Thursday 28 March 2019

The thing that's exercising me today

It's been a worrying 24 hours at Tense Towers, well, at least in this pair of slippers.

There I was, happily frolicking through typing an email, when the dreaded underscore appeared under a word. Not as bad as one of Theresa's red lines, clearly, but a bit of an annoyance, nevertheless.

Hmmm, thought I, I definitely remember being taught (oh so many moons ago) that the noun has a 'c' and the verb has an 's', so what's with all this spellchecker nonsense?!

Opening up another tab on the screen, I (somewhat less confidently) typed in the word as previously written and was pleased to note that, on a quick scan of the page, all of the entries were the same as my spelling.

Hah! Take that, foul spellchecker!

On deeper scrutiny, however, I realised that same spelling they may have been, but same language? Not so much. Or, pas tellement, as it were. Eep!

At around this point, I went off on a tangent when I also realised that I couldn't recall the last time I had used an actual dictionary. Jings, I used to pass hours leafing through the dictionary, in those pre-surfing the internet days. Zipping from spelling to etymology to synonym and who knows where. Happy sigh.

But, no, since moving to Orkney, fitting the bookcases into the office and populating them with all manner of books, I don't think I have bothered to lift any of the dictionaries (oh yes, more than one!) from a shelf. It's been jolly old Google all the way, folly though this may be.

Now I was worried. Am I starting to lose it (assuming I had it in the first place)? Is this one of those telltale signs of senescence? Or worse?! Double Eep!

So, what had I been taught? Was I recalling it correctly? Perhaps I was conflating two different spelling rules? I had to admit, no matter which angle I approached it from, this was beginning to sound rather like losing it.

Hang on a bit, though, I have loads of blogposts to mine for data gold (or maybe just iron pyrites). Let's see if this is a new phenomenon, or something I've always been confused about...

[Enters 'exercise' into the search box and clicks on the little magnifying glass thingy...]

This produces fifteen blogposts, distributed through the years 2009 to 2018. So far, so ordinary.

[Then, enters 'exercice' into the search box and yada yada yada...]

Now, this only produces two blogposts, one from 2011 and the other from 2016, so I've obviously got previous, as they say.

Hey, every day is a school day, and it appears that what works for licence, practice and advice, doesn't hold true for exercice. Who knew? Not me, obvs.

Monday 25 March 2019

Beech holiday

In mid-March, Our Lass and Second Born had a week-long pamper/coffee/cakefest whilst staying in a rented cottage by Pitmedden Garden in Aberdeenshire. I joined them for a long weekend as the word 'cake' had been mentioned.

The drive down from Orkney was relatively uneventful, but from Inverness to Aberdeen Airport (to collect Second Born) it snowed and snowed and snowed. Fortunately, at the low altitude of the immediate area, it wasn't making much progress at covering the ground.

The holiday cottage was nestled away in beech woodland, surrounded by birdsong and bud burst, as Spring's coming crescendo was beginning to turn up the volume. We sat by the lounge window, watching the snowflakes falling and letting out yelps of delight at the exotic ornithology visiting the bird feeder. There were finches and tits of every stripe, all investigating what was on offer. To be honest, it was meagre fare, as I hadn't considered feeding the birds whilst food shopping. Undaunted, I spent an inordinate amount of time sorting out some nuts, pumpkin seeds and sunflower hearts from a packet of muesli, to share with our feathered neighbours.

The photo above was taken early on the Sunday morning. No snow, but a bitingly cold roar of a wind was making the trees sway. Behind the cottage was a conifer (I was later told it was a Lawson Cypress), whose foliage was very photogenic.

Unfortunately, the gardens at Pitmedden were not yet open to the public for the tourist season, but we spent a pleasant morning wandering around the environs, exploring the paths and woods.

Lesser Periwinkle?

Before returning to the cottage, we ventured to the next village to visit the Coffee Apothecary for some refreshment.


On the following day, which was warm, sunny and simply shouted "Spring!", we drove to Stonehaven and walked along the clifftops to Dunnottar Castle. Unsurprisingly, there are centuries of history within its walls, with just one of its claims to fame being the defence of the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish Crown Jewels) in 1651, when Oliver Cromwell besieged the castle for 8 months. When the surrender finally came, it was discovered that the Honours had been smuggled out. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, it was revealed that the Crown Jewels had been hidden in a local church.

Back in Stonehaven, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a harbourside restaurant, before I had to catch a plane back to Orkney. The ladies, however, lapsed into several days of coffee/cake/sleep/repeat.

Sunday 24 March 2019

Waiting for another ferry

A trip to the island of Shapinsay found me with a few moments to spare before catching the ferry back to the Orkney mainland. My route took me by this ruined church, the South Kirk, which, on the few occasions I've driven past it, has seemed very photogenic. It was a perishingly cold day but, between hail showers, I spent a little while exploring the building and the mausoleum of the Balfour family. 

Saturday 23 March 2019

Art Eggshibition

Where did that fortnight go?! Half a month has slipped by without so much as a hastily-scribbled Post-It saying 'Busy... back soon', never mind a full-blown post. This post, however, is full-blown. There's a westerly gale raging outside, so it seems prudent to spend a bit of quality time with the blog, rather than risk trying to fit a roof rack to my van.

A fortnight ago, I was on day trip to Shetland for work. It's fair to say that my 'office' is wherever I happen to be at the time, such is the galloping ubiquity of modern communications. As the ferry sailed into Lerwick at 7am, I was on the correct side of the boat to snaffle some 4G signal.

Between two appointments, I had a little free time and was led into temptation by the thought of a British rarity. Within 10 minutes of my planned route, was a small wooded community garden which had, earlier in the week, been the site of a sighting of a Tengmalm's Owl. Where's the harm, I thought, somewhat sheepishly.

And indeed, there wasn't any harm, or any owls for that matter, but I did find a potential spot to look for dragonflies later in the year, as well as a few flowering trees and shrubs.

Later, with the day's tasks completed, I returned to Lerwick to catch up on some more office work...

and noticed an advertisement for an exhibition which looked rather interesting. With half an hour to fritter away before check-in opened for the return journey to Orkney, I nipped across town to visit 'Natural Selection' by father and son team, Peter and Andy Holden.

There were eggs, nests, bird-related artworks and a representation of a bird-made artwork. Yes, really!

And this...

a bit larger than life, but an impressive construction, nevertheless. Male Bower birds construct bowers to woo females, decorating the structure with coloured objects, in very specific and individual ways. The nest is elsewhere, this is pure bird-art.

Saturday 9 March 2019

CoHi and WiFi

Last Monday, a Scottish Government 'Convention of the Highlands and Islands' was held in Orkney. The venue was a church in Kirkwall, and although the building did have a WiFi connection, it was deemed not sufficient for 60+ delegates trying to fact check each other on Google, upload photos of their lunches to various social media platforms, checking on the predicted wind speed for takeoff during the return flight to the mainland, or consulting with a higher power (Mark Zuckerberg / God / other deity of choice [delete as applicable]).

Yours truly was summoned to provide loads more Mbumps (wifely technical term), with the only proviso being that I couldn't drill any holes in the building.

The East Kirk (before)

Technical solution for 'no holes'

The East Kirk (after)
My contribution to the set up was discreetly hidden behind a tablecloth in an alcove

Saturday 2 March 2019

Schoolboy error

The forecast hinted at a brief weather window late morning, before things turned downhill with the anticipated arrival of Storm Freya (or 'more weather' as we like to call it). Our Lass, seemingly over her cold, was keen to revisit the seabird cliffs and I wasn't about to argue. Early morning showers had drifted through, leaving behind an overcast, but calm, sky. We bundled optics into the car and drove down to the Bay of Semolie, hoping that the promised sunshine would appear.

As we strode along the clifftop path, a variety of gulls and Fulmars glided to and fro beside us. A few Black Guillemots were visible on the water close in, as was a group of gulls further out, which seemed to be loitering around a feeding Grey Seal. The seal would surface from time to time, the gulls would go frantic, the seal would dive again, the gulls calmed down. And repeat.

Our route took us eastwards, putting up a few Rabbits and several Brown Hares. One threesome of hares definitely included a female and two males, with one of the boys keen to mate-guard her from the other chap. Flocks of Oystercatcher, Curlew and Starling foraged in the rough sward of the clifftops, biding their time until the tide receded and they could forage on the shore once more.

By the time we reached the small headland we'd reached the previous week, two things were obvious: the sun hadn't put in an appearance yet; and the battery was dead in my camera. The only up side of this was we were now guaranteed some fabulous wildlife moments, and so it proved.

I took a few shots with my phone, just to record the fact that the auks were yet to return to the cliff ledges, and then we headed up a steep slope to investigate the geo where the Jackdaws were hanging out.

Gaps were beginning to appear in the cloud and it was definitely getting lighter, unlike the dead weight of my DSLR and its big lens...

As we made it to the top of the ridge, the sun burst through and someone at the BBC Natural History Unit must have shouted "Action!"

A pair of Ravens glided over to check us out. We re-discovered the hare threesome, still trying to work out its trigonometry from various angles (and they were far nearer, far more pre-occupied with each other than with us, and the light was now just peachy. Gah!). A big flock of Twite could be seen perched on a wire fence not far away, and across the moorland, a distant fence post was augmented with a Peregrine falcon. Scanning with bins located another three hares, and a quick check of the nearer group, to ensure I wasn't double-counting, revealed it was now four strong.

We sat on the tussocky grass beside the path, listening to the joyful singing of several Skylarks, the 'cronking' of the Ravens, the Jackdaws with their 'chacks' and 'chaws', and the argumentative squabbling of the Fulmars on the cliff below us.

It was now quite warm, the sunlight glinted off the gentle waves of the North Sea, and neither of us was in a hurry to break the spell of having all this wildlife to ourselves on such a beautiful morning.

Eventually, the thought of lunch brought us out of the reverie, so we retraced our steps, pausing at the small headland to photograph the cliffs in sunshine and a flyby from some of the Fulmars.

And, yes, the battery is now on charge, although looking at the forecasted wind speed, I won't be attempting a clifftop walk tomorrow morning.