Thursday 29 March 2018

Stuff On My Phone (14)

If ever a song's time was now, this track must be in with a shout and let's make no bones about it.

I've been gnome alone for the past week, whilst Our Lass visits First and Second Born, as well as attending a hen weekend for a niece. Last Thursday, I had a bit of a domestic disaster, which was amusing after the fact, well, quite some time after, if I'm honest.

We have one of those free-standing clothes airers with adjustable arms, and I was removing some clothes from it which were sufficiently dry to be consigned to the airing cupboard. Unbeknownst to me, as I lifted a gillet from the end of the airer, it snagged on a corner and began to raise the whole arm. I still hadn't noticed when the arm reached the critical point where the stay drops down. The noise of this roused me from my reverie, although I wasn't sure what had made the sound, but I did notice the snagging problem and shook the garment free.

As you've probably guessed, at this point gravity took over, and the arm headed south at a rate of knots. On its way, it caught the edge of a small stereo speaker for our digital radio, and knocked it off the shelf of a corner unit. Trapped on the wrong side of the airer, I could only watch as this too plummeted earthwards, its momentum only halted temporarily as the audio lead went taut and the main digital radio followed suit from a higher shelf.

In the split second that all this was taking place, I remained rooted to the spot and continued to monitor progress from my helpless and disbelieving standpoint. Even as several expletives were shuffling from their easy chairs to make their way to turning the air blue, I could only witness the power lead for the radio, which was dragging a tall vase from the same shelf. Shortly after one corner of the digital radio gouged a neat triangular hole in the vinyl flooring, said vase reached Ground Zero and exploded into eleven billionty shards, each an individual sharps hazard of a unique size and shape.

After several seconds of dumbstruck silence, basically whilst I waited to see if the ceiling would fall in or a wall would collapse outwards, I trudged wearily to the airing cupboard where, coincidentally, we keep the vacuum cleaner. It looked at me with a furrowed brow and then put up some grudging resistance as I dragged it back along the corridor to the kitchen. I could hear it thinking "Wtf? We just cleaned this room yesterday! How can it be dirty ag... oh?!"

This week, I am off southwards too, to meet up with Our Lass and attend the wedding of another niece. I shall be wearing these cufflinks.

And here, eventually, is the track I mentioned at the beginning of the post. It's one of my favourite Genesis songs (technically two of my favourite Genesis songs, as it's a medley).

Sunday 25 March 2018

More corvid capers

Right! Following this morning's prevarication and displacement activity, this afternoon I really must get on with some chores.

[Sets to changing the bedding and industriously fitting fresh pillowcases]...

What's that noise?

[Pauses to listen more intently]...

Sounds like a Raven.

[Hastens to the window]...

Aha! And a pair of Hooded Crows!

[Hotfoots it to camera and then out of the front door]...

Click!... click, click... click... click, click, click etc.

Yes, a pair of Hoodies had taken exception to the presence of a Raven, and were busy mobbing it for all they were worth.

Occasionally, the Raven would turn the tables on one or the other of the crows, but eventually the Hoodies persistence paid off and the Raven moved on.

The Hoodies took up station on the roof of a nearby barn to keep watch for further trouble. As I was downloading these images, they had another sortie against a pair of Rooks that had the temerity to perch on their favourite section of fence posts.

Hail seizer

Y'know that thing, when you've loads of stuff to do, but... the sun's shining... when although you can rationalise that staying in and cracking on with some housework is the sensible option, you just can't escape the lure of some fresh air and the joy of a bit of wildlife watching.

That'd be this morning, then.

It was so sunny and bright (if a little nippy in the brisk westerly breeze) that I opted for my camera rather than my bins, and hightailed it down towards the shore. I was hoping for Lapwings and Hares in good light and close quarters, but twas not to be.

However, the coltsfootses looked much perkier this weekend...

There was a pair of Tufted Duck on the flooded field behind the old kirk...

Lesser Celandines were beginning to put on a show...

And the Common Gulls were busy being raucous in multiples of two...

On the cemetery wall, this Starling and Pied Wagtail reminded me of First and Second Born when they were much younger... Will there be an ice cream van parked at the top of the hill?

And another Pied Wagtail was negotiating the lichen and the stiffening breeze...

At this point, a sudden hail shower blew through, and I had to tuck my optics under my coat and head for home. Predictably, as I arrived there, blue skies returned and the sun reappeared. It was as if I'd imagined the freezing squall, save for my drenched trousers and knees that were complaining bitterly.

To finish on a warmer note, here's a short piece of time lapse footage I shot yesterday evening at the home of good friends. They live near the top of a hill, with expansive views to the east. As the sun sets, the shadow of the hill races across the island.

Friday 23 March 2018

The Hall of the Slain

What's this, you're thinking, has old Tense gone all mythic with the blog? Has several years of soaking up Norse influences from Orcadian culture finally pushed him over the edge. Or is he embarking on a project to pen a dark, Scandinavian murder mystery?

Not so much. The house where I was working today was called Valhalla. It was set in a very rural location, and the only dead thing on site was the satellite dish. It was a morning of steady, though gentle, rain, and a southerly breeze was barely noticeable. All in all, I thought, it could've been worse. I had not required the services of a Valkyrie (and the jury is still out on exactly what those services were) and it wasn't going to be last night's roast pork for tea (again).


As I deployed my ladder, I noticed that at its footing were lots of Coltsfoot springing from the bare, muddy ground, their flowers like tiny yellow explosions of colour. I was very careful where I put my boots. Once up at dish height, my ears finally got a message through to my brain, that the air was full of birdsong. Not your normal common or garden birds (though in much of Orkney, they are common and can be found in yer garden!), but creatures of wild moorland and rough pasture.

Skylarks were singing brightly, ascending in their own inimitable way, as if to celebrate the sheer joy of being alive on such a sunny and warm damp, overcast day. Curlews were bubbling and skirling for all they were worth, Redshanks were performing display flights, and Oystercatchers were piping as if their lives depended upon it. Now that I was concentrating on the sounds, I also detected Common gull, Rook and Snipe in the orchestration and, possibly, the far off cry of a Buzzard.

The rosy glow I felt from being in proximity to such fantastic wildlife was warmth enough to carry me through the task.

Sunday 18 March 2018

Light show

Sunday had one more surprise in store for Orkney. After several nights of probable aurora, but way too much cloud cover to see it, tonight was clear and still with minimal cloud. And the Northern Lights, or Merry Dancers as they're called here, put on a fabulous show.

Both of these photos were taken from our front door, mainly because it was freezing and I'm a complete wuss. The first image shows the main band of the auroral arc with many rays emanating from it. The dull red glow, bottom right, is the glow from Kirkwall, I think.

The second image is looking more west than the usual north. It is thought that the pale ray may be a Steve, as it is separate from the main arc of the aurora. Above Steve is the Pleiades star cluster. Below Steve is another cluster, several ships and a couple of rigs anchored in Scapa Flow.

Cameras do tend to over-emphasise the colours, as to my naked eye the aurora tends to be a pale greeny-grey. There are many better photos of the night's entertainment, taken by folk with more camera skills than I, on the Orkney Aurora Group Facebook page.

Broken spring

Another spell of cold weather means that Winter is in no hurry to let go of its grip on the land. We've escaped the snow which is plaguing places further south, but the easterly gales and consequent wind chill make life difficult for humans and wildlife.

Perhaps this has swayed my perception, but I was convinced that Spring was advancing slower this year. Time to fire up a blog search and look at the annual dates when I first mention Coltsfoot...

2014  No record

2015  15th March

2016  19th March

2017  12th March

2018  18th March

So much for perception, eh?

But I am sure that this year's Coltsfeet Coltsfoots flowers have only just emerged from the cold, cold ground.

Meantime, my little car is making an ominous creaking noise whenever I hit an undulation in the road. This is more likely to be a broken spring.

Sunday 11 March 2018

A walk on the wild Lyde

This weekend we're cat sitting for friends who have journeyed south for a family celebration. Milly, their kitten, is a house cat, so rather than her come to us, we're spending time with her in West Mainland. Hopefully, the entertainment value of the encounter is equally shared between Our Lass, Milly and myself.

Ironically, Saturday began with a pair of sun dogs. This is the view eastwards from the top of the Lyde Road, looking across to Kirkwall Bay.

This house is situated conveniently close to the RSPB reserve at Cottascarth, so after the morning frost had disappeared, we made a short trip up to the hide in the hope of a glimpse of a Hen Harrier.

Unfortunately, we weren't in luck, with only a pair of Ravens to show for our efforts, but back at Milly's, we had a fortuitous encounter with a Buzzard.

Sunday is the wrong side of dreich, so we're channelling the spirit of Milly and being house humans. At some point in the future, I will blog about my thoughts regarding pets, a possibly contentious subject and one about which I have quite mixed feelings.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Stuff On My Phone (13)

2018 sees the tenth anniversary of a rough time in my life. A decade ago, in pre-blog days, I experienced a period of work-related stress that had repercussions for myself and those around me. Now, at some distant remove from that episode, it seems a reasonable moment to pause and reflect, in a manner that wasn't an option at the time.

In 2000, I began working for a small, but growing, electronics company which, in many ways, became my dream job. It was a rewarding time, both from the sense of making a difference and also remuneration. As the company's ranks swelled, we all rode the wave of hard work and job satisfaction, and after eight years, I found myself managing a product line as well as co-ordinating installations and repairs. Those latter roles began to need more resource and manpower but, in fire-fighting mode, I was either too busy juggling projects or too close to the problem to recognise it for what it was.

The upshot was that I internalised everything, taking the burden of the looming deadlines, customers' high expectations and general lack of resource as my problem, not the company's. This was not a healthy state of affairs and, inevitably, I ended up as a sobbing wreck in the boss's office.

Sent home and visiting a doctor at my local surgery, I vaguely heard the words he was saying... something about a football pitch, countless blades of grass, one blade among many, yada, yada. My head was still full of all the things that weren't being done at work so, when I returned home, all I could explain to Our Lass about the doctor was "When the heck does he think I have time to mow the lawn?!" After a time (memory has kindly erased how long), I returned to work, to a company that was also wondering what was going to happen next. I did not appreciate their point of view for some considerable while.

Whilst I'd been away, things had been happening, resource was being created and a whole department began to take shape. Unfortunately, it seemed unlikely that I would be a part of it, as I was offered the choice of several other, perhaps less demanding, roles. At this point, I began to realise that I was on a journey of sorts. I hadn't heard of the Change Curve, but being told that I was no longer required in the role that had suited me like no other was a proper blow. Shock and denial turned to anger.

Having asked for a weekend to think things over, I channelled the anger into a heartfelt letter to the boss, outlining why I thought he was wrong. Subsequent redrafts followed, each lifting a cloud as the expletive count lowered. All through this process, the song playing in my head, and I do not know how it came to me, was Green Day's 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams'. This was a band whose output tended to be generationally restricted to the bedrooms of First and Second Born, so I likely absorbed the vibe, unconsciously, through the walls.

The following week, letter delivered, I felt strong enough to argue my corner, resulting in the small victory of a desk in the corner of the nascent department. From this vantage point, I was able to rebuild some self confidence, using the best bits of the old me to forge a more resilient, but wary, new me. During that time, on site with a trusted and valued customer, I talked about what had happened. Bless him, the customer kindly gave me the "It's ok to say no" talk which, in many ways, was the final piece of the puzzle. In the years afterwards, I hope I repaid his kindness, it was the least I could do.

I spent a further five years with the company, with my only significant use of the word 'no' being the occasion when I refused the position of departmental manager. Later, when the question arose again, I accepted, and had the honour of managing (at least on paper!) the best bunch of colleagues a guy could wish for. They were often infuriating, occasionally ridiculous, but frequently sublime. To a man and woman, each understood the need to complete the task, using their many and different skills to accomplish what was required. A chap can learn a lot from a team like that.

So now, whenever I listen to 'Boulevard...', it reminds me of not only the low point, but also the highs. Which is quite cathartic and pretty much all you could ask of a SOMP track.

Saturday 3 March 2018

The icing on the cake

On Thursday, I was tasked with moving some equipment to allow building work to proceed on the upgrade to the hostel on the island of Papa Westray (often known as Papay). Due to the time involved in travelling, sailing wasn't an option, so a trip in one of Loganair's Britten Norman Islanders was the alternative.

This week has been particularly wintry, with much of England and the central belt of Scotland having enough snow to cause havoc with everyone's travel plans. Sadly, this included First Born's long weekend visiting Orkney, which was scuppered by stationary traffic on the M62 and cancelled flights out of Manchester.

Orkney, by contrast, has seen light but frequent flurries of very fine snow, which drifted in the strong easterly breeze. So I wasn't completely sure that my flight would go ahead, or that I could return to Mainland later in the day.

I needn't have worried. Despite the wind chill and freezing temperatures, we left Kirkwall Airport on time and headed for our first port of call, the island of Westray. As we flew over Shapinsay, the bright Winter sun sparkled off the frosty scenery below, lighting up Helliar Holm lighthouse and Balfour Castle and casting long shadows behind them. Then, as we passed Egilsay and Rousay, a snow flurry obliterated the view for a while. As we neared Westray, the sun returned, giving spectacular views along the cliffs of the island's western coast. In the far distance, Noup Head lighthouse looked as though it was perched on a giant slice of carrot cake, the dark cliffs rising from the sea towards the snowy icing above.

Having landed on Westray, the next hop was a scant two minute journey to Papay, officially the word's shortest scheduled flight. As the seats in front of me were now vacated, I was able to film this bit of the journey without getting in anyone's way.

Conditions deteriorated a little during the day, but with the equipment successfully relocated, my return flight went without a hitch. We encountered a few more snow flurries en route, but made it back to Kirkwall without incident. And by some weird Pavlovian response, I celebrated by purchasing a carrot cake.