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Monday 30 November 2009

Chilly but no more snow....

Chilly day today but no more snow. The picture above is of a snow shower approaching yesterday.

Nice and bright today though and No Wind - I like Winter if it's like this!

Sunday 29 November 2009

Snow on high ground....

...... looks like this. Graemsay is only 65 feet at it's highest point so no snow on the island. But the Hoy hills have a light dusting - the sleeping dinosaur looks like s/he has dandruff? In the picture below you can just see our Community Hall - it looks like it is in the middle of a field but there *is* a single track road running past it. And the small building between the hills is the former school - just one room with a lean-to porch, where a couple of the folk living on the island went to primary school. It's been closed for many years now and the kids go across on the boat to schools in Stromness.

I was surprised to wake up to snow showers this morning - we don't get much snow in Orkney because of the Gulf stream or is it the jet stream? Can never remember which. Anyway our climate is usually mild all year, with some snow for maybe a week or two in the year, but nothing compared to Aviemore in the Highlands of Scotland, which is a winter ski resort!

I have lots of provisions in the cupboard and freezers so I don't need to venture far. I haven't been off the island for a couple of weeks as I was laid low with a virus, and now I am trying to catch up on work. I'm hoping to "escape" for a day this coming week. However on Friday I ordered my "messages" (Scottish word for shopping) - no internet grocery shopping in Orkney, but lift the telephone and the local shops in Stromness will deliver to the boat.

I phoned Fletts, the Stromness butcher, for some supplies - D, who answered the phone recognised my voice immediately, even though I only order a couple of times a month. OK so I sound like Mini-Mouse, but still I was impressed. The Stromness butcher shop is unusual as it also supplies fruit and vegetables. Obviously being a small family run business the prices can't always compete with Lidl or Tesco in Kirkwall, but I like supporting local businesses and their produce is always excellent quality. Plus *they* deliver to the boat (unlike the large supermarkets). So I asked D what fruit he had in the shop - I was fearing scurvy as I'd run out of supplies of fruit ;-)

He reeled off such a list it was hard to choose. OK - in terms of food miles it probably wasn't A Good Thing, but the majority of our food is shipped across the Pentland Firth from Scotland anyway, apart from some seasonal local produce. And I needed my Vitamin C..... so I could choose from the usual grapes, oranges, bananas etc, but also exotic things like Sharon Fruit, pomegranites, figs, dates, mangos....... and I didn't even ask about the veg (root ginger was in evidence last time I passed the shop) and this shop is *tiny* - five customers and you are lining up in the street! Anyway, scurvy is averted with a fresh supply of excellent quality fruit! I also felt obliged to order some meat too (seems odd phoning a butcher just for fruit!). But I passed on the sausages that are one of the specialities, already having some in my freezer.

And then I phoned the baker and again the lady recognised my voice (though I do order a couple of times a week from them). But again excellent service - not everything I wanted was in stock but helpful suggestions for alternatives and mentions of special offers helped. So along with the usual supply of milk and cat food I had some very tasty Westray fish (from one of the more Northerly Orkney islands). I have to say it was delicious - none of the tasteless pre-packed stuff you so often get in supermarkets these days. In fact Button was keen to swap Whiksas for Westray Fish..... no deal......... though I did share.......

Wednesday 25 November 2009


yes please note - sunRISE this morning at 8.20am....... You won't see many sunrise photos on my blog as I am most definitely NOT a morning person, particularly not in winter. So make the most of the ones you do get! The photo above shows Orphir on the Orkney Mainland to the left and the island of Flotta in the distance to the right.

Monday 23 November 2009


Not sure what this "sky-loop" can be attributed to - presumably some airplane vapour trail, though I didn't notice anyone doing a "loop-the-loop" today. But it was an interesting sky!

Sunday 22 November 2009

Autumnal musings.....

Nothing much to say at the moment. I'm afraid I'm still battling some Evil Virus that has been circulating around the island along with other colds etc. Hardly anyone has avoided one or the other. Some days I'm feeling better, then seem to relapse into feeling "wabbit" (a wonderful Scottish term for feeling exhausted and unwell and nothing to do with Bugs Bunny, nor indeed Jonathan Ross). So apart from working and sleeping I'm not doing much....sigh..... This will therefore be a rambling "autumnal musings" type post!

Time check - in Orkney today the sunrise was at 0818 and sunset is at 1537. Whereas in London sunrise was 7.30 and sunset will be 1603. Quite a difference over even a few hundred miles. That always amazes me. I mean I *know* all about the earth's curve etc etc, but still fascinates me.

It's also getting to the time of year when the "Merry Dancers" make an appearance (local name for the Northern Lights). I've signed up with "Aurora Watch" which is run by Lancaster University and I get an email warning of potential activity so I can remember to go out at night and take a look! We do get displays throughout the winter, though not on a par with those seen in about 2003 which were fantastic, with brilliant reds and greens shimmering in curtains across the sky. More recently the displays have been white shimmering lights on the northern horizon. Still beautiful, but not with the ethereal beauty of the reds and greens.

I love the quality of light at this time of year, that lights up the interior of the house with a soft sunlit glow. Those days I treasure compared to grey dark days. Though to be fair we haven't had to deal with the weather extremes of those south who have been battling appalling conditions of torrential rain. We've had lots of rain and it's very wet and soggy underfoot but otherwise it's been a pretty good autumn so far, with some intermittent gales.

A lot of birds have either migrated or fallen silent for the winter now. There are still lapwings around and various birds along the shore but very few calls are heard. I haven't seen an Oyster catcher for ages though they are resident here all year round. Meanwhile the blackbirds and sparrows have been enjoying the rose-hips from the rosa rugosa.

Georgeous George, the new cockerel, has finally found his voice. Though, um, I think he has been reading the wrong script as it sounds more like "Twit-Twoo" thank "Cock-a-doodle-do"..... he also doesn't seem to want to perch at night and instead crouches down in the corner of the hen house. I keep putting him on the perch once it's dark - oh no really please don't ask...., but he persists in sitting down on the floor. I fear for his health as the floor tends to be damp but - well short of tieing him to the perch there's not much I can do!!

The regular brown hens who have been here all summer are being really horrid to the new hens - they pull chunks of feathers out of the new girls if they so much as dare look at the food till the regular brown hens have finished! Gorgeous George seems to enjoy escorting the brown hens around, and the new Light Sussex hens tend to still stay near the hen house. I'm hoping once the new hens mature they will move about as one flock. That has certainly happened in the past.

And here is a picture of Button, as Rosie wanted to see her markings more closely. She is a very pretty cat with lovely soft fur. She was a rescue cat from Westray (via Cats Protection) and has been here a whole year now. She is very entertaining (apart from when she brings home her lunch - still alive).

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Well a girl can dream.....

...... there have been a lot of rainbows around lately and I always make a wish upon them, of course. Anyway I awoke this morning, looked out the window and thought "Ooooh my wish has come true!" Standing in my field at the back of the house was A Man in Uniform...... but before I could rush out to see if he was also carrying chocolate, I got a phone call from my neighbour to explain. My hopes were dashed before the end of the call as it appears the chap was connected with the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) prospecting for landing sites for the Air Ambulance in case of future medical evacuations. Oh well - it was still good to see the pilot in the field - even if it was just because it means we are able to get procedures in place for medical evacuations.

I've been meaning to report our recent training as "First Responders" by the Scottish Ambulance Service. This scheme is set up to enable communities to deal with emergencies while waiting for trained paramedics or doctor to arrive. So a Community First Responder will be on call to immediately attend an emergency and provide assistance during that crucial "golden hour".

We had Day 1 of our training a couple of weeks ago (sorry been too busy to report!). About fourteen of us on the island attended the course and learned basic procedures for the recovery position, CPR as well as using a defibrillator. We are yet to have Day 2 training and then we go "live" (interesting term). We will have a rota on the island with two people being "on duty" and carrying bleepers, as well as having "First responder" uniforms (yellow reflective jackets and waterproof trousers - let's hope it's not "one size fits all" or it could be interesting!). We will also be given our medical pack with defibrillator and other equipment.

The procedure will then be that once someone on the island phones 999 or NHS24, the First Responders will be alerted and go to the scene. Now on Graemsay as soon as there is any emergency, word is passed around the island and folk turn up to lend assistance. There have been several medical evacuations in recent years, and being an island this can bring certain challenges. One evacuation was via a helicopter in a gale and so help was needed to get the stretcher into the helicopter. On another occasion a stretcher had to be taken down to the pier and put onto the boat. So, as I say, folk just turn up when word goes round to see what help may be needed.

However none of us has medical experience and as it would take a minimum of probably 45 minutes to get paramedics onto the island through the usual route (Blue flashing light ambulance from Kirkwall to the harbour (20 mins), load equipment onto boat and then sail across (probably another 20 mins) and then into car to patient) we felt we wanted to be able to do more than just hang around anxiously. So, in conjunction with our GP surgery in Stromness and the SAS (no not that one, the Scottish Ambulance Service) we've started training.

The provision of "First Responders" has been controversial in other parts of the UK, and indeed in Orkney. This is partly as it is feared that the "target response time" will now be taken as having been achieved when a First Responder arrives on the scene rather than when an ambulance/paramedic arrives on the scene. The NHS is keen on targets....... Also on other islands the fear is that their medical service will be downgraded. A number of Orkney islands still have resident GPs as well as nurses. This is a costly service to provide and there have been controversial attempts to not replace GPs when they leave, and require nurses to provide more provision. However on Graemsay we don't have *any* medical provision on the island. Our nearest GP surgery is in Stromness across the water. Now - the Stromness GP surgery is fantastic. We can't praise them highly enough for all that they do, and they have a great understanding of the needs of our community. However - they are across the water, and out of hours provision is via NHS Orkney which has a limited number of doctors "on-call" who could be on another island when there is an emergency. So one GP in particular has been helping us organise the training as "First Responders".

And back to the helicopter pilot at the beginning of this post..... he's out looking for landing sites and my field has been selected as a potential site - it's flat, no overhead power cables nearby, easily identified (there's a great big lighthouse next to it) and close to a road. So the plan is we will be issued with landing lights which we would place in the field when we are alerted that the helicopter will be needed. And that brings me to the next controversy - Orkney used to have its own "air ambulance" which was a plane stationed at Kirkwall Airport. However this service was withdrawn due to cost and instead the air ambulance is a helicopter which has to fly up from Inverness. As you can imagine this has caused concern about time delays. However on Graemsay a regular plane could not land (no landing strip) and the same is true for a couple of other islands so we have always had to rely on a helicopter, or evacuation via the ferry.

Evacuation via the ferry - I hear some of you ask why not the lifeboat? Well actually the ferry is much better geared to medical evacuation as it is more easily accessible (well apart from a stretcher needing to be winched off and on - yip really...... in the cattle box as that is the safest way) and there is more space on board for medics to be able to attend to the patient on the journey back to Stromness. And the MV Graemsay can get up speed too when it chooses! However with our interim ferry, the Golden Mariana we would need to rely on the Lifeboat as it would not be possible to get a stretcher inside on the wee boat.

Anyway we are a little nervous about the prospect of being "called out", but as someone with several chronic medical conditions, it is comforting to know there will be *some* assistance on the island!

Note: we have a "community hospital" in Kirkwall which can deal with certain emergencies, but most major emergency cases are airlifted south either to Aberdeen or specialist hospitals in either Glasgow or Edinburgh. And yes that makes patient visiting practically impossible!

Thursday 12 November 2009


"Cat among the Silage"

...... can someone please explain to me how a cat can devour unsavoury parts of a mouse or bird (sorry - were you eating when you started reading this post?) and yet can turn her nose up at Whiska's meaty chunks and give a look of utter disgust that would curdle milk?? Button, of course, thinks she is a "Princess" and expects to be treated as such, and I, fool that I am, pander to this.......

Anyway dear Button is doing her best to eradicate mice from the fields and byres around the house..... I find various "presents" on the doorstep after successful hunting sessions. And I won't mention the *live* presents she also brings in......! It's a race to the cat flap for both of us sometimes!

Meanwhile in the barn, Charlie Boy, another rescue cat, is becoming more friendly each day. He arrived on the island some months ago having been rescued by the local Cat Protection organisation from a home on Mainland Orkney along with over 30 other cats. Charlie was quite traumatised by being "rescued", neutered and rehomed and was very wild when he came here (who can blame him...). I kept him in a room of his own for a few days but at the first opportunity he escaped and took up residence in the barn. He's been very shy ever since, but was quite happy to accept food, under certain conditions. I would go into the barn and call him and I would hear a "kerthud" from the hay loft above and a little face would peer through the loft hatch and meow.... but he wouldn't come near the food till I retreated. Anyway over the last two weeks he has decided I am acceptable company and comes for a short fuss before tucking into his meal for the day. Bless....... He must come into contact with Button but they have (hopefully) signed some sort of treaty and give each other a wide berth.

Charlie-Boy, clearly stating "Thanks for dinner, now please GO AWAY and leave me to eat it in peace!" I love the rings round his tail.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

A day of rainbows....

Today has been a day of rainbows! Lots of heavy rain showers interspersed by sunshine. This morning though there was a slight frost and some mist. So.... "changeable" is an understatement for the weather today!

I've been over to town for my H1N1 vaccination. Lots of folk lining up for their injections. One wee lass who went in before me screamed loudly at one point (presumably, literally at one very painful point!). The rest of us waiting agreed that sometimes it would be nice to just be able to scream that loudly without any loss of dignity but once one gets beyond 6 or 7 years it seems unacceptable!

I took the opportunity to do a bit of shopping in town and drop in on some friends. The weather is due to get a bit wild at the end of the week so I shall be hunkering down again for a few days.

Below is a photo of a rainbow over Stromness Harbour, with two dive boats in the foreground.

Below is a photo of the "Golden Marianna" our interim ferry, taken the other day as it startled a flock of lapwings.

Monday 9 November 2009

New chickens!

This week saw additions to my flock of hens. Well if the three remaining hens I had constitute a "flock"? Three new hens arrived from a local breeder. They are "Light Sussex" (the large variety not bantams). They are very pretty, young and just on the point of lay. I also got a cockerel, having said "never again" only a few months ago. But I found even the regular brown hens going "broody" and sitting on clutches of eggs this summer so thought we all might as well get something out of their efforts! Hopefully in the summer there will be some chicks running around again - but I may need to rig up a pen till the chicks get bigger as I fear for their lives with Button on the loose. However she has the sense to be very wary of the hens anyway, and in the past I found hens to be very protective of chicks so fingers crossed.

The cockeral is quite a handsome chap but I have yet to hear him crow. He went AWOL the first day I let all the hens out together. I think perhaps he'd been hen-pecked by the old hens and the new ones and did the chicken equivalent of going and sleeping in the spare room for a day or two! However clearly the testerostone has kicked in and I saw him trying vainly to get old and new groups of hens together. I have no doubt he will succeed - I think he's the George Clooney of the feathered world..... Hmmm think I've just found a name for him.... Gorgeous George!

And the new girls have wasted no time and are settling in to laying eggs - but I think maybe only one of them is producing at the moment. However nest boxes have been inspected and will hopefully be found "acceptable"!

The hens can be completely free range as there are no foxes on the island. I do tend to shut them in at night and drop the "escape hatch" to reduce draughts, and also to encourage the girls to lay in the henny hoose rather than on the top of the hay bales in the barn! So far the new hens haven't ventured far from the corner of the hen house but I'm sure they will soon be following Georgous George and the other hens and exploring the beach, fields and garden, not to mention playing "chicken" by sitting on the corner of the road just below the house.Fortunately there isn't *that* much traffic about, but when it's the ferry run the road can get a bit busy..... sigh.

Sunday 8 November 2009

November already???

No haven't gone into premature hibernation, just been extremely busy with work and not a lot of time for much else.

Today is a beautiful autumnal day with blue skies, blue sea, low sun and just a bit of a chill in the air. Yesterday was exactly the same. Which was fortunate as it was our "Harvest Home" (non religious celebration of the end of the harvest). This event takes place annually at the beginning of November in our island community hall.

Everyone on the island turned out for the evening and a few visitors added to the number. The meal was prepared by various of the ladies on the island and brought to the hall where everyone was seated among the traditional decorations of neaps (swede) and greenery. A three course meal with wine was served followed by tea, coffee and homebakes. Our guest speaker was Willie Tulloch from Stromness and he recalled memories of coming to Graemsay as a wee boy in a yole (traditional small, wide but low sail boat) before raising a toast to Graemsay.

As Halloween was also recently the children dressed up in costume, along with a few adults, and paraded round the hall before doing a small party piece and then collecting sweeties from everyone. I tried persuading people that sweets are bad for children and as a community service *I* would take all the sweets - but as usual everyone ignored me.....sigh.

Music was provided by Fran and Ruby, our visiting musicians, who play the accordion and fiddle, and folk danced the remainder of the night away to traditional Scottish tunes. Tea and home bakes were served later and some of us headed off home about 1am, while the remainder with more stamina stayed until about 5.30am!

It's a little quiet on the island now........ I've just taken delivery of some of the dishes from last night to put through the dishwasher, have some laundry out on the line, and been for a walk with Button on the beach, and now I think I need a lie down!


Here's a sparrow enjoying the autumn fruits from the rosa rugosa:

This is Button on the beach - sometimes she comes home smelling of seaweed! My little SeaCat...