll be the sound of First and Second Born rolling their eyes upwards, as they know exactly where this is going.

Perhaps the situation would be better illustrated with a short demonstration? This is the furniture shop scene from an episode of the BBC sitcom 'Coupling', which neatly summarises the main characteristics of cushion rage. Whilst it does share some of my frustration, and a few expletives, it is very worth watching to the end.

Sunday 4 February 2018

Another bout of Rooks v Crows

This morning dawned crisp and frosty with that gorgeous Winter light that is two parts sunny, one part honey. There were several Hares scampering around in the neighbouring fields. 

Whilst I was busy watching the Hares, some Rooks turned up for the latest round of the corvid competition. I'm not sure they knew which game was to be played today, as they sat on the fence looking very undecided.

Eventually, the Hooded Crows put in an appearance (fielding a whole six players today) and proceeded to perform their version of the Kiwis' Haka.

Possibly in acknowledgement of the fact that this weekend saw the beginning of Rugby Union's Six Nations Trophy for 2018, the Rooks were inspired to bring along an appropriately-shaped potato.

Unfortunately, before I could figure out who was playing on the wing, the game had to be abandoned when Team Rook flew off with the ball.

In other news, with wall-to-wall blue sky and barely a breath of wind, Our Lass and I were just happy to be able to spend most of the day outside.

Friday 2 February 2018

Field of battle

This week has seen the BBC air the latest series of its flagship '[Insert season here]watch' over four consecutive nights. And speaking of knights, were Martin and Chris just a bit too keen to dress up in costume for the corvid showdown that was Game of Crows?

Zim the Carrion Crow won the cognitive ability competition for the smartest bird, but not before Martin discovered that Bran the Raven was a bit of a pecker. It was probably karma for all the references to 'penis' that Martin squeezed into a feature on the mating habits of Lesser Horseshoe Bats... not to mention his description of the roosting female bats as looking like 'hairy plums'. [Facepalm]

Back at Tense Towers, most days are Game of Crows days, when the local Hooded Crows endeavour to see off any Rooks who might be trying to muscle into their territory and pinch anything edible.

Often's the time when I've been drawn to the window at the sight of up to a dozen Rooks, wandering across the neighbouring pasture in their search for tasty morsels. It is never very long before a pair of Hooded Crows shows up and chases them away. For some reason, superior numbers don't appear to give sufficient advantage in this particular battle. Perhaps the Rooks, who forage, nest and roost in large colonies, don't put quite the same emphasis on territory that the lone pair of Hoodies do?

Rook on the lookout for trouble
Today, for instance, four Rooks turned up in the field over the road, and began foraging in a ragged line. From my vantage point, I could see the Hoodies were at the far side of the field, though I suspect the two groups were invisible to each other. However, it wasn't long before one of the Hoodies was airborne, from where the Rooks' sneaky sortie was viewable. As soon as the Rooks realised the game was up, they too took to the air and headed for... er... pastures new, whilst the Hooded Crows made a point of positioning themselves in the middle of the field.

The Hooded Crows are never far away
The local family of Ravens rarely become involved in these shenanigans, preferring to spend their time annoying Great Black-backed Gulls, any passing Herons and the occasional Buzzard.