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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……..