Tuesday 27 November 2018

Yet another blatant filler post

Blogging can be a tricky old business. I've lost count of the number of times when I've turned up on this page to apologise for a prolonged absence due to a missing muse or the pressure of Life. One of the lesser side effects of such a hiatus is the consequent reduction in annual blog count, which is not a highly sought after metric, but one which I use to gauge year on year wordage and guff.

I reckon on about eight posts a month which, with a bit of gentle pressure, should yield close to a hundred for the year. Handily, the 'Previously on' sidebar shows monthly/annual output, so there's not even too much heartache in checking whether I'm on schedule, or not.

If I manage the required eight posts in December, but without this particular snippet, I would be one short of the hundred. Cue a filler post to promote the likely not-quite-there 99 to the magic 100. Sad, isn't it?

In my desperation to come up with a suitable topic for your delectation, the word 'Brexit' was typed into the Search facility of I&T, which yielded a whole raft of one post from 2017. It mentioned 'Fin' but not 'La Fin', it mentioned 'whales', but not 'Wales', so you would be correct in thinking that it was more cetacean-based than politician-biased.

Obviously, if you're reading this, that particular search will now have two results!

With a vote due in the House of Commons in a fortnight's time, regarding the acceptance of the settlement deal, or not, let's just say that the threat of an imminent harpoon still hangs over our relationship with the EU.

The only certainty is that anyone who professes to know what will happen in the coming months is most definitely fibbing. And when will that much-prized certainty arrive? Well, you'll need more than the lung capacity of a Sperm Whale to hold your breath for that long.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Autumn turning into Winter

On a Saturday morning with no earthly reason to head into town, we pottered around our local circuit instead, soaking up some brief sunshine, as well as the sights and sounds of wintering wildfowl.

Some Teal

Do you think two dozen Snipe is too large a quantity to be called a wisp?

A splash of Teal (not a recognised collective noun)

Rock Pipits trying to form a Goth band

 A Redshank on the tide line

More Teal and Snipe

A Moorhen upon reflection

Back to front: Cantick Head lighthouse; mv Pentalina; causeway to Hunda; Churchill Barrier number 3

An obliging Rook

Sunshine on a distant Hoy
Just after I'd put my camera away (as it was starting to rain), we walked by a garden with a large Hebe bush in it. A movement caught our eye, which resolved itself into a warbler of some sort. I'd guess, probably a Chiffchaff, brought across the North Sea due to several days of easterly winds. Additionally, this might also explain why we've had another two Robins in our garden this week (technically, we're not due another Robin visit until Spring!).

Thursday 22 November 2018

Photo montage

This post is a bit of a photo round-up of the past week, a combination of work views and ephemeral skies.

Last Thursday, I travelled to Westray to repair a satellite link which controls a wind turbine. Just take your van into the field, they said, it'll be fine. Er... no. It's two wheel drive and laden with heavy things. I carried all my gear across the field.

It was a rather gorgeous day for November, mind.

And that electric fence? It was live. An expletive may have been uttered.

Friday saw me in Shetland. Another sunny day, and one of my customers had a predilection for Land Rover's finest, the Discovery. We know what that feels like!

Fast forward to Tuesday, and some early morning sunshine picked out the island of Cava on the opposite side of Scapa Flow. Normally, this island, and its neighbours Fara and Rysa Little, are indistinguishable from the looming bulk of Hoy, so it was lovely to see Cava have its moment in the spotlight.

That afternoon, the sunset was a muted pink and grey affair.

Yesterday, strong winds from the east forced the temporary closure of Churchill Barrier 2. We can't see the structure from Tense Towers, but its location can be inferred from the position of the blue lights on the police car and the spray.

And today my van was at the garage for a repair, which was fortunate as I was summoned to the court of Princess Button on Graemsay.

Monday 19 November 2018

Centenary of the end of the Great War

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which brought about the end of hostilities in World War 1, there were poignant events throughout Europe and further afield.

In Orkney, where history is always very close to the surface, we were no exception.

In the evenings leading up to the 11th of November, an Armistice animation was projected onto the west face of St Magnus Cathedral, in Kirkwall, a 20 minute encapsulation of what it must've meant to leave a way of life, not knowing whether you would return; to be a part of the horror of warfare; to possibly have to make the ultimate sacrifice. It was very sombre and thought-provoking. In fact, as I watched it, I was struck by how melancholy it was, and mused that it wouldn't have been out of place as a backdrop at a Pink Floyd gig. This isn't me trying to be disrespectful, as I consider 'loss' to be one of the central themes of the band's music.

At 6am on Sunday 11th November, pipers played 'When the battle's o'er' at several war memorials in the county, including the one just down the road from Tense Towers. Unforgivably, I was still pushing out the zzz's, and missed the whole thing.

On the afternoon, at Scapa beach, a crowd gathered to watch the 'Pages of the Sea' art installation. Local volunteers created a sand drawing of a local serviceman, from the island of Flotta, who had been killed during the war. A poem, 'The Wound In Time' by Carol Ann Duffy, was read out.

At this time, it was appropriate for me to remember a great uncle, my paternal grandmother's brother, who was killed on the Western Front, aged 27. As far as we know, my great uncle's regiment was recalled from India at the outbreak of the war. They arrived back in the UK on 22nd December 1914. By the 18th January 1915, his regiment had landed in France and, barely 5 weeks later, he was dead. His name is recorded on the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres.

Though an ex-soldier myself, I do not attend Remembrance services, feeling that they are too militaristic, which is not a tone I'm comfortable with. However I do buy a poppy each year, as I am of the opinion that if we do have to wage war (I accept that there may be certain circumstances where it is justified), then the very least we can do is to support the injured and the bereaved.

Sunday 18 November 2018

Well, well, well, what's all this then?

This evening, as a favour for a friend, I was browsing a book of Orkney dialect words, researching a possible name for a company with a local connection. Don't worry, I'd been warned off any excruciating puns or stupid wordplay, this was a strictly serious business.

With alliteration a likely option, I was scanning through the 'T's, when I came across the word 'teeve'. This had some significance for me, so I bookmarked the page, to be returned to later once I'd completed the mission. Sorry to be a 'T's.

Eagle-eyed readers with total recall might remember the sound of this word from here or here. The Tieve Road runs from the shore of Howes Wick, by St Nicholas Kirk, up to the old property of Greenwall.

About 4 miles to the north west, and towards Kirkwall the capital of Orkney, is a feature that also mentions the word, Tievesgeo.

Or, in a wider geographical context...

In my mind, I had wondered whether this was something to do with criminality, as the dialect word 'tief' means thief. Perhaps this was a smuggling route from the coast, via a safe house, and on to town?

Well, now I know this isn't so, as 'teeve' is usually paired with 'well', for example teeve or tave well. Indeed, at a bend in the Tieve Road, there is a spring in a small enclosure. This must be a teeve well, which has resulted in the place name.

I can only assume that in the shallow valley of Tievesgeo, there must be several sources of water. 'Geo' is local dialect for a ravine, though more usually associated with a rocky inlet, between cliffs, on the coast.

And the company name? Well, words beginning with T didn't make the cut but, if my friend's plans come to fruition and my suggestion is accepted, I'll let you know. 

Saturday 10 November 2018


OK, so I'm not over my Minion phase, it's a fair cop.

But, no, I'm serious... bananas!

This bunch were just being unpacked, on their way to the fruit bowl, after I had a trip into town to purchase a few comestibles.

Seems like I got a bargain, as there was a wee free gift with this bunch...

Not being too sure what it was (insect pupa/spider egg sac), or where in the journey it might have originated (Colombia/UK/Orkney/anywhere in between), I decided to contact a local expert... local to Orkney, I mean.

I could've predicted her reaction... 

"Can I have it?"

As I was only too happy to not have it, after taking a few more photographs, I jumped into my car with said banana and delivered it over to L's place. I may have glanced nervously at the banana a few times during the trip.

So, I'm not sure how pale and ashen my appearance was when she answered the knock on her door, but her opening gambit did quickly bring back some colour to my cheeks.

"Yes, it does look spidery, but you're OK it probably isn't the large one whose bite gives you a four hour erection."

Just what is the appropriate language for a banana and egg exchange?!

I am assuming that the black bits are frass left behind by either the spider or maybe a parasitic insect, so who knows what's in there? Well, we will see. L will box up the egg sac to see if anything has survived the journey and so might hatch out.

Watch this space...

And, yes, I am very hoping that the mum-to-be isn't lurking in the boot of my car or somewhere in our kitchen!

In the interests of preserving the sanity of any arachnophobes reading this post, I haven't put in any links to pictures of spiders, Brazilian Wandering ones or otherwise. Also, on other grounds, I would caution against an internet search for 'four hour erection'.

Saturday 3 November 2018

Working with wildlife

What makes for a rewarding job? Money? A worthwhile endeavour? Satisfaction at some defined result? There are probably many reasons, ranging from the safety and security of doing a regular thing, day in, day out, through the gamut of risk all the way to the fluidity of a new experience in a new place every day.

I am fortunate that the drift of my vocational choices currently put me in midstream of this work flow, with a small number of different tasks to perform, where the performance is to an ever-changing backdrop. The stage is never set.

Take this week, for example. It being Autumn, and my work ranging between 59 and 60 degrees North (for that, read Orkney and Shetland), my journeys between sites, and occasionally the sites themselves, have been illuminated by various natural history moments.

Monday saw me in the west mainland of Orkney, where a short trip between two customers in the late afternoon, brought flybys from firstly a Peregrine falcon with prey (probably caught over the nearby Marwick Loons) and then, a few miles later, a male Hen Harrier quartering fields close to the road I was using.

On Tuesday, an early start to catch an inter-island ferry saw me making the journey to Westray. By 9am, I was stood at the top of a ladder, listening to flocks of Skylark, Redwing and Twite as they passed overhead. I hasten to add that this isn’t why I was at the top of a ladder, it was merely a fortuitous consequence. Once back on terra firma, my customer pointed out three geese which were foraging in an adjacent field. Not, as I had blithely assumed Greylags, but White-fronted. Sadly, without bins, I couldn’t confirm this, but the Greylags do tend to congregate in much larger flocks.

With the arrival of Wednesday, I was back on the Orkney mainland, and all was rather quiet wildlife-wise, until the afternoon. There I was, in a housing estate in Kirkwall, terminating a cable for a customer, when I became aware of a gentle trilling sound. Predictably, I was on a stepladder. Turning around carefully and slowly, I scanned the vegetation in the neighbouring gardens until my eyes alighted upon a small flock of, maybe, half a dozen Waxwings. Wow!

On Thursday, it was quite an early start to catch a peedie plane to the small island of Papa Westray. Regular readers will recall that I am of the opinion that there can be no finer beginning to a day, at least whilst fully clothed. Hey, it’s Autumn in Orkney, I was fully clothed! Once on site, there I was up a ladder, replacing a damaged satellite dish (“It’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow somebody some good”). I was being entertained by the island accents of several Wrens, whose softened song was altogether more laid back than their mainland cousins. In the surrounding fields, and in the skies overhead, flocks of Golden Plover called mournfully, whilst their burnished plumage caught the rays of a noontime sun. Not far from where I was working, maybe fifteen or twenty feet away, was sat a Rabbit.

Sadly, here, I must strike an even more sombre tone as, although its eyes looked bright and its erect ears were glowingly backlit by the sun, the fact that it didn’t respond in any way to the noise of my power tools or the weird beeping of my satellite meter, made me wonder if all was not well. By the time I had tidied up beneath the newly-installed dish, my worst fears were confirmed. Quite quickly, the rabbit’s ears flattened to its body, its head lowered to the ground, its body keeled over and it was gone. At least for the last moments of its life, it had a bit of warmth from an Autumnal sun and some gentle murmurings from me. Upon death, I don’t know where bunny souls go, but I expect that its mortal remains would be found by either gulls or corvids or an assortment of sexton beetles. Soon there would be no trace left of the corpse, save for a fading memory in the mind of some soft blogger.

With a few hours to wait until my return flight, I wandered down to the shore by an old pier, wending my way between small fields full of thrushes and finches. As I retraced my steps, I popped in to see a wildlife-watching colleague who is always keen to practise his procrastination. During our conversation, I voiced, I think perhaps for the first time, a slight regret that upon leaving school, I had not considered a career in nature conservation or ecology. It can only be a slight regret, as my life has followed an interesting and entirely unpredictable trajectory, more worthy of a giddily-drunken pinball player, rather than some focused skeleton bobsledder.

Friday found me in Shetland, working in Lerwick, after an overnight trip on the ferry from Kirkwall. The task was completed by mid-morning so, after a spot of office work at the desk that is my car, I took a leisurely drive over to the west side of Shetland to see if the incoming Atlantic rollers were catching the sunlight. They weren’t, and neither were there any Orca sightings being reported, so after another spot of office/car, I pootled back into Lerwick. Here, on the stroke of midday, as I drove through an industrial estate and past the power station, an animal made to dash out in front of the car. Fortunately, I was well below the 40mph speed limit, and the creature was able to do a swift about turn and regain the grass verge. Looking in my rear view mirror, I held my breath as it ran between my car and the van behind me. Once I realised that it was safely across the road, I was able to exhale and exclaim “Flippin’ heck, an otter!”

When, when, when will I fit a dashcam to my car, eh?

So, whilst I do not work in an ecological or an environmental role, in a way, I jolly well do.