Click on pictures to see them enlarged in a photo stream. Comments: word verification on to allow anyone to comment but try and deter excessive amounts of spam! I LOVE getting comments!

Monday 29 December 2008

What - no eggs!

Both the hens also seem to be enjoying an Xmas break - no eggs for the last two days! Harumph. And just when I was planning on experimenting with some recipes from a Christmas present "baking" book.........

Actually I think White Hen hasn't been laying for a while. Her comb and wattles are quite pale. Whereas Brown Hen still has bright red wattles (an indication she's still laying). She may just be hiding her eggs somewhere that I have yet to find. It is a nuisance though - bless her!

I may shut them in the hen house overnight to see if I get any eggs - though my hens have a knack of sitting with crossed legs till they are let out before they part with their eggs!

I was up feeding Breckan's kitty this morning and took today's photos. Another beautiful calm day and the Hamnavoe was just sailing past Hoy Low (yes another light house!). Hoy Low is a short dumpy light house, compared to Hoy High which is a tall one - hence the names.... The Hamnavoe was arriving from Scrabster and the picture below is it sailing into Stromness Harbour.

Sunday 28 December 2008

And in answer to....

....the question - how does the heating oil get to the house? It comes over on the ferry - but as we don't have a Ro-Ro ferry the oil tanker has to deposit the oil into a small (1200 litre) tank on the pier in Stromness. The tank then gets winched onto the ferry and off onto the back of a trailer at Graemsay. Then it trundles up on the trailer behind a tractor and is pumped into the tank at the back of the house using the "island" electric pump. The system works well but takes some co-ordination as Graemsay only has two tanks available on the Stromness pier and these are also used for diesel for tractor fuel on Graemsay, plus of course a number of homes use oil for heating. However with a little co-ordination and planning, so far all has worked well!

Whoopeee for drop in oil prices!

Just sorting out bills that arrived pre-Christmas and am delighted to find a huge difference in my oil bill. Phew!! BIG Phew! Last tank I had delivered back in August cost £605.00. That lasted four months (oil fired boiler works heating and heats water). Got a delivery of oil just before Christmas and the same amount cost £386! Whooooppeeeeee! The price has dropped from 57.71p per litre to 36.88p per litre.

I have to say I'm rather extravagant with heating. I like to feel warm and NOT wrapped up in lots of layers. I keep the sitting room at about 70 degrees F in winter. The underfloor heating is very efficient so the room stays more or less constant during the day. Upstairs are radiators and I keep the rooms cooler here. This winter I shut off the heating in the conservatory and put a dehumidifier out there to keep things aired. I usually have the heating on low in the conservatory in winter but don't use the room much as the sitting room is cosier for winter and easier to keep warm with fewer windows etc.

I am a huge fan of underfloor heating (so is Button - her paws are forever warm....!). The boiler comes on and pumps hot water around the downstairs floors for a few hours in the morning and again in the evening. But the cement floor acts like a large storage heater and gives out heat even when the pump is off. Upstairs are traditional hot water radiators and these rooms cool down quicker.

Because the stone walls are so thick (3 feet in places) and reasonably well insulated I usually need to keep the heating on till about end of May, till the house warms up - sometimes it's warmer outside in Spring than inside! But usually in the summer I can switch the heating off - except when I have visitors! I've acclimatised to Orkney temperatures but take pity on my visitors!

Now..... if electricity prices could just follow suit........

Saturday 27 December 2008

The road is paved....

.....with good intentions as they say! I had planned to do more with my blog over the holiday, however have been fighting a virus so as you see...... didn't manage to post much!

Anyway above is sunset on Boxing Day. The sun has just sunk behind the Hoy Hills. The weather is still glorious for December. So still and calm! The reflection from the lights of Stromness reached the Graemsay shore last night. It was beautiful.

I went for a brief walk along the shore yesterday and noticed that "the links" have taken a battering during the recent storms. The links are made up of sand and marram grass and I've noticed the erosion in the 8 years I've been here. I've heard stories that years ago the links were flat and wide and wedding marches would process along the top of them. Now in places you'd have to tightrope walk along a ridge and clamber up and down gullies.

I am fascinated by the way the landscape is constantly shaped by the elements, but it will be a shame when/if the links finally disappear. For one thing our "main" road runs by them. The council have talked for years about re-routing the road but who knows when it will happen.

Button has been enjoying the still nights and has been out for the whole night two nights running! I did give her a yell at 3am this morning when I was down making a cup of tea, but still no sign. She eventually rolled home at 7.45 demanding breakfast.....

Thursday 25 December 2008

A beautiful peaceful day here......

...... and hoping it is with you. There was a lovely sunrise this morning at a very civilised time of 9.15ish. But I watched it in bed, drinking tea and with a purring Button beside me. Magic!

It is so quiet outside - no wind! The water is still and calm and the sun is still shining though some grey clouds are trying to douse it's glow. But the Sun will not give in that easily today!

Button enjoyed a stroll out with me this morning.

"Did someone mention a lighthouse? I see no lighthouse....."

Sunday 21 December 2008

Yet another blustery day.....

We did have some respite from the wind yesterday afternoon and evening, but this morning the wind got up again and is currently raging outside. The Orkney Harbours website registered 75mph gusts within the last hour at the "Barrel of Butter" - which is the nearest measurement point relative to Graemsay's position. The Barrel of Butter is in Scapa Flow - so named (I think) as in days long past it was used by fishermen when they used to kill seals for meat etc. I think most of the work was carried out on the small islet and "a barrel of butter" was the cost of using the land! Paid to the Laird no doubt.

Anyway I digress, yet again. So - it's blooming windy out there. Today is the Winter Solstice - Sunrise was at 0904 this morning and sunset was at 1515 this afternoon - though it has been dark much of the day due to wind/rain/cloud etc. London got about 90 minutes more daylight than us with sunrise at 0804 and sunset at 1554.

Usually I go for a walk to celebrate the solstices but today was just too darned windy! However I will light a candle tonight..... In the old times winter was very difficult for people (no change there then...). The growing season had ended and people had to live off stored food and whatever animals they had. People were apparently troubled that when the life-giving sun sank lower on the Winter Solstice that it would disappear forever and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. So they would light a Yule Candle to "call back the sun" during the longest night of the year. After the solstice they would celebrate as they saw the sun rising and strengthening once more. Although many months of cold weather lay ahead they took heart that the return of the warm sun was inevitable. I can so relate to that way of thinking!

At Maeshowe in Orkney the sun illuminates the chamber in the cairn for a few minutes during the winter solstice. More information here:

There's usually a live camera to capture the event but it didn't get that much this year due to the weather!

Saturday 20 December 2008

That was windy!

Just had an extremely windy night - gale force 10 was forecast. I have no idea what the wind speed was during the night as I hid under the duvet with my fingers in my ears singing la la la trying to pretend it wasn't happening ;-)

The noise of some of the gusts was terrific, huge booming noises. It doesn't help that building regulations determined that when the roof was renewed lots of ventilation slots had to be put in along the ridge line, and small pipes every few feet along the bottom of the roof where it joins the wall. Consequently it is bl**dy noisy when the wind is in a certain direction! Obviously building regs don't take into account natural Orkney ventilation! The cat usually sleeps in the study but I found her under a chair in the sitting room this morning. Clearly she'd had her paws over her ears too as she didn't hear me get up - usually she's calling for her breakfast once I emerge for the day. But at least on first appearance there is no damage to the house - well I can't see any debris lying around so that's a good sign. Wind still gusting up to 50mph so I won't be venturing forth just yet.....

Unfortunately last night I was supposed to be helping organise a party for our Film Club night. We were showing Mamma Mia! - the singalong version, together with mulled wine and mince pies. However the "late" ferry was cancelled and due to a work teleconference I couldn't get an earlier ferry. Added to that the Skipper wasn't sure he would be able to get me home this morning as the wind was going to be North Westerly which isn't good for docking at our pier. So in the end I missed the party. Harumph! Heard that it was a good night anyway - about thirty folk and lots of mulled wine was consumed by all accounts. I'd seen the film recently and was looking forward to a light frothy party night watching a film with some *sun* - and Pierce Brosnan - even if he can't sing. But I choose to live on Graemsay so one just has to take the weather as it comes. I'm not so fussed about a rough crossing but I get really scared at the pier. I'm always afraid I'll get blown over, or slip as I get on or off the boat. Given my fragile bones it seemed sensible to stay nice and warm indoors.

The electricity stayed on which was a blessing. I'd curled up on the sofa and watched an hour long preview of "Strictly" (Strictly Come Dancing) and settled to watch a repeat of "Foyle's War" which I particularly enjoy as it's set in Hastings (Kent) a town I know fairly well. Unfortunately the ITV channels went off at 10.30 so I missed seeing "whodunnit" - and yes it was a repeat and yes I'd seen it before...... but could I remember who??? Will have to go online and see if I can find out!!

BBC channels stayed on and thankfully the radio was OK, though that flickered a bit. When there's a gale blowing my "comfort blanket" is having a radio on - I suppose I psychologically feel I need to be linked to the rest of the world even though my own is being battered by wind and high seas! Anyway listened to Jamie Cullum doing a Christmas Show. I love his music (jazz) but had found his "DJ" style rather irritating. However he seems to have grown up now and his show was rather good. As was the music too.

BBC4 (digital channel) is doing a season of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr films and shows so I'm trying to catch some of those. I really must try and sort out my video recorder....... I'm never quite sure what channel it is exactly I'm recording.........

Well I'm waffling on about nothing really which is clearly some displacement activity instead of working! Better get cracking!

As long as the wind dies down it's the Children's Christmas Party tonight. Not sure how many folk will be there as various people off south for Christmas. But hopefully there will be chocolate and cake........

Thursday 18 December 2008

Running to catch up.....

I know - I'm late again. Must be related to the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland... As I said before, I'm trying to complete a work project before Christmas so working longish hours at the moment. And like everyone else trying to get ready for christmas, posting cards and parcels, getting supplies in etc. Somehow there just aren't enough hours in the day. And I don't really *do* Christmas - so I don't have anywhere near as much to do as most folk but it feels more than enough.

Anyway I have a few days off over Christmas and the New Year and as we won't have boats for four days over Christmas and again for four days over New Year I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to catch up on things as I won't be going anywhere else!

AND my camera is broken so I'm not able to take photos at the moment - sigh. I'm on the look out for a new one but don't really have time to look too widely, although a friend is advising on suitable options. Hopefully in the new year I can buy myself a Christmas present!

The weather is wild and windy at the moment. It seems to have rained constantly for the last week so everywhere is wet and the ground sodden with lots of pools of water lying around. The forecast is for the wind to continue into next week.

That makes shopping a challenge - trying to get on and off the ferry in poor weather laden with bags is interesting. Though often folk are around to lend a hand. But some days I decide to leave shopping in the car on the mainland and wait till it's calmer weather to bring it home. Trying to carry lightweight kitchen roll packs or something awkwardly shaped is not a good idea when gusts of wind might carry it back to Stromness for you!

The hens have been staying close to the hen-house. Sadly Findlay is no more - he had been very poorly the last couple of weeks, his legs seemed to have given up on him. So it seemed kindest to get someone to "do the deed". He'd had a good life, with several harems and a completely free range existance. I'm not in a hurry to replace him. I only have two hens at the moment so want to build up my stock of those. I do like seeing a cockeral around but not being in a hurry to have chicks around again, there's no real need to have one about the place. The hens can have some peace for a while!

OK now need to get on with work. Sorry for the interruption in service!!

Monday 8 December 2008

Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

I tried this recipe last week - it's very yummy. Although I have to confess I used frozen butternut squash! It's not as flavoursome as the fresh variety, though not bad when roasted and in soups. And at least the pre-prepared frozen variety doesn't entail me using my samauri sword techniques to prepare it. Delia Smith would be proud of me! Anyway onto the recipe....

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion - peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic - peeled and crushed (OK I left out the garlic, not my favourite)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
11 oz (300g) sweet potato (peeled weight and diced)
9 oz (250g) butternut squash - peeled weight and diced
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) vegetable stock
2 x 2 teaspoons chopped fresh coriander

Heat oil in a large saucepan, add onion and garlic, cook until soft,

Add ground cumin and cook a further minute.

Add sweet potato and butternut squash, stir and cook for two minutes.

Add seasoning and stock, bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is cooked.

Blend or process vegetable mixture until smooth, stir in the fresh coriander, dilute with water if necessary.

Serve soup hot or cold (and it freezes well too).


Sunday 7 December 2008

Still here!

(Photo: Button pretending to be an ornament....... should I decorate her for Christmas?)

Ooops - are you ever convinced you've done something and then found you haven't? Thought I'd updated my blog this week but obviously not...... I remember composing something in my head - must have just stayed there!

I only went over to the Mainland for a couple of appointments this week, otherwise I've been home, working. Ii'm really busy workwise at the moment as one project is coming to a close and needs to be completed before Christmas and another is about to start in the new year. I seem to be spending a lot of time in front of the computer screen at the moment. But I'm looking forward to a few days off over the Christmas break.

I haven't yet been able to go in to Woolworths (known in the UK as "Woolies") to take a look at the cut price bargains. The announcement that Woolies has gone into receivership was received with sadness by many in the UK. Woolies has been around on the UK high street for so many years. The Shetland and Orkney branches were the most profitable in Scotland, or so I heard. So it will be sad if they close, and sad for those who may end up unemployed in the new year. Woolies is an icon in Kirkwall - without it the town will feel quite different, in my opinion. It's one place where you can get all sorts of odd things, and I'm not sure there are any other shops in town that sell the range of kids toys that Woolies do. Well OK not that I actually buy any kids toys but I know lots of folk that do! I shall miss the "Pick and Mix" sweeties. I grew up with Woolies pick and mix always available. I still like to indulge when I'm in town. Lots of brightly coloured sweeties full of additives - oooh lovely.

Button is settling in well - she has now taken to bringing me gifts. The first was a dead sparrow - I thanked her but explained about the falling numbers of sparrows in the UK and that I didn't want her contributing to their demise so would she please bring me mice. She has clearly taken the lecture to heart as she has since brought me two field mice from the barn. She's a little put out that I won't allow her to bring them into the house! It took a while to convince her she couldn't - particularly with the first mouse. She dropped it on the doorstep and I managed to get her indoors then dispose of the mouse (threw it into the field). When I let her out she was most put out. She looked at me as if to say - you ate it all by *yourself*? Have you not heard of sharing??" and off she trotted to the barn again...... I'm having a rethink about a cat flap!

Folk on the island are busy getting ready for Christmas. We have the children's Christmas Party in the Hall the weekend before Christmas. Irene (who used to be the teacher at the school on Graemsay) organises it. It's one of my favourite island events. There are between five and seven island kids (depending who's around at the time) so all the adults must join in the party games - parce the parcel, obstacle race, musical arms (don't ask). And of course prizes are chocolates, sweeties etc. Santa Claus pays a visit with gifts for the children, and everyone contributes to the buffet.

At the moment the farmers are busy sorting out kye (cattle) and lambs to ship to the market. Some are "store" animals which means they will be sold on to other farmers who will feed them up for the meat market, others may go direct for slaughter and onto local butchers or may be shipped south. The Kirkwall Mart has been having its Christmas sales and the champion steer was sold to a butcher in Guernsey (Channel Islands), where my sister lives. So I shall have to tell her to go to the butcher and try some Orkney beef!

Most of the cattle on Graemsay are now in the byres for the winter, although the sheep stay out all year and are fed winter feed in the fields.

The hens are still laying, though I'm not sure if one has stopped or gone and found another place among the hay to lay her eggs. I'm hoping to get some more laying hens soon. I only have two hens and Findlay the aged (retired) cockeral, and I'd like to build the flock up again. Not because I need more eggs but I just love seeing the hens around. They are still scratching about in the garden for grubs and bugs and things.

The garden is looking quite bare now as all the shrubs have dropped their leaves and most of the plants died back for winter. Though the cordyline, pampas grass, hebes and escallonia are still green. How they have remained so during some recent gales is beyond me. Clearly very hardy plants!

Saturday 29 November 2008

Frost and snow......

Thought you might enjoy some photos today.

Hoy Hills earlier in the week:

Landscape of frost and snow this morning:

Cloudscape today:

Wednesday 26 November 2008

And then there was one.....

Poor Jasper got deported from Graemsay today! The Cat Protection people have placed him with his previous fosterer till they find him another home. I did feel guilty putting him into the cage and parting with him, but it's better for all concerned in the long run. He's a very pretty and affectionate cat so I'm sure he will soon find another home, and I wish him a long and happy life!

Button can't quite believe he isn't hiding around the corner ready to pounce on her. She has finally settled on the sofa in the sitting room this afternoon but with one wary eye open for the expected onslaught. No doubt it will take her a few days to get accustomed to her freedom.

While delivering Jasper this morning I took the opportunity to take a look at the Christmas Art Exhibitions at the Pier Arts Centre and the Waterfront Gallery. Both run regular exhibitions of work by local artists inspired by the Orkney landscpae. There were several in both galleries that I really liked. The exhibits included pictures (photographs, other work was in oils or using natural materials), ceramics and "installation" objects. Two pictures that particularly caught my eye were by Tim Wooton and were of birds in the landscape. He really captures the birds in their natural elements. Another local artist I like, Joan Holdsworth, uses sand and paint in glass to represent natural materials or images of the landscape. I have a piece of hers from the exhibition last year, it's of the Hoy Hills, with Graemsay in the foreground - but have yet to hang it on the wall! I need to make sure it's safely anchored and doesn't fall down!

I then had time to have breakfast in Julias Bistro before getting some more groceries and then heading back on the mid-day boat. The wind was already getting up by lunch-time. Some folk were shipping lambs to the mart today and at one point I thought they might make *me* go up the sheep-run onto the pier, but thankfully the boat moved round to the steps so I could get off with my shopping with ease - although the wind was quite strong up the pier and it took my breath away. Now I'm nice and snug indoors and yet another gale is raging outside - it's obviously going to be a loooong winter - sigh.

Monday 24 November 2008

Here kitty, kitty, kitty......

I must get a cat flap....... Button's body clock announces she wants to go out at 10pm each night. By 11pm I'm ready for my bed - only I can't sleep soundly when if I've shut her out. Soft hearted or soft in the head I know but there it is. To be fair she usually comes after being called a few times - and I won't mention *what* she gets called by the end...... and it is awfully sweet to see her bouncing down the driveway greeting me.

However she and Jasper are still not getting on, in fact he now tries to stop her coming back into the house - he lies in wait by the car or round the corner. So I've contacted the cat shelter to ask them to rehome Jasper. I love both the kitties, both are very cute and funny in their own way. However I would at some point like to have two cats and I suspect Jasper is an "only cat" variety. I'm hoping that once Button settles in I could introduce another cat at some point. Or we must just muddle along together as it is. Anyway I'm hoping Jasper gets a new permanent home soon where he and his people are happy for many years to come.

And now I have to go and yell for Button again. Thankfully the wind will blow my words away and no one will hear me scream "BUTTON". Though it could be worse - our family dog when I was a child was called "Whisky" - if I yelled that out the back door Mick would be phoning round the island telling folk "The party's at Sandside"!

Although Button does seem a very silly name - she does answer to it which is unusual for a cat, so I suppose it will stay now.

And at least calling her last thing at night I get to appreciate the night-sky in all it's glory or fury. Tonight is a little breezy (a few weeks ago I would have said very windy...... it's all relative!) and the lights of Stromness are clearly visible, with Orphir dotted with lots twinkling lights too. No doubt I shall have several minutes in which to appreciate the view....... BUTTON!

Sunday 23 November 2008

Wild Weather....

The last week has seen gales, hail, sleet, snow, rain and yes, some sunshine. The snow didn't last for long and there wasn't enough of a covering to make for any decent photos. I love the snow when it's first fallen, all crisp and crunchy, but hate it once it gets to the slushy stage. Though looking at the sheep in the field I feel sorry for them and want to bring them indoors and warm their little feet!

Jasper has enjoyed going out despite the weather, but Button is definitely a fair weather cat - she would go out to do the necessary and shoot back in again. Unfortunately Jasper is still tormenting her so they are being kept apart when I'm not around or I need some peace and quiet. Not sure Jasper will ever accept her. She's quite a bold cat but doesn't fight him until she gets desperate - I think if she stood her ground a bit he might learn his lesson. But I can understand how she feels - I hate conflict too!

I've mainly been working this week, though I did go into Kirkwall on Thursday. There was an inter-isles transport meeting at the council offices - held with island representatives, reps from the ferry company and council officials. Most of what was said had been published in the paper that week so nothing very much was new. Several of the inter-isles ferries are due for renewal and there are various discussions going on about what replacements and changes to service there will be. For Graemsay the plan is to lengthen our ferry, which will enable it to carry more cargo. But unless/until the pier is altered it will still be a lift-0n/lift-off operation for cargo. Apparently there are plans to put in a tidal link-span at the pier so there would be limited "ro-ro" access, but who knows when that will happen - all depends on budgets etc.

While in town I shopped for supplies in case the weather worsened. Visited Tesco and I heard the alarm ringing constantly at the exit but this time it was NOT me. Though I have to confess to joining the "voyeurs" and watching the poor hapless customers being taken to one side. Oooh I know how they feel! Not sure what was triggering it so often this time - can't ALL be customers from A Well Known Chemist!

Did a bit of Christmas shopping, but those of you that know me well know I'm in the "Bah! Humbug!" category. I like the idea of a mid-winter festival, and indeed do celebrate mid-winter with gratitude.... that the nights will then begin to shorten! But I'm not into Christmas at all.

Monday 17 November 2008

Armenian soup recipe

mmmmmm the new soup recipe given to me by a friend turned out well and was delicious. It was one of the easiest soups I've ever made! So thought I'd share it with you:

Armenian Soup (from Cranks cookbook)

Red lentils, washed 2 oz
Dried apricots, washed 2 oz
Large potato 1
Vegetable stock 2 pt
Lemon juice (half a lemon)
Ground cumin 1 teaspoon
Parsley, chopped 3 teaspoons
Salt and pepper to taste

Place lentils and apricots in a large saucepan. Roughly chop the potato and add to the pan with remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool, then blend in a liquidizer goblet until smooth. Reheat to serving temperature and adjust seasoning to taste.



Jasper spent another night out in the barn. But he was there to greet me when I fed the chickens and accompanied me home. However after breakfasting and a nap he has chosen to go out again. No idea when I'll see him next. I feel like the Kitty Hotel at the moment!!

Findlay the cockeral is a little unsteady on his legs, and definitelylooking rather motheaten these days. He no longer roosts on the perch with the hens at night but in the nesting box. I suspect his days are numbered. But for now he seems quite happy and definitely eating well so at least I can feel he has enjoyed his retirement!! The two hens seem happy enough. I'd like to get them some companions but most folk seem to sell hens in the Spring. Both are still laying well so that's a bonus.

A lovely calm day with patches of blue sky among the light grey cloud. However I see more wind is forecast for later in the week - from the North bringing "wintry showers".

Sunday 16 November 2008

More adventures with cats.....

Had problems uploading to my blog so haven't updated for a few days. Anyway have had further adventures with the new cats - including losing Jasper for two days! Well I knew where he was - he was in the byre among the hay but chose not to come home in time for tea, then the weather blew up into a Force 9 Gale and he sensibly stayed put in the barn. I found him this morning, none the worse for his adventure, though very hungry! He is now snoozing downstairs.

Button was disappointed to see him reappear as she had enjoyed having the place to herself. Last week Jasper went from stalking her to attacking. As soon as he sees her he runs up to her and a full scale battle ensues. It's very tiresome and doesn't seem to be getting any better. So I have to keep separating them so I can get on with work, life etc!

Friday night I was over in Stromness at the Film Club - watching "The Scent Of Green Papayas". It had won several awards - a Vietnamese film (think it was a french film crew), very gentle story, beautifully filmed, stunning photography. But somehow it failed to touch me - I just didn't connect with any of the characters and there were several events in the film that just didn't get explained. The ending was so ambiguous that I had to watch the final scenes again when I got back to my friend's house for the night and we ended up surfing the net to try and decipher the meaning! We gave up in the end......

Anyway we had a good turn-out of about 18 folk, which was good going as there were several other "art" events on the same night.

I was also over for physio during the week - the final session. My back feels a lot less painful now so hopefully things are improving. Though I'm supposed to be careful lifting things - not easy when we only have a passenger ferry and everything has to be carried on and off! Still I'm trying to be organised and get shopping sent over from Stromness grocers etc. And folk help, but I hate having to be dependent on others as we all have our own shopping etc to carry.

I've also realised that the dreaded Christmas is round the corner and am trying to get organised. I'm definitely in the "Bah! Humbug!" category. Have never really enjoyed Christmas - though used to enjoy the time off work. We won't get boats for 4 days over the Xmas period so I shall just hibernate! I used to go and visit family but it's rarely weather for travelling so to save hassle I prefer to stay at home and visit family and friends in the summer time!

I've just come back from checking around Sandside to see if there was any damage from the storm force winds last night. The wind and rain were so noisy they woke me up. It has been extremely windy since Friday, but fortunately by mid-day the wind had died down and it has been a reasonably pleasant afternoon - very bright. I meant to go out and take some photos but have been working today - one of the advantages of working from home I can be flexible with my hours. And of course by the time I thought to go out - it got dark!

I've been watching flocks of Lapwings swooping around over the field at the back of Sandside. They are amazing birds and give an amazing airborne display. I also heard geese calling today but didn't see them. I wasn't sure if they were on Graemsay or Hoy. When I stayed at Longhope (south end of Hoy) there were thousands of geese around and someone was employed to shoo (yes that's shoo not shoot!) them off the land - well of course they just moved on to another field! But they do make a mess of the pasture so they were not regarded kindly by the local farmers. A few at a time wouldn't be too bad, but in large numbers they become a problem.

I've got a new recipe for soup so think I shall go and experiment. If it turns out well I'll post the recipe!

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Adventures with cats

Today’s picture is of cloud over the Hoy Hills. It looks like the Brontosaurus of Hoy is still under the duvet! Weather has been changeable all day with heavy showers and periods of calm and brightness. Actually the photo of Graemsay on the right of my blog was taken from the top of the hill (Ward Hill) by a friend - and no I haven't climbed to the top myself - I just admire the photos!

I’m still having adventures with the cats. We are all taking time to get adjusted. Jasper (grey & white, appears laid back) has clearly been upset by the appearance of Button (black & white, sassy cat) and had been off his food. He is also desperately trying to make friends with her. He approaches her (sometimes at the trot), ears forward, meowing what I assume is feline for “Hello will you be my friend?”. However Button is still less than enamoured by this, but despite her hissing and spitting he persists. And bless her, she doesn’t really attack him either, just tries to escape……. Generally I try and leave them to it, but she has sussed out that I *will* rescue her if she hides behind my computer! So of course that’s where she heads now.

Button also had an adventure of her own on Sunday night. She’s been outdoors a couple of times during the day and then demanded persistently to go out again at about 10pm. Well I was planning an early night so wasn’t keen. However she yowled and made such a fuss that I let her out. She still wasn’t home by midnight – despite me standing in pyjamas at the back door yelling “Button”. It was a still night – I suspect they heard me in Stromness. However as it *was* a lovely moonlit still night I went off to bed – gazing out of the bedroom window at the gentle lapping of the tide on the sandy beach, drifting off into a nice deep sleep. I woke up at 7.30 to a gale! Ooops – but over the noise of the gale, unmistakably was Button – yowling….. I let her in and got a mouthful of sharp meadows for my pains! Before anyone thinks I’m heartless – I had shown her the hay byres on our first venture out so I knew if she had any sense she’d find warm shelter there.

Anyway she has clearly learned something as now when I yell at night I hear her reply in the distance, getting louder as she gets nearer – she obviously prefers a nice cosy warm sofa indoors to the barn! She sleeps near my computer so I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s surfing the web during the night ordering a cat flap for her convenience!

One thing I have been advised to try is a “pheromone diffuser” – it’s like one of those plug-in air fresheners, but mimics the facial pheromones of a happy cat (kind of like Valium for kitties I suppose!). Anyway since I plugged it in, Jasper has returned to eating properly and things are a little calmer. Of course this could also be due to them getting used to each other!

Sunday 9 November 2008

Momentous week

It’s certainly been a momentous week – Lewis Hamilton became the new Formula 1 World Champion, Barack Obama won the Presidential Election, and Button & Jasper met up for the first time. The first two events were more cause for celebration than the last (depending on your nationality and politics).

It has to be said that Button (aka Miss Sassy Boots) is something of a Drama Queen….. and LOUD…… Jasper, bless his little white socks, ran up to her miaowing and wanting to make friends. Button went into reverse hissing and spitting and yowling. This went on for a couple of days (though I separated them at night for the sake of a peaceful household).

Button is full of energy and I decided yesterday that it was time to let her outdoors so we went for a walk around the byres nearby so she could see where to shelter if she got locked out etc. She is hilarious, scooting around, calling to me all the time. “Come and look at this” – “Blimey what’s that?” (a hen). After a while I turned back to the house calling her. I could hear her but no sign. Eventually she comes scooting out of the barn and leaps up onto the hen house (which is about 6 ft at the front lower at the back). Pretends to get stuck…… Ha! I’m not falling for that and go back to the house. Eventually she follows. Later she wants out again and I leave her to her own devices. I’m wondering how I’ll know when she wants to come back in as it soon gets dark. She’s a black cat with white bits (or as a friend said, a white cat wearing a full bat suit). I needn’t have been concerned – she YOWLS *very* loudly at the door. No mistaking Miss Sassy Boots!

Thankfully after bouncing around outdoors she settles down on a chair opposite Jasper who is snoozing away too. That’s a first. Jasper has been off his food for the last couple of days and I was worried about him – he’s underweight having been a rescued stray. But today I saw him sneak upstairs and eat some of Miss Sassy Boots’ breakfast! He’s just had a light lunch and now curled up sleeping. Meanwhile Button is curled up on my bed……..

Jasper shows no inclination to go out and I’m happy for him to be indoors till he feels more confident and settled.

I separate both of them to different parts of the house when I’m out just in case but hopefully both will settle soon. I had to leave them when I went to town twice this week (for physio and acupuncture for my back which seems to be improving thankfully!) and they were fine. Well cats do sleep 19 hours a day……. Think I want to come back as a cat in my next life…….

Monday 3 November 2008

Adventures with cats….

Jasper arrived last Weds – he was a stray rescued from Stromness where he had been wandering about. He was in foster care for a few weeks and advertised as a lost kitty but no one claimed him. He was in poor condition when rescued and had clearly been living rough for some time. His fosterer fed him up well and he also had some minor surgery on his eye, and treatment for conjunctivitis. He is now looking much healthier with a glossy coat, and is gradually gaining weight. He is very friendly and quite likes being picked up and cuddled. He’s a peedie puss (peedie = small in Orcadian) and very sweet. Not very bold so hasn’t been exploring the house much as yet. But that’s fine he can take his time.
Button exploded out of her cat carrier on Friday – was thinking of renaming her Bombshell! However I think she just objected to being shut in a box for most of the day as she has calmed down now. When I first let her out she escaped and ran round the upstairs of the house and yowled when shut into the spare bedroom upstairs. However she has settled down quietly now. Her foster home had several cats and an excitable young dog so I think she’s glad of some peace and quiet. She is definitely a bold sassy cat. She would happily explore the rest of the house and I think will also be happy to go outdoors.

However plan is to keep the two kitties in separate parts of the house till the end of this week, then I’ll put Button into the conservatory and she and Jasper can see each other through the glass panel door and get acquainted that way first. We’ll see how that goes before putting them together!! In hindsight it would probably have been more sensible to get two kitties from the shelter that were already acquainted. However I’m assured by other more experienced “cat people” that they will soon sort themselves out. And there are enough comfy spaces in the house for each to be happy away from the other if they so wish!

Sunday 2 November 2008


Er – no I haven’t been covered in ice or snow during the recent “arctic spell”, nor have I been blown away by the gales….. You will notice a pattern to my blog postings during the winter…… when the weather is good I’m outdoors and not posting so much. When the weather is bad – you will ALL know about it…..

But since Weds we have had terrific weather, the most glorious autumnal sun, with loooong shadows (and I can pretend I’m tall) and no wind. Today is more of the same, beautiful blue skies. I’ve posted some photos taken over the last few days.

I’ve also been busy collecting cats! Jasper arrived on Wednesday from his Shelter fosterer in Kirkwall. He has settled in well, though is a little timid. But he is very friendly and should probably be called Jaspurrrrrrrr. Then on Friday I collected Button who was being fostered on Hoy. She is quite a sassy cat! Beautiful but sassy….. She too is settling down well. Neither have yet met – that will be the challenge later this week. Also both need to be kept in for a couple of weeks which is proving OK at the moment. I think Jasper might be a home-buddy, whereas I think Button will enjoy exploring the barns and field nearby.

We also had our island annual Harvest Home on Friday night which was combined with the kids Halloween event. The Harvest Home in Orkney is a traditional celebration of the end of the Harvest – it’s usually held at the end of October/beginning of November and is non-religious (Unlike English Harvest Suppers). On Graemsay folk are all seated round one big table, and a three course meal provided, prepared by various of the island ladies. This year it was followed by music provided by Fran and Hamish (accordion, concertina, penny whisles, banjo etc) and the children also did their Halloween “turns”. We don’t do trick-or-treat but all the kids dress up in Halloween costumes and have to tell a joke, or do a “turn”. Photos of the event can be found on Mick of Hoy High’s web site: ( and then select "Harvest Home 2008" from menu). After the kids had done their bit they were given sweets and treats – this year Sandra gave me a bag of sweeties too, I think it was to stop my usual attempts to steal from the kids! There was also dancing, with the Graemsay version of “Strip the Willow” – a more stately version than in years past, due to the increasing age and injury of the inhabitants!! I left about midnight but I gather there was tea and homebakes later too. Rats – I missed CAKE!

(Photos: Top of page: from Graemsay looking to Stromness on the Orkney Mainland; below left: Hoy High Lighthouse and Rainbow - yes I was a little on the slant there.... below top right - From Graemsay looking across Scapa Flow to Orphir; below bottom right - Graemsay looking towards West Hill across Sandside Bay.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

In the bleak mid-winter..... well not quite....

But it *is* only 28th October so we are somewhat surprised by the bad weather so early. The whole of Britain seems to be suffering an icy blast at the moment. Here snow showers have been occurring during the night and through the morning. Though it is only lightly dusting high ground at the moment. I suspect lower ground is too wet and still too warm for it to settle for any length of time.

But with high winds and snow showers forecast for most of the day the local Orkney schools are closed (well apart for one or two). Tomorrow's forecast looks a bit brighter with less wind. I do hope so as I need to go over to Kirkwall to collect Jasper!

Many phones are still off across the county (and several on Graemsay). Radio Orkney hasn't been able to broadcast for a couple of days due to damage to a transmitter and some of the digital TV channels have been disappearing too suggesting the local transmitter mast has also had some damage.

But for today I've ordered some groceries to be delivered on the mid-day boat, have checked rechargeable torches, radio etc and will just hunker down and see how things go. I have quite a bit of work to do so I sincerely hope the power stays on at least!

Picture of Hoy hills taken just now from the front door - looks like they've had a dusting of icing sugar - anyone got a sprig of holly?! Is it me or do the Hoy Hills look like a sleeping Brontasaurus?? OK - maybe I've been shut in the house too long.....

Monday 27 October 2008

Obsessively checking weather!

OK so I'm getting obsessive about the weather...... but I just read the forecast for tomorrow....... and it's still only October....... sigh.... it may be a loooong winter. If you don't hear from me for a couple of days - SEND CHOCOLATE!

TUESDAY 28th: Overnight snow showers merging into a more prolonged period of snow, moving down from the north by the morning. At the same time F7 to gale F8 NW to N'ly winds increasing gale F8 to storm F10. For a time blizzard-like conditions are possible - especially over higher ground - where drifting is likely. Some accumulations of snow are also possible at lower levels, more especially by evening as winds begin to ease. Across the west of Shetland, Fair Isle and Orkney gale F8 to storm F10 winds are likely to gradually back N to NE'ly before beginning to ease a little during the afternoon. However, the north and east of Shetland could well see winds easing for a time before strengthening again to also become gale F8 to severe gale F9 NE'ly as clearer conditions follow from the north.

Wind, wind and more wind.....

Today's title refers to the weather, not my blog outpourings - though you may think differently :-) Well I was just about to upload my Sunday blog entry when the power went off! We’d had power fluctuations over the weekend (probably due to the high wind) so I sat waiting for power to come back. After three minutes sitting in the dark I decided I ought to go and find some light. Had just got the kitchen and sitting room looking pretty with tea-lights and candles and on comes the power again. Was in the middle of texting a friend to ask for the results of the “Strictly Come Dancing” show when the power came on so I was able to sit down and watch it!

Today there is still a strong wind, north westerly I think but haven’t been out yet to test it. And apparently sleet and SNOW is forecast for the week – though I suspect the ground is still too warm and wet for it to settle for long.

Written on Sunday before the power cut!

Saturday turned out windier than I expected! Seems wind speeds were around 60mph for a while in the afternoon, with gusts more than that. Thankfully Sundaywas less windy. Though it’s all relative – I’m thinking it’s a bit breezy – three weeks ago I would have called the wind today a gale!

At least I have been able to get some fresh air today – first decent spell in three days with a short walk along the shore. Thankfully the hens seem to be doing OK and are still laying OK. Though I think Brown Hen got cross with me – I was waiting for eggs to bake a cake and twice I went to collect them and she was still on the nest. She clucked her irritation – but really, how long does it take a hen to lay an egg?! Anyway I duly collected eggs to find I’d run out of flour so cake making will have to wait till another free day.

I’ve been catching up on household jobs today and have finished “autumn cleaning” my office. I must take after some hibernating animal that gets its nest ready for winter as I seem to want to clear out cupboards and sort through things – but the enthusiasm only lasts a couple of weeks……

I took a run out in the car to post a letter – the post box is in the middle of the island. I could have walked but there were heavy hail showers around and I was feeling lazy! Though I had to watch the wind didn’t catch the door. Most cars in Orkney end up with what garage mechanics call “Orkney doors” – slightly out of alignment having been whacked back on hinges by gale force winds! My little red bug of an island car looks so light that I half expected to find her upside down waving her wheels in the air like an upturned ladybug after the high winds over recent days! Fortunately she must be more robust than she looks.

Saturday 25 October 2008

Smoking Rainbows…..

No that does not have the same meaning as “sufferin’ succotash”…. The wind has changed to South Westerly now and become strong gale force after a slight respite this morning. But the spray was being whipped up by the wind so the sea looked as though it was smoking, and the sun came out and suddenly there were mini rainbows hovering over the sea and surf. It was beautiful! Unfortunately too far distant for me to take a decent photo and no I had no intention of going nearer to take a photo for your personal delight!

Just spoken to some friends in Stromness, the phones are on is some places there but still out in others. One friend had her phone fixed this morning by a BT engineer who said that lots of places in Orkney were affected by lightning strikes yesterday. Others report having their phone sockets blown off the wall. The island of Rousay has problems with it’s cable so engineers are heading out there on Monday. The island of Westray is also out of action in terms of telephones (though maybe not all of it).

I’m hoping the increasing winds don’t mean the electricity goes off! Though I do have some lanterns and a battery radio as backup!

A Very Blustery Day….

….. as Winnie the Pooh once said. Today still a North Easterly wind blowing with gusts up to 57 mph. Though yesterday was far worse. We had torrential downpours of rain and a thunderstorm. First clap of thunder and I dived under my desk – not because I was scared but in haste to unplug my broadband connection, and power down the computer. I do have a power-surge protector plugged in but never totally convinced it will work so unplug power plugs to be on safe side!

The electricity came on and off during the afternoon so I gave up restarting the computer. Fortunately I had some work I could do without using computer or internet access, though I still need to complete a report for Monday so I’m hoping things calm down over the next day or two so I can catch up with work.

Several of the island phones are off and I have friends in Stromness also without telephones – clearly the lightning struck something vital.

All was well here during the storm – though I found a couple of keyholes that had wind whistling through them so stuck tape over those! I don’t have a traditional “letter box” in my front door either as most houses south have, as these rattle and are draughty in the wind.

I managed to get out to feed the hens sheltered by the garden dyke (wall) but only Finlay and the White Hen were in evidence. I’m hoping Brown Hen is safely tucked up in the barn, but I’ll not be investigating till the wind dies down a bit more!

I need to go prospecting for eggs too – I’ve run out of cake which is a near calamity. However hopefully tomorrow the winds will ease and I can gather up the eggs.

Tonight the clocks go back an hour – it’s the end of British Summer Time – sigh. I find the dark early evenings (which will soon be with us) take a bit of getting used to. However I do enjoy drawing the curtains in the evening and settling down to read or watch TV or a DVD – I’ve been gathering a collection of old Hollywood movies and musicals to help me through the Winter!

Unfortunately Orkney winters tend to be very dark, very wet, very windy and very long. I forget just how wet and windy during the long daylight hours of the summer months and it always comes as a surprise when the first gales hit. Sometimes they rage for days, screaming like banshees around the house. I was worried that my new door knocker might rattle in the wind – it’s so blooming noisy with the wind I wouldn’t hear it if it did!!

I haven’t been outdoors, apart from feeding the hens, since Wednesday. Though I do trot up and down stairs regularly and have a treadmill in a store room in the conservatory for additional exercise! I get really bored using the treadmill, even with music blasting in my ears – and before you start thinking I’m some kind of exercise freak – exercise is not really a concept I understand. However I am told that walking is good for the health of my bones, lungs and wellbeing so I try and walk at least a mile on the treadmill each day in the winter – the distance is determined by boredom, not effort……. Ho hum……

And I just received the news that my two new rescued kitties will be arriving this week. Hopefully Jasper comes home on Weds and Buttons on Friday – weather and boats permitting. Though our ferry often manages to run even when the North Isles boats don’t due to more sheltered waters, but it does depend on the wind direction at the pier.

I see the Hamnavoe ferry which sails from Stromness to Scrabster (North of Scotland) has altered its sailings again today due to high wind – though I think that might have more to do with problems with one of its stabilisers than the wind. Ah no I see the Kirkwall to Aberdeen ferry sailings are under review so clearly wind is making its mark.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

The joy of jammy donuts……

The weather has calmed down today. Very blustery showers and high wind last night, but peace is restored for a short time anyway. Sun breaking through clouds and only a bit of a breeze, though the temperature is lower so it feels chilly.

I’ve just been down to the mid-day boat to collect my “messages” (shopping) that I’d ordered by phone from Argo’s the bakery this morning. Some fresh bread (my breadmaker is broken…), fresh milk, and ooooh some fresh jammy donuts (jelly donuts to my US friends).

Oh the joy of all that sugariness, and the oozing jam of a FRESH jammy donut. MMmmmmm. Quite made my morning!

We can get the baker’s (and other local shops) to deliver almost to our door via the ferry. There is something quite decadent about picking up the phone and ordering jammy donuts to be delivered. OK I know those of you in cities can probably have a vanload delivered to your door whenever you want – but for me it’s a treat!

We have no shops on Graemsay so have to rely on shops in Stromness and Kirkwall. The smaller shops still provide deliveries to the boat. Unfortunately the larger supermarkets like the Co-op and Tesco don’t. But then that’s all to the good as it means we still support the individual shops because they are a lifeline for us – and not just for jammy donuts!

There are no dairy cows on Graemsay so we are dependent on external supplies of dairy products too. Lots of folk in Orkney (and other rural areas) use UHT milk but I have never got used to the taste of it – though I can take it in coffee. But it seems a sin to put into tea! So I usually buy individual pints of low-fat regular pasteurised milk and freeze it. It doesn’t work with full-cream milk as that separates too much, but low-fat (semi-skimmed) milk comes out of the freezer OK. And once shaken (but not stirred) it’s fine for use on cereal or tea (and I drink copious cups of tea when I’m working!).

Flett’s the butcher is another supplier providing regular delivery to the boat. I just love Flett’s sausages – pork and apricot were delicious last time I had them. And fresh fruit and vegetables are also available from them. Today I must email my order to the Frozen Food shop in Kirkwall and stock up on some basic supplies – these get delivered on Friday.

So you see we can get regular fresh supplies delivered to the island – one just has to be well organised to make sure the cupboard isn't bare the weekends in the winter we have no boats!

However sadly our local newsagent is about to stop deliveries as it is up for sale. So we are not quite sure how we are going to get our weekly copies of “Orkney Today” or “The Orcadian” (local newspapers), nor get Sunday papers delivered (which arrived on the Monday evening boat anyway!). Hopefully a new owner will be found soon and we can get a regular supply of papers again.

Hmmmmmm now back to my jammy donut……..

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Wild and Windy today...

The wind has been increasing during the day, with heavy hail showers. Wind seems to be gusting up to 50 knots (approx 57 mph) according to the Orkney Harbours website for this area of sea. Glad I don’t have to go anywhere anytime soon as it looks to be windy for a few days to come.

A popular website used by lots of local seagoing folk is :

Love the name Magic Seaweed! And it does seem to be a reliable site too – though at times I wish I didn’t look too closely at the dark red patches approaching! Red never was my colour….

Found some photos on Flickr of a recent event in Kirkwall. The Shetland Jarl Squad was visiting and carried out a re-enactment of Up Helly Aa (famour winter Viking festival in Shetland with lots of flaming torches, and the burning of a longboat). So to turn your thoughts to warmer things than wind and hail have a look here :

I particularly like the one of the flaming torches in Broad Street, very pagan!

Monday 20 October 2008

Wind, eggs and mobile phones.....

The storm force winds forecast for the weekend don’t seem to have arrived which is a relief. Today it’s turned bright and sunny, though it is a bit breezy. The forecast is for the winds to get stronger again at the end of the week. So hatches remain battened…..

I took the opportunity this morning to go and collect the hens eggs. They lay in a dark corner of a disused barn quite near the shore and I usually avoid going there when the wind is from the South West as it just whips through the gaps between the barns and byres and knocks me off my feet. So today I managed to collect five lovely eggs – good I can bake a cake today then!

I usually put the eggs in my coat pocket and deposit them in the utility room once I get back indoors. I am particularly careful about this as a few years ago I forgot to remove the eggs, and later that day jumped into the car and drove off to visit a neighbour. Fortunately my coat was quite thickly lined and it was only when I took off my coat once I got home, and stuck my hand in my pocket to retrieve my mobile phone that I learned the error of my ways. I tried cleaning up the phone but it had egg yolk oozing out of it for days afterwards and the insides must have been all gummed up. It was an old second-hand phone fortunately – as I wouldn’t have like trying to convince the insurance company to pay out on THAT excuse!

Now I just use a cheap mobile phone which can easily be replaced, and try and remember to remove ALL eggs from pockets as soon as I get indoors!

Sunday 19 October 2008

Kettles and Cats…….

I’ve been pondering getting another cat. I can never replace Fitzi-cat and wouldn’t even try. But I do miss the company of a cat around the place, particularly as I work from home. Somehow it seems perfectly natural to talk to a cat, whereas I’m finding I’m talking to myself now I am without a cat companion. OK so some people think it’s odd to talk to a cat….. you don’t know what you’re missing is all I can say!

Anyway my friend, diane, said “Kettles and cats are what make a house a home”. Well I have two kettles so clearly I now need two cats! And to this end I contacted the local Orkney Cat Protection Society ( and have offered to adopt two cats. I am soon to be providing Jasper with a new home, hopefully next week. As you can see, he’s grey and white and is an adult male cat, about two years old. He was found wandering in Stromness Town square for several weeks and was rather the worse for wear (must have been consorting with the wrong company!). Anyway he is safely tucked up in a foster home in Kirkwall at the moment, having just had a small operation on his eye. And once the stitches are out he will be coming home to Graemsay. We got acquainted this week – he really is a “peedie puss”, very neat and small. He’s extremely friendly and loves a fuss, though not so keen on being picked up at the moment.

I then decided to get another cat and have put my name down for “Button” – she’s a black and white cat, about 2 years old from Westray (one of the more northerly of the Orkney Islands). I’ve not spoken to her fosterer so don’t know her story, nor if/when I can bring her to Graemsay. But fingers crossed I can give her a happy home.

I had been wondering about the practicalities of keeping two cats, then met Jasper’s foster carer – she is sight impaired with a lovely guide-dog, Paddy, has three cats of her own, and a cat cabin in the garden to foster for Cat Protection, AND usually has one or two litters of kittens indoors needing constant attention. I figured that two adult cats who would be fairly robust and go outdoors wouldn’t be too much in comparison! Not sure if they will be company for each other. Never had two cats before so we shall see. But both cats are fairly independent so hopefully won’t cause too many problems.

When I lost Fitzi I had thought I’d go a while without another cat. I was looking forward to less fur floating about the place, not having to deal with litter trays etc. But actually none of that really matters and I miss the company the most. Plus if I have a cat I have an excuse for the “dust bunnies” that float about the floor – “Oh please excuse the fur – the cat’s are moulting….” I can tell visitors which sounds better than admitting I’m too lazy to vacuum!

Tuesday 14 October 2008


I’ve been out gathering up the window boxes and tubs and putting them together to hopefully take some cuttings of the geraniums and perennials and gather seeds from others in readiness for next year. Then the tubs will need storing safely in the shed over winter as they are liable to blow away in a gale.

I’m really pleased with my grey willows that I planted last year. The first photo is them early this summer and the second photo is them this week! The poor things are being a little foolhardy poking their heads above the dyke (stone wall) as the next westerly gale will blast them with salt. However they grow well all over Orkney and these will learn not to stick their heads above the parapet too much!

The last few days I’ve been sorting out my conservatory - which is laid out as a sitting room rather than being totally full of plants. However I do have quite a few large indoor plants there, as well as smaller ones. During the summer they get a bit neglected (apart from regular watering) as I spend most of my time working with outdoor plants. So some had got very leggy and were shedding leaves etc. and needed trimming back, taking cuttings etc and moving some of the more tender plants away from the windows. Although the glass is double-glazed the temperature varies quite a bit by the windows during the winter depending on wind direction etc. Some of my plants really don’t like that (who can blame them!) so I move those to a cosier spot.

I’ve also started moving to a cosier spot – we’ve had a couple of days of breeziness and rain, so I’ve been using the sitting room in the main house again now. In the summer I live out in the conservatory as the views are stunning from Warbeth in the West to Orphir in the East. But in the winter I prefer the cosiness of the sitting room.

Monday 13 October 2008

Windy days ahead....

We’ve had a few windy days recently. It’s so easy to forget how windy and exposed it gets in Orkney in winter, when we have just had a very pleasant summer with barely a breeze at times. We rarely have a cold winter with frost and snow, just wind chill factor from weeks and weeks of gales. Sometimes the wind screams round the house like a banshee in a never ending fury. Then suddenly you wake up to still ness and you wonder if you’ve gone deaf – or died! I’m treasuring the remaining still days while I can!

With the first gale warning of the year most folk make sure everything movable is either tied down or removed otherwise that’s the last you’ll see of it! I’ve moved all my outdoor pots safely into the shed and generally checked for any other loose debris.

Hopefully the house itself will stand firm having survived various gales for 150 years! Thankfully I know the roof of the house is secure having had all the slates removed, new wood and “ties” put in, sarking etc, then old slates replaced when it was renovated. And in Orkney builders have the sense to nail slates onto the roof – not like south where each winter a house in my street would lose some tiles after a passing gale!

Picture of roof during and after renovations – the lowest point for me was when the roof was off and the house had to weather a gale – I was convinced the two gable ends would collapse in and that would the end of Sandside!

Sunday 12 October 2008

Eggs and hens.... or hens and eggs.......

Just had a late lunch of fresh eggs from the hens. MMmmmmm – lovely yellow yokes. I remember when I first moved to the island my neighbour, Pat, gave me half a dozen eggs from her hens. I was a bit suspicious of the rich yellow yokes and asked if she gave the hens some special food to colour them. She managed to hide her outrage at ignorant town-types as she told me that no, free range hens *always* have rich yellow yolks. Sigh…. I did learn that for myself eventually. I was so used to inspid yellow supermarket “barn eggs” that I hadn’t quite realised what I was missing.

Henless friends now queue up for any of my surplus hen eggs. Which with the coming winter means they may have to wait a while. Young hens seem to carry on laying throughout the winter, but once they are over a couple of years old they stop or at least slow down. Apparently this slowing down is triggered by the lack of light. I could put a light bulb in the hen house and they would continue to lay eggs throughout the winter, but I feel if the girls want a break they deserve one! I am still getting an egg a day from each hen though so we’ll see how they go. The White Hen lays a deep brown egg, and the Brown Hen lays a pale brown, almost white egg! And yes I do know who lays what because they lay their eggs in different places. Though of course they might play a trick on me and swap them!

Actually a friend did play a trick in my early “hen” days. I collected the eggs from the nests in the barn and saw they had a picture of a Lion on them (for non-UK people a Lion was a mark of quality on shop bought eggs). And for a split second I thought “How did the hens do that” – yeah OK well I don’t do mornings so I was a bit slow to realise it was a prank and someone had pencilled a drawing of a lion on each egg – complete with bar code – should have been a clue!!

Well like the hens I shall consider slowing down in the winter. I still have to work (and usually work about 37 to 40 hours a week from home) but otherwise I slow down and become even more like a sloth than usual (am sure I’m genetically related). But I do enjoy drawing the curtains and getting comfy on the sofa in the evening to read a book, or watch an old movie. Which reminds me I must get a copy of “Now Voyager”………

Though my back has been a bit sore again recently so I’m hanging upside down like a bat on the sofa again. Well I am re-reading Harry Potter at the moment so that’s probably appropriate!

And for those interested in literature/writers you might enjoy this link to Two Ravens Press (Scottish Publisher) website, and a guest block entry from a local Orcadian writer, Morag McInnes, who lives in Stromness:

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Vanity equals embarrassment…..

So I was over in Kirkwall this morning to do a bit of shopping and stock up the cupboards. The autumn weather has arrived which generally results in wet and windy days and I have less desire to venture forth. Anyway on arrival in town I did my usual and went for breakfast and then pottered around the shops. In A Well Known Chemist (AWKC) I was browsing the cosmetic racks and decided to treat myself to some fairly expensive new product (as seen on TV….) No it was NOT anti-wrinkle cream. The time for that is long past, now I just need poly-filler. No this was just a new face powder. So I go to the counter and feeling a need to justify my purchase to the young girl who is serving me, I explain that I thought I would just pamper myself a little. I then caught a glimpse of my reflection in the counter – hair sticking up, eyes watering from the wind, nose bright red….. and I thought the impeccably made up “Customer Assistant” with not a hair out of place probably thought “Blimey she needs more than a dab of powder to make any difference to THAT!”. So I sloped off to the local Tesco (supermarket) wondering whatever happened to the smartly suited, high heel wearing, make-up adorned woman I used to be…….. (Answer: she found her freedom!).

However my ignominy was not to end there. Coming out of Tesco with my shopping trolley (cart) piled high with goodies the security alarm went off. I backed away from the door – couldn’t be me I thought, and advanced once again. More loud clanging sounds… Cue advancing Security chappy. Now there had been some disgust voiced locally about Tesco coming to town and employing security guards – in ORKNEY! Whatever next. Um… well there I was, my whole face blushing to match my nose……. Security guard takes me to one side. Did I have any DVDs in my trolley he asks, eyeing it up hopefully for stolen merchandise. Nope I reply. Any bottles? Nope I again reply – well unless you count Pasta Sauce? He didn’t. So he starts rummaging through my shopping. By this time a bit of a crowd is gathering all pretending to inspect the latest crop of tatties (potatoes) on a nearby stand but really watching to see What Happens Next….. I overhear one woman say “Well she eats healthy anyway” as the fruit and veg get put to one side…. to reveal the chocolate and cake underneath. “No she doesn’t!” declares another triumphantly. I hear someone wondering who I was. “Maybe her name’ll be in the paper this week” says another. I’m thinking “Oh the SHAME!! A court appearance…. ” but hang on I’m INNOCENT!!!! Then we go through the DVD and bottles question again – duh – haven’t you just examined all my bags in the trolley?? OK I’m now wondering whether I was about to be escorted to a side room and body searched. Would there be police….

Suddenly I thought AHA! Only seemingly I’d said it out loud too and everyone stopped and looked. Anyway I said to the chap I DID buy cosmetics in AWKC. And opened my handbag. Of course being environmentally minded these days I had refused a shop-logo bag in the chemist..... so there sitting neatly in my handbag is a very expensive pot of powder with the security tag still on it and no evidence of payment... Fortunately they don't sell that brand in Tesco! (Yeah it was THAT expensive). So security chap walks up to door and off the alarm goes. Of course now I'm frantically trying to remember what I did with the receipt for the powder but by this time the security chap had lost interest. Apparently you can steal from other shops just not Tesco....... But trying to exonerate myself and show that I DID NOT steal it from ANYWHERE I said “But I walked through AWKC and the security thingy didn’t go off”, Ah yes he said – they don't switch theirs ON! But he said if I go into Sutherlands now or Mackays I'll set their alarms off too. Apparently the cosmetics and stuff arrives at AWKC with security tags and they don't deactivate them because they don’t use their security system........ He's saying this to me very quietly, I meanwhile am repeating loudly parrot fashion so that the small crowd now dispersing in disappointment DOES NOT go off spreading the word about Graemsay folk.......

Sometimes I don’t think I’m safe to be allowed out on my own……..