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Thursday 22 May 2008

The many uses for a handbag.....

Had to take Fitzi-cat to the vet again on Tuesday. What an experience…. For both of us! This is his third trip in a week and at the best of times he hates the vets. Usually he is just very vocal yowling and growling. But this time when the vet approached brandishing a needle he went berserk, turning into a hissing spitting ball of fur and claws. Unfortunately I got caught in the crossfire and ended up with a scratched face and arms – it could have been worse I suppose, I could have ended up with the steroid injection!

I have to say Fitz did look magnificent in full fury (bit like a Scottish fold wild cat). He is a large cat (see above photo taken about 4 years ago), small dog size really, and he sat on his bum, reared up and was lashing out with his front paws armed with piercing claws. Meanwhile his ears had disappeared in fury and he was baring his teeth, and the *noise*! The vet did mention his teeth looked in very good order – from the vantage point of the corner of the consulting room anyway.

Fitzi then threw himself off the examination couch onto the floor – not much trouble from his arthritis then……. Unfortunately he backed against the door, still hissing and spitting…… the door which was our only exit……. The vet and I looked at each other – she handed me some tissues to mop up the blood which was dripping slowly onto the floor. “Do you think you could move him away from the door?” she asked. “Are you mad”, I said, “I’m not going anywhere near him!” however we did decide we needed to escape somehow, so using my handbag as a defence we managed to push him into the corner so the vet could escape. She said I needed to stay in the room so she could get back in…. gee thanks! She suggested I talked to him in a soothing tone…….. it’s amazing how therapeutic it is to say many expletives using a soothing tone……. She returned with reinforcements in what felt like an eternity but was probably only a couple of minutes – wearing gauntlets, and brandishing a blanket to throw over the cat. Eventually he was captured, had his injection (gosh can *he* swear!) and bundled into the kitty carrier.

The other people in the waiting room did look alarmed as I appeared from the consulting room with blood all over my face! I put Fitzi back in the car to calm down and went back as the Vet’s assistant was concerned about my scratches and insisted on swabbing them down with antiseptic and made me wash my hands and face using the stuff they use to scrub up for operation.

As I wasn’t sure if my tetnus shots were up to date I then went off to the Doctors surgery to get my very own injection. Fitzi looked very pleased with himself once we got back to the boat ready for home……. “hmmm we won’t be doing THAT again in a hurry” I think we were both thinking!

Anyway both of us seem fairly well recovered from the ordeal, though Fitz still has chunks of fur coming out due to a skin infection. Fingers crossed there are no ill effects for either of us from the experience.

Other than that life is very hectic at the moment with work, and trying to get some jobs done around the house and garden plus some visiting to do. So I may well be scarce for the next week – but don’t panic Fitz hasn’t locked me into a cupboard in revenge – yet.

Sunday 18 May 2008

We are still experiencing settled weather, with sunshine and No Wind…. Amazing and wonderful. I am Very Happy about this…

Friday night I was over in Hoy for a Community Council meeting. The ferry trip there and back was lovely, very calm. Though it was a little chilly. This month’s meeting was at the Hoy Centre which has a great view of Graemsay, so next time I must remember to take my camera!

Yesterday I was working and was fed up to be indoors with such glorious weather, but needs must. I did go for a brief walk in the evening though. It was so still.

Today I did some work in the garden again, though think I overdid it and have pulled some muscles in my back. Ho Hum……. It feels a little better after a hot bath anyway.

I’m pleased with the way the new border is developing. Last year I planted lots of “sticks” which this year are developing into good rosa rugosa, and fushia bushes. Plus one or two trees I planted look as though they are doing well. The perennials I planted among them are also coming along nicely.

From May onwards everything grows so quickly with the long days. Of course this means the weeds do too! I don’t mind the daisies but I was digging up young thistles and cow parsley today. I do have a soft spot for cow parsley as it reminds me of my old pony, Badger. It was his favourite and when we went out through the fields he would graze on it as we walked along as it was just at the height of his mouth. Sometimes he’d pull the whole plant up and walk along dragging it, while I tried to snatch it from his mouth without falling off!

I didn’t get round to mowing the grass today, but hopefully the weather will hold for a few more days and I can get it cut then. I have a mobile lawnmower in the old garden at present – a ewe and young lamb. I’ll try and take a picture tomorrow. The grass is so long in there the wee lamb disappears, but it will be a great way to get the grass down!

When I first moved into the house I had a ewe tethered at the back with a young lamb that was “free range” – working on the principle that it wouldn’t go far from the ewe. The lamb got very friendly and I was quite attached to him – Minty I called him. I was very tempted to ask if I could keep him as a pet, but in the end he went back with the flock. Here’s a picture of Minty...

Thursday 15 May 2008

Another vet visit.....

Well today was a little more stressful than I would have liked. Fitzi-cat came in from his morning constitutional and seemed to have something stuck in his throat. He managed to sort himself out but still seemed in discomfort and wouldn’t settle and given he also now seems to be pulling chunks of his fur out I decided a visit to the vet was called for – again. However we don’t have a mid-day boat on a Thursday so I ended up begging a ride from a friend on the island who has a small boat to take me over to town as it was a lovely calm day. Thankfully vet was very understanding when I turned up without an appointment – well they do understand the challenges of small island travel etc. Anyway he recommended an anti-inflamatory and pain killing injection instead of the oral pain meds I’d been giving Fitzi for his sore back. Fitzi’s throat looked a bit sore but was fine apart from that, though he apparently had a slight temperature. So I headed back to Stromness with a very grumpy Fitzi. Unfortunately I still had a couple of hours to wait for the ferry and as it has been extremely warm I didn’t want to leave Fitz in the car, so went and got a take-away tea and settled down for a nap with him in the shade of a car park.

Of course once we get home he stomps off in a complete huff with me, in marked contrast to his attitude at the vet where he clung to me and tried climbing up onto my shoulder, looking at me in terror as the vet tried to stick a thermometer where a chap really doesn’t want a thermometer! But NOW I am perceived as The Devil Incarnate…… well that will wear off in a day or two, bless him.

Of course going over to town unexpectedly means I now have to catch up on work. However it is a beautiful evening and I have the window open so can hear all the birds calling – it’s actually quite noisy! Earlier I heard the lambs in the old garden bleating away. I went out to see if all was well as they were making so much noise, but I think it was dinner time and the ewe clearly felt it was a night for a “carry-out”, however she eventually relented and given the peace and quiet since I assume she provided dinner!

The weather has been wonderfully settled for a couple of weeks now which is extremely unusual for Orkney. They say you can get all the season in one day – whatever time of year it is! Though I remember when I first moved here in 2000 May was a glorious month – I was living in the caravan at the side of the house at the time and it got very hot indoors!

It’s wonderful without the wind – it is so still tonight I can hear the announcement on the Hamnavoe ferry just arriving in Stromness telling car drivers to return to the vehicles! And the long days are lovely – today sunrise was at 04.41 and sunset is scheduled for 21.38.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Did the earth move for you?

I was minding my own business quietly working away at my computer this afternoon when I felt the house shake, followed by a muffled bang! I stuck my head out the window thinking a tractor had maybe run into the house or something….. however it seems it was the result of a Royal Naval ordnance disposal unit from Faslane (mainland Scotland) who were called upon to explode a suspected World War II mine which was found yesterday in the Clestrain Sound between Graemsay and Orhpir. The mine had to be towed from it’s original site as it was rather too close to the main electricity cable that supplies Graemsay. Now that WOULD have made a loud bang…… According to The Orcadian website it was believed to be a parachute mine, dropped in Scapa Flow in 1944. Fortunately the only disturbance this time was the noise and the house shuddering. It certainly startled the birds and set the local dogs barking. Fitzi-cat stirred from his afternoon slumber long enough to glare at me for the interruption then went back to sleep.

The other interesting piece I saw on the Orcadian website was that an extreme sports athlete, Tim Emmett, was going to be climbing the Old Man of Hoy today before jumping off the top and parachuting down. I’ve read about this guy and seen him on TV - He loves to climb rock faces over deep water as he can then climb just by finding hand and foot-holds with no ropes or protective head gear. If he falls off he just plummets into the water! He has said he loves the freedom of climbing without ropes etc. Fairly deeply bonkers then - but I admire his craziness! However the water isn't very deep around the "Old Man", hence the parachute.

I’ve just been sitting trying to catch up on some paperwork in the conservatory but I was distracted by the swallows again. Two of them have been sweeping over the field at the back of the house and then landing on the guttering with insects in their mouths – dinner time clearly! So, without the aid of a safety net, I shall now return downstairs and carry on working and watching swallows.

Sunday 11 May 2008

Fitzi-cat, vets and birds

It’s been a busy few days what with work plus trying to get the “garden” into shape. The weather has been fantastic, really warm, and I mean WARM, and bright and sunny. It’s amazing what a bit of sun does for the grass and plants. I swear you can hear them growing! The island is suddenly very green, and the grass in the field at the back of the house has grown several inches in the week. When I drove into town the yellow gorse is in full flower on the hills above Finstown, and the trees are all wearing fresh green leaves.

I’ve been trying to get the borders weeded, plus pot up some garden tubs for the flagstones outside the front of the house. I was in town last week so bought some bedding plants. When I was south I’d have a colour scheme in my head for my garden planters. But as I only go into town once every 10 days or so I just have to get what is available. Yellow seems to be this year’s theme – probably not what I would have chosen but I’m sure once all is in bloom they will look good.

The other event was taking Fitzi-cat to the vet for his annual injections and check up. Fitzi is a large, gentle portly cat, now getting quite elderly at 14 years old. He hates vet visits. I usually get the cat carrier out the night before and put somewhere handy and there’s no hiding it from him, so he does get some warning. He gives aforementioned cat carrier a wide berth, glaring at it as he passes. Catching him requires tactical manoeuvres but he never puts up a fight – well only a vocal one. But he is large and heavy so he gets his own back by throwing himself around in his cat carrier as I try and load him into and out of the car. The vet appointment went OK – he’s lost a little weight too with no obvious sinister signs so the vet was pleased. Fingers crossed all is well.

However the day after the vet appointment he was very unwell and it seems he had injured his back somehow (well throwing himself about in the cat carrier probably didn’t help!). He was a very sorry looking Fitzi-cat the-morning-after-the-night-before…… Fortunately I had some anti-inflamatory/analgesic meds that he had needed last year after a similar episode so after phone consultation with the vet I gave him a dose – as I said he is a very gentle cat and bless him he takes his medicine very well. He spent most of the day sleeping stretched out and was very subdued but the pain meds must have kicked in eventually and today he is almost back to normal, though still not too comfortable curling up. He even wanted to go out this morning, so as it was such a beautiful morning I let him, under supervision. Of course, being a cat he took his time about it, wandering about, sitting and admiring the view before wandering off again. I’d had the presence of mind to take my tea out with me so I did the same! We both ended up in the old garden watching the birds – but with different agendas! There was a small wren who shrilled out alarm calls that made me wince. And a pied wagtail was bobbing about too. There must be a blackbird nesting in the old barn as she was singing her heart out. And of course there were the usual shore-birds, the curlews, oystercatchers, and lapwings. And I heard the drumming noise made by the wings of a snipe – I just love that sound.

Last night I’d sat and watched the swallows which are also nesting in the old byre. One sat on the guttering just below the roof on the conservatory and I had a ringside seat from my sofa. It was briefly joined by another and both were twittering and preening themselves. I got a good view of their plumage, and the red colour of their throats which is hard to see when they are in flight. Well it was a Saturday night so maybe they were betting ready for a night on the town. I think one must have asked the other “does my bum look big in this?” and got the wrong answer….. as both flew off accompanied by a lot more chattering!

Below, a photo of Fitzi-cat last Spring.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Old and New

Several folk have mentioned how different the house looks from when they first saw it just after we bought Sandside. It’s actually good to be reminded that things have moved on – sometimes it doesn’t feel like it! Getting work done on the isles can be a challenge. My current mission has been to find someone to paint the outside of the upstairs windows which, after several years of being sand and salt blasted by the wind, are back to the wood in some places. Fortunately I think I’ve found someone who is willing to come over and repaint them this year. I know real wood windows look great but at times I crave plastic windows – at least they require less maintenance!

Unfortunately the house is a “listed building” by Historic Scotland as it represents “vernacular architecture” – posh phrase for being a good (in their opinion) representation of local building during a certain phase (in this case about 1860). This would be A Good Thing, you might think. However in effect it means I have to get permission from Historic Scotland to make any changes to the exterior of the house, and must use certain materials and building methods. Add to that the fact I live on one of the isles and getting any building work or maintenance done is challenging! So fingers crossed for my window repainting…..!

Anyway I thought I’d post some “before” and “after” pictures to remind myself that things have moved on since I bought the house.!! And on a glorious WARM sunny day like today it certainly fair makes my heart sing to be living here :-)

Estate Agent's photo - my "des res", then...!

And for me the scariest picture of the rebuild..... (note caravan in garden where I lived for a year)!

And now.......!

Monday 5 May 2008

Summer timetables and Hoy

The summer ferry timetable started yesterday so now we have an additional mid-morning boat to take us to and from town. The mid-morning run is very popular with folk as it means a) you don’t have to get up too early in the morning, and b) you could just pop into town for an hour and come back again on cargo run days (tues, weds and fri).

And we also have a “Friday late boat” which leaves Stromness at 9.30 pm. That’s our one late night out! It is just about possible to go into Kirkwall, have an early meal and get the “last boat home” on a Friday. But if you want to go to any serious entertainment then it’s still necessary to stay over night in town. Each year we try and negotiate a slightly later departure time, but unfortunately due to limits on crew hours, it’s not been possible. Still it does mean that one night a week from May to September we can have visitors to the island for an evening, or even go across to Hoy to the cafĂ© there and have dinner and a walk along the shore.

Our regular afternoon run is also a little later, now departing Stromness at 4.30 instead of 4pm so you have a little more time to shop – or to try and find a parking space for your car! Parking in Stromness is a real problem for us and for anyone that lives there due to the long term parking being quite a way out of the town. Sounds reasonable you may think, but not if you have young kids to trail back and forth in the wind and the rain! And in the summer with all the tourists in town it is also very difficult to even get a long-term space at all. Part of the problem is that Stromness is such an old town, built in a linear fashion along the shore with a very narrow winding main street and even smaller streets running off, so most folk can’t park their cars by their houses and even the residents have to find car parking spaces. But at least they are not restricted by having to rush for the 4.30 “last ferry” home!

Some of our summer sailings are “on request” – as there are so few of us quite often there is no one to use the boat, so we phone up and book the boat in advance, otherwise it just sails direct to Hoy which is a very popular destination.

Hoy is very popular with walkers and cyclists, partly due to Ward Hill, the hightest peak in Orkney. The view of Graemsay at the top of my blog was taken from the top of Ward Hill by one of my visitors, Wendy, a couple of years ago. She walked to the top while I sat in the sun on the beach at Rackwick! There is an ancient woodland at Berridale – a bit of a climb so I haven’t been there, but apparently it is beautiful. Rackwick Bay, is another popular place to visit, it has beautiful sandstone cliffs rising out of the sea and also the famous “Old Man of Hoy” – an old sea stack which appears to have the face of an old man – well in a certain light, if you squint, and turn your head to one side…. Maybe? No really – you will see it! But no in the photo at the beginning of today's entry because I'm standing *behind* him, but if you arrive in Orkney from Scrabster you will see him smiling at you......

Photo: Ward hill from Rackwick

Sunday 4 May 2008


I've mentioned before how fascinated I am to watch the sun move across the horizon as the seasons change. The middle of last month the sun was setting behind the Western tip of Graemsay.

Now it has made it's way across the Hoy Sound and has almost reached the tip of Warbeth beach on the Orkney Mainland. This is a picture of the sun setting tonight - the rain and sea mist cleared a little about 8.30pm so I could sit in the conservatory and watch the sun setting....

Garden and sheep

Yesterday I did at least manage to cut the grass at the back and front of the house, despite a rather chilly south east breeze. But it was dry and that was the main thing! The grass around the house is just regular “field grass”, not fancy lawn grass, so I need to keep it cut regularly to control it. I tend to put the mower blade on the medium height setting so that the dasies don’t get cut to within an inch of their lives. I love daisies as they are such happy flowers. However it is Death To Dandelions!

It took me a couple of years to get the grass looking reasonably neat and tidy as it hadn’t been cut for many many years, and in fact was probably only cut about twice a year when the farmer had the mower attached to the back of the tractor when cutting the fields for silage or hay. The first year I moved in I got two silage bales out of the front “lawn”! The picture above was taken a couple of years ago and I've managed to extend the "cultivated" part a bit more since then.

Today has been wet with some heavy showers. I do feel sorry for all the wee lambs out in the fields when it rains! I have to resist the temptation to gather them all up and bring them indoors. But it is surprising how quickly they grow and get their own thick woolly jumpers!

For several years the old walled garden next to the house has been turned into a nursery for ewes and lambs that needed a bit more attention. However my neighbour is lambing later this season and hopefully the weather will be kind and the “intensive care unit” isn’t needed! The sheep weren’t mine so I only had to keep an eye on them and report any problems, but I did like watching the wee lambs. Though they could be a bit noisy at night – particularly when the lambs would escape out of the garden but not be clerver enough to work out how to get back *in* again – much bleating ensued – from the sheep and me through lack of sleep :-)

Saturday 3 May 2008

Work seems to be taking up a lot of my time at the moment. But I did manage to get over to Stromness yesterday afternoon for lunch with friends and some shopping.

It was a beautiful day with blue skies, sunshine and warm too. Though in the afternoon the rain came in and I regretted my decision to work in the morning instead of cutting the grass around the house!

I got the mid-day boat from Graemsay to Stromness, known locally as the “cargo run”. Yesterday tons of “manure” were delivered – a kind of chemical concentrate in granular form that is spread on the pasture to fertilize the land. However it didn’t take long to unload so there were no delays in getting to town. But the ferry goes the scenic route at that time of day and sails round to Hoy and then to Stromness via the West of Graemsay. It was a lovely day so I enjoyed just standing out on deck.

I took a picture of one of the houses along the shore from the pier on Graemsay, known as Scarratain. It has a traditional grass thatch roof – good insulation. I visited Corrigal Farm Museum on the Orkney Mainland a few years ago when they kept some North Ronaldsay sheep (which are a primitive kind of sheep and look not unlike a goat) well the sheep were on top of the roof – I suppose that’s one way to keep it in trim!

Below is a picture of Stromness that will no doubt be familiar to those of you who have visited.