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Friday, 20 March 2015

Supermoon, Eclipse, Spring Equinox....

Photo with kind permission of professional film-maker, Sean Lewis.

.....and it's International Day of Happiness! What's not to like about today!

I really wasn't expecting to see much of the eclipse as the forecast was for cloud and when I woke up it didn't look promising.  But then the clouds thinned and blue sky appeared in between and I was able to see most of it.  Whooo hooo!  To say it was great doesn't quite sum up the "cosmic experience"!

Some folk were heading to the standing stones at Brodgar and Stenness, but I decided to stay on Graemsay which is *my* special place.  So I put on several layers of clothes, hat, gloves, grabbed a small flask of tea and went and sat in the doorway of the shed to watch this magical event unfold.

I could have stayed in the warm and watched it through the window, but I was curious to actually "feel" the eclipse.  So I stood outside with a perplexed Button who doesn't do "static".  She rummaged in the shed for a while, then wandered about outside and then wandered back into the shed. Meowing complainingly all the time.

I didn't try and take any photos as I have no special equipment to do so, and knew there would be plenty of pictures online. So I could just enjoy the experience. But friends who did said I could share theirs. So here is a photo cunningly taken by G. at "Imperfect and Tense" who took this over in Holm, on the Orkney Mainland. He has some other great photos on his blog so go and take a look.

A friend had brought me a pair of the "special glasses" so I was able to watch the eclipse from the very beginning.  Slowly the sun started to disappear.  Just around the height of the eclipse it got a little cloudy but not enough to really obscure what was happening. (Note no the reflection isn't of a melting Button, just a trick of the light!).

I didn't notice much difference among the animals around me - the sheep carried on grazing or eating the silage, the lambs carried on as usual and showed no signs of distress in the gathering gloom.  The starlings did fly out of the field onto the roof of the barn, and were maybe a bit quieter, but they do that when a tractor rolls past, so not sure it was the effect of the disappearing sun!  The seabirds certainly carried on shrieking.  And Button carried on complaining.  I wondered if my hens would decide to go back into the henny house.  But nope, they sat resolutely on the back door step waiting for breakfast.  Nobody fools a chicken out of breakfast!

It DID get a lot colder, and it got to almost a twilight. Not quite but an odd light.  But to be honest it was no different than a dreich day in Winter!  So that's probably why the animals didn't bother too much and it didn't last for long (four minutes).  Maybe if it had been the summer and clearer skies it might have been more dramatic and had an effect. Friends in Stromness said the skylarks and lapwings stopped calling for a while.

It was great to feel that I was watching along with millions of others. And it was fun looking at all the pictures on the various Facebook groups.  Most people in Orkney got to see a good bit of it which was great given the cloud cover.  And later the mist rolled in too.

I found it awesome to watch and that was even knowing all the science.  Imagine how those folk hundreds, thousands, of years ago would have viewed it with trepidation.  Legends of dragons eating the sun.  Superstitions and fear around the event.  Now I can view it with pleasure and wonder at the magic of the natural forces.

And of course we mustn't forget the tides!  Particularly low tides today and tomorrow. Indeed I'm in town tomorrow and the boat home has been delayed in the afternoon by two hours because such a low tide is expected!

Again a couple of photos by kind permission of Sean Lewis

Moon still moving across towards totality

And now moving away from the sun again

Monday, 16 March 2015

Promise of Spring

There have been some wild, windy days, and more rain, but these are interspersed with bright sunny days that remind me Spring is NEARLY here......

A walk along the shore on the coral beach bring joy anytime, but especially in the sunshine and with Button!

And the air is beginning to be filled with the sound of the sea birds returning, lots more oystercatchers ( who don't catch oysters!) with their bright eyes and orange bills, plus a wee Sanderling hanging out with his/her bigger pals.

And some ringed plovers plus another Sanderling

They were all sitting on the old Sandside pier

Button waits patiently while I take photos.... this old building is perilously near the edge, one Winter storm will no doubt pull it onto the shore in years to come.

Over  by the Manse the ewes are being fed....

Meanwhile the tide is coming in.... Lots of seaweed washed up through recent storms.  Stromness in the distance looks like a tropical island! In fact it's the Orkney Mainland - the largest island in Orkney [yes I know we call it Mainland, to those of us in Orkney it IS!].

And back at the house and garden, things are growing again!  Willow buds coming on...

Crocus blooming among the daffodils (yet to bloom)

Dwarf daffs among the bare willow branches

And "home" looking good in the sun, with Ginger, the cockerel enjoying the rays, and the willows coming into bud.

Sunday, 15 March 2015


Er - actually we've had drinkable water out of our taps for well over a week now, but I've been unwell and still trying to keep up with work, so not been here to tell you about it!

But the pipe between Hoy and Graemsay was fixed, tested and once the water quality was deemed acceptable for drinking, the "boil" notice was lifted.  So all is back to "normal" on Graemsay.   Though we still have plenty of bottled water around.

I've been using the bottled water for drinking as there is a lot of air in the water out the tap. I'm sure it's perfectly fine, just doesn't look very nice to drink!

Monday, 2 March 2015

It is officially Spring!

Yesterday (1st March) was the first day of Spring...whooo hoo! [see note at end]  Er yes - that'll be hail showers then. It was also Dewi Sant (St David's Day) - he is the patron saint of Wales.  I always celebrate as my father was from the Welsh valleys. So a nice mug of tea and some Welsh cakes were in order....

A few daffodils are out in the garden but I didn't have time to photograph those.... and there are new lambs in the field - but they were hiding among the silage bales for shelter so I didn't get a photo of them.  You will have to use your imagination for both! The rest of the "maternity unit" of pregnant ewes are happily tucking into silage. Yes - dark clouds full of hail hovering. Poor sheep and wee lambs!

We still have water coming out of our taps, which is a huge relief.  Work is ongoing to resolve the problem. Scottish Water have been looking at various options and we await their decision. For most of us as long as we continue to have water out of our taps we can be patient.  Bottled water for drinking of course, but that is no hardship compared with last week!

I went for a wander across the other side of the island to see the boat that seems to be permanently over the bit of sub sea pipe that sprang a leak.

There's a mini-digger at the shore too. Though that's not been in use since they discovered the problem was under the sea.

As you can see - quite a stretch between the islands. The sea looks benign today but it can be a treacherous piece of water with strong tides and currents.  Should be interesting if they decide to lay a new pipe!

On my way back home I stopped to take a photo of this ruined croft looking towards Stromness. What a wonderful home that must have been. What a view!!

And back at home, there's a lot of water in the field, the result of a very wet spell of weather!

Note - Actually the OFFICIAL first day of Spring is 21st March.  But in my house it's 1st March, Dewi Sant, because that's how my mum and dad treated it.  The first daffodils would be out in the garden and it always FELT like Spring. And I am always so desperate for it to be Spring (even when I lived South), that I take any indications I can!  But really Spring doesn't start till the Equinox.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Water in our taps!!

This water has been brought to us by a gang of workmen at the pier working all hours dealing with arrivals of water on various boats, trailering tanks up to our island water tank to pump it into the system. Other workmen around the island checking that folk have water, making sure bottled water supplies are replenished.  And all of this in typical Orkney conditions with rain, hail, wind and the occasional bit of sunshine and a wave and a smile as they pass you by.

Meanwhile on Hoy others have been working along with divers and vessels to locate the problem with the subsea pipe.  Again in all weathers and sea conditions and late into the night.

This is a major operation, logistics not made easy by needing to lift on lift off everything from the pier, plus weather, and an excess of rainwater turning everything to mud.

The Red Cross volunteers have been sent out again today, so Chris and Colin are going around folk to see that everything is OK.  They have been out here everyday too and as I say they are volunteers giving up their time to help folk out

Anyway today I had  my first hot shower since Sunday and water out of the taps to have a wash. Paradise!  Bottled water still for drinking, cleaning teeth etc, but oh the joy of washing my hands in hot water again.

And of course, probably more importantly the farmers have water coming out of taps in byres to get water to cattle. Some have had to manually take water in to the cattle. Additional work at an already busy time.

Our generation has got so used to hot water "on tap", we are lost without it.  Though when I was a child, brought up in a working-class family, we only had a bath once a week (whether we needed it or not. Ha!).  The rest of the time it was a wash in the morning and at night.  Only "posh people" or middle-class folk had showers.  Even hotels still had baths. And for my father's generation it was a tin bath in front of the fire on a Sunday night. Filled up with hot water from the copper or large kettles on the range.  Many around the world learn to live with water as a scare resource but in the UK (particularly with so much RAIN) we have high expectations of it coming out of our taps whenever we want.

Still lots of ongoing work for Scottish Water.  They need to keep the tank supplied, locate all the faults on the subsea pipe and fix them.  And ensure a regular good supply of drinking water thereafter.

Meanwhile, of course, Button snoozes in the sunshine and happily drinks out of puddles.  She positively turns her nose up at water out of a tap! And neither, of course, does she require a flush toilet or water to wash with.... She keeps telling me she's a low maintenance cat.... I, however, disagree! Pah!

Friday, 27 February 2015

More water....

Today has been equally busy on Graemsay with tankers relaying water up and down the island from the pier. Above is a shiny silver tanker brand's a bit mud splattered now!

The activity has kept Button occupied anyway....

I was also asked to speak on our local radio news bulletin this morning about how the island was coping.  I wouldn't mind but they said they'd phone me at 7am. My alarm isn't THAT early! I set the alarm for 6.30 and had to have two cups of tea to make sure I didn't sound too sleepy.  It was a bit of a nervewracking experience, though our local radio guys are great and David was very reassuring and calming. I knew he would not do a "Paxo" on me [obscure British joke].

Thousands of gallons are being pumped into our island water tank.  And it would seem that water is at last working it's way through the system!  We mustn't drink it without boiling first, but we can have hot showers and use washing machines again. And we're being asked to "conserve" water as it's not exactly easy getting it here.  I'm just excited that I get hot water out the tap again!

Two Red Cross volunteers came to the island again and just checked that everyone was OK. And one turned up bearing chocolate!!  Just what every girl wants - a man in uniform bearing chocolate..... well he was a Red Cross Paramedic - that's a heroic uniform!

Every time they called round and asked if there was anything I needed I replied "Gin and chocolate". Clearly gin was seen as too much of a health hazard, but chocolate can be used purely medicinally....and was :-)

Meanwhile out in Burra Sound further work has been done to locate problems in the subsea water pipe.  It may take a while to fix that so we will be using tankered water for a while yet.  But I'm happy as long as I have water out the taps!

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Send Water - and they did...

Well it's arriving anyway.  I was at the pier at the mid-morning boat and lots of activity.  A smart van is at the pier for the Scottish Water workmen, of whom there seem to be quite a few.

There are lots of blue tanks filled with water which are being taken up to pump into the system.

We've had more visitors, this time from Environmental Health and animal welfare to make sure farmers and folk have all they need.  They are handing round leaflets from the Orkney Local Emergency Co-ordinating group giving local information numbers and advice.on community safety while we are without piped water. The MV Graemsay has been doing extra runs too with equipment and people.

It started out a bonny sunny day, but it's very chilly.  So I feel for the folk working out with rain forecast later.

And here is our water tank.  Almost the highest point on Graemsay.  Not quite as simple as opening the hatch and pouring water in but hopefully there will be water in the pipes soon and backfilling the tank.  Then we can start getting water our of our taps

Folk have been asking about wells etc.  There are a few houses with their own private water supply via spring water.  But the rest of us are connected up to the mains.  Although most houses would have used a well in the past, they have fallen into disuse and without pumps and nearby electricity it's not possible to get the water to where it's needed at short notice.  And we'd still need drinking water supplied as the water would not have been tested and being out of use for so many years then it could have got contaminated and be unfit for use.

Sandside has a well but it's in the field (to wet to get a tractor over it), and no pipes or pump to get it up to the house. I had mains water installed when I moved into the house in 2000.  Though I did suggest to a neighbour he could use the well water for his livestock if necessary.  However contingency plans were suggested as there is water in the quarry that could have been used for livestock. And may in fact be used yet.  But again it's getting it pumped out and into containers and distributed around the island to the farms.

The sheep are out in the fields and many have burns running through them so the sheep will be fine. Plus there's a lot of standing water as it's rained so much lately!  Even my hens prefer the puddles to the nice clear water I put in the henny house!  Button too tends to drink out of the puddles.... But the cattle in the sheds need water taken to them - they can't open the bottled water with their hooves - hee hee...

Dr Trevett from the Stromness surgery has been phoning to check on patients, and a local councillor phoned to check if there was anything else that the council could do to help.  Mostly we keep saying -just keep sending water!!

I am now hallucinating about a hot shower.....