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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Knock, Knock……

Recently I had a door knocker fixed to the back porch door (see photo). Usually my visitors come round the back of the house partly because that’s where folk can park their cars (island visitors only as off-island visitors can only access Graemsay as foot-passengers). The back door is also more practical than the front door which leads directly into the hall and onto the carpet. The back porch is a useful area to leave muddy boots and dripping clothes etc!

Anyway during the summer months with the windows open, when I’m working upstairs in my study I hear folk crunching on the gravel pathway so get advance warning. However in the winter I fail to hear their “chapping” on the door. Most folk know to open the door and bellow, but not all will do this. So I either end up running up and down stairs thinking I’ve heard the door, or finding I have to run after folk because I didn’t catch them in time. Hence the door knocker.

There isn’t a problem with the front door because sound echoes through the downstairs hall and upstairs landing so I hear that wherever I am in the house – well usually. So any folk coming to the front door will still have to “chap” (knock).

The door knocker was a gift from some US friends after they visited Sandside when the house was still being renovated. I think they doubted I would ever have a door to hang it on given the state of the house when they visited...... It only took me about six years to get the door knocker fixed to a door! Anyway I’m very pleased with it. The design is based on the traditional Irish Claddagh ring which is given in friendship: the two hands clasping represent friendship, heart represents love, and the crown represents loyalty. I’m really pleased with it – however I am now fearing it might rattle in the gales in winter. If so I can detach the knocker bit if it gets on my nerves, though that will leave a Celtic cross which folk might think odd – but at least that will keep the Vampires away!

Of course the other problem is, if I’m working upstairs on the phone via teleconference etc I usually have to ignore knocks on the door – though I generally put a notice on the inside door that I’m busy working on the phone. A loud hammering on the door will take a bit more ignoring!

Actually work colleagues "south" are used to hearing coos mooing, cock crows, oystercatchers etc during conversations so door hammering won't make much difference!

Monday, 29 September 2008

Winter Ferry Timetable begins……

Today is the start of the Winter ferry schedule for all the Orkney ferries serving the islands. For Graemsay this means we lose our “mid-morning” service (10.45 from the island to Stromness, Mon-Fri), our afternoon service moves from 4.30 to 4pm from Stromness, we don’t get any evening boats on a Friday, and weekend boats are only running on the first and third weekend of each month.

The first week of the new schedule always has me double and triple checking the time. Although I do have friends in Stromness I can stay with if I do miss a boat!

The boat I miss most is the mid-morning run. In the winter it just feels so dire to get up in total darkness and down to the pier to the “early boat” which leaves Graemsay at 8.25, with daylight only appearing as one drives into Kirkwall at 9am!

Three times a week we have a “mid-day” boat service which brings cargo to the island, but this service then sails onto the island of Hoy and round a rough bit of coast back to Stromness. This takes 45 minutes to go from Graemsay to Stromness instead of 15 minutes if one does get up early enough to go in the morning! And the cargo boat doesn’t arrive in town till about 1.15pm so that doesn’t give much time to go into Kirkwall, shop etc. and get home for the 4pm boat. Though we do have the option of a later boat leaving Stromness at 5.45, as long as one remembers to book by 10am that morning! Ho Hum. I do get used to the changes eventually. It’s been this way since I moved here 8 years ago and with rising fuel costs we’re not likely to get additional services so I’m not complaining – just mumbling because I hate any reminder of the onset of Winter! Roll on the first week of May when our “summer” schedule starts again!

And funnily enough I don’t miss having a boat service at the weekend. There is something very relaxing knowing that you just *can’t* leave the island for a couple of days. Though there have been times when I’ve been unwell that I get a bit nervous *not* having a boat to pop over to the doctor or chemist. But I keep a supply of medications for most eventualities so again it’s not too much bother. And in emergency circumstances the boat will bring the doctor out to the island, or evacuate folk who are ill. In extreme circumstances there is an air-ambulance helicopter that arrives with paramedics etc. But usually the boat is the better option – as often the wind is too bad for the helicopter to land, but the ferry generally manages to get in at some point during the day in extreme bad weather depending on tide, wind direction.

In fact there are generally only one or two days in the winter when our ferry service doesn’t run – unlike most of the other isles which have more exposed piers or harbours. So we are very fortunate. Though I’ve noticed in the last couple of years more occasions when the ferry doesn’t run due to health and safety precautions. Once when I first moved to the island some years ago I was returning from work in the town and having managed to get off the boat, found the wind was so strong I couldn’t move to walk up the pier. Fortunately the skipper had phoned a neighbour to come down to catch the rope and help me up the pier! Thankfully nowadays I don’t have to “commute” regularly to Kirkwall so can pick and choose the days I go to town depending on weather (usually whether I can get out of bed in time or not!).

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Broadband access…

It seems the only time I have to write my blog entries is at the weekend. So where was last weekend’s I hear you ask? Good question. Internet access went off sometime Friday afternoon. I can tell you exactly when on Friday afternoon – 1.35pm.

Hallo – my name is Sian and I’m addicted to the Internet…. Oddly enough my broadband lights were on, but the Internet light was dead. Before faffing about with my settings I took the precaution of phoning neighbours. They were without internet access too. And it was Friday…… and we weren’t likely to get it fixed till early the following week…….. eek!

Anyway thought I’d better report it to my ISP and had a loooooong conversation with the call centre. Unfortunately no one else had as yet reported the problem so it took some persuading to convince this very nice chappy that indeed I *knew* it was a fault on our exchange and NOT ON MY MACHINE. Inside I was screaming….. externally hopefully I was being equally polite – I was brought up to be polite you know ;-) Forty-five minutes of being polite was something of a strain for me though…… And of course they ask you "when would be a suitable time for the engineer to call, Madam, morning, afternoon or evening?". I gave up trying to explain we were on an island and the local BT engineers would just know the boat schedules and said "Anytime" - nope had to pick one of three. Arrrrrghhhhh!

Fortunately I was staying with a friend in Stromness Friday night so could check email and send messages to warn folk I was “offline” for a while. I did finally get dial-up working but it was oh-so-s-l-o-w that I only wanted to do emergency email with that! Funny how I used to be quite happy with dial-up speeds!

Anyway thankfully BT sent a local engineer out on the boat on Sunday to fix it!! So by Sunday evening everything was back to normal. Well speed was slow but faster than dial-up! And by Monday my system was back up to full speed. Though neighbours had to wait a while for some signal or other to be boosted for their speed.

Isn’t it scary how dependent one gets on technology? I use my computer a lot for work, and nowadays communicating as a “distance worker” is made much easier using a computer (skype, email, ftp sites etc). I kept telling myself I could be without broadband access for three or four days without it being a problem work-wise……. However for the sake of my sanity I’m glad I didn’t have to try it! Although on days off I tend not to spend much time at my computer – I know it’s *there* - so if I DO want to use it, well I can…..

So that’s my excuse for a lack of blogs last weekend. Well that and I have discovered I’m genetically linked to a Sloth……

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Summer sunsets

Bit of a grey misty day yesterday and today, though still mild. Although I witnessed a beautiful misty sunset over a loch while out "in the country" for dinner with friends". But to remind myself of the sun thought I'd share some of this summer's sunsets with you. These photos were taken by my friend Wendy when she visited earlier this year.

As you can see the sun is setting over to the right hand side of the photo. Now in September it is setting well over to the left just behind the headland there in the photo below left.

Sunrise is at 06.35 and sunset at 19.40 (BST). This compares with 06.31 and 19.21 in London. From about March onwards we get more daylight in Orkney than those in the south of the UK, but at this time of the year you can see we are about the same, and by mid-winter we get about two hours less daylight - with sunrise here being about 9.15 and sunset at 15.15! Then I look forward to the next long summer days!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Garden Border

I am delighted with my garden border this year. None of the plants were there before last spring and to be honest I haven’t done much with them except plant and do my best to keep the weeds down. So they have done well left to their own devices!

A friend kindly weeded the border for me last week as it was beginning to get a little overgrown with weeds going to seed – not good for next year. However as my back has been sore I didn’t want to attempt pulling even the smallest weed so was just turning a blind eye to them. I was therefore *very* grateful for the assistance.

This part of the border was only dug this year, again I've planted fuschia, some perennials and an escallonia.

This is how the border looked before being planted up, full of weeds, building rubble and stones. There is still a way to go with the border – the long term aim is that it will be full of shrubs and small trees that will just merge together creating colour and texture without much room for weeds! Along the front and in spaces I’ll plant perennials etc for more colour, which will hopefully do well sheltered by the shrubs from the worst of the salty wind. Some of the plants will also get transplanted to the walled garden – when I get round to sorting that out!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Autumn’s here……

The last couple of days have had an autumnal feel to them. We’ve been lucky in Orkney compared to most of the rest of the UK with a fairly dry spell recently, and lots of bright sunshine, though not too warm. However Tuesday brought showers with a slight breeze.

On Saturday I noticed a lot of activity among the swallows that have used my guttering as a perch during the summer. Lots of chatter and preening of feathers. Getting ready to fly south I thought. But the weather still seemed settled, warm and sunny so I’d hoped they stay a while. However Monday morning dawned bright and sunny again but all was silent outside my study window. They’d flow sometime on Sunday. A bit premature I thought – then Tuesday the weather changed. Clearly the swallows knew what was coming!

They had been a real delight all summer though. I’d seen swallows about in past years but never as many as this year. They were nesting in the byres nearby but would swoop over my field at the back of the house, and use the guttering on the house as a regular perch. As long as I sat still I could watch them for ages and see their plumage in really clear detail. I shall look forward to their return next year!

But first I need prepare for autumn and winter! Must get in torch batteries. Have just ordered some more bottled gas. Time to order in supplies for the store cupboard and freezer – so that if there’s a gale blowing I don’t have to venture forth! I recently had heating fuel delivered (needed a stiff gin and tonic as I wrote the cheque for that lot!) so will be ready when the heating needs switching back on again – which will no doubt be soon!

I should also check outside and make sure there is nothing likely to blow away. The flower tubs still look bright and cheerful so I’ll leave them till the first gale has shrivelled up all the plants and then put the planters in the shed.

Mick said he’d give the grass around the house one final cut. He’s been away on his holidays and the “holiday cover” left something to be desired! The excuse from Mick’s Brother-in-law was “oooh Mick hasn’t left me any petrol for the mower so I can’t cut any grass!”. He went a bit deaf when I offered him a petrol can! Only joking! At this time of year the grass grows slowly anyway so I’m hardly knee deep in grass. Although being “vertically challenged” as they say, it wouldn’t have to be very high for that to happen!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Life with Hens Part II

Reuniting the hens with Finlay II went according to plan – though it did take a little longer than anticipated. The day after the demise of Finlay III the white hen was firmly nestled into her – er – nest, Finlay II was hovering on the edge of the byre afraid to come too close to the hen house in case Finlay III attacked, and the brown hen continued to look startled for the same reason. However by the end of the day the brown hen and Finlay II were happily scratching about together so that was a start.

Next I wondered what would happen at roosting time. Would Finlay persuade Brown Hen to roost outdoors with him, or would she persuade him into the hen house to her perch – a kind of “your place or mine” scenario!! I went out about 7pm but both were still happily scratching away and wouldn’t be tempted into the hen house, not even with the promise of extra-special scraps! So I had to leave them till it was dark. I was therefore really delighted to find that the Brown Hen got her way and she and Finlay were nestled together on the perch in the hen house. I wasn’t keen on trying to find two roosting birdies in the dark!

Next part of the plan was to remove the White Hen from her nest and dispose of the eggs. This too went very smoothly – it’s easier to move chickens around after dark as they become very quiescent. So I plonked her next to the Brown Hen on the perch and left them making soft chook-chook noises to each other (which was no doubt chicken for “turn the blooming light out so I can sleep”!

Anyway several days later and all three chickens are happy together. Finlay II looks quite proud to have his hens back, though as I suspected he no longer crows and doesn’t seem to “bother” them as before. So all seems well in the hen house today!

Now I just need to find two or three more hens to keep them company…… I’m worried only three on a perch means they will get cold in the winter as the hen house is quite a large stone building…… Should I order thermal blankets for them I wonder…… or bring them in to roost on top of the boiler – then I could get up to ready boiled eggs for breakfast – tee hee!