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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!