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Thursday 31 January 2013

A winter storm....

Yesterday the wind raged, and a storm surge tide tore at the dunes along the shoreline, scattering seaweed and stones onto the road.  For hours the wind screamed like a banshee trying to gain entry to the house. It spat rain through locks, rattled windows and drain pipes and howled down the chimneys.

Button and I huddled close together in bed, with the radio and a night-light for comfort. The supernatural force seemingly stronger in the dense black of the night. Voices and music coming through the radio from Manchester, far south, away from the storm, bringing comfort during the sleepless hours.

The old stone house turned "it's shoulder to the wind", standing strong. It had weathered many storms and I knew this would be no different. Just human weakness making me anxious in the dark hours.

Gradually light dawns and the roar of the wind, though strong, holds less fear for me know. I can watch the storm with awe. The waves crashing over the shore, where they would gently lap at the sand and stones.

Hens sheltering among the skeleton bushes in the lea of the wind, scratching for grubs. Once the storm eases I venture out, muffled and mittened, bracing against the wind.  Extra rations for them and the barn cat. I'm not coming out again today..... and still the wind roars.

The local news with tales of flood and road closures. No ferry today so children at home.  Neighbours phone "Are you OK?". Friendly voices with reassurance.  Time to work. The roar of the wind subsides and Button longs to be outdoors, running to the shelter of the trees. But even for her it is too wild and my Orkney cat returns to the warmth of her bed. I gain comfort from a cup of tea.  Soon the wind tires and slips away, maybe it too is sleeping in a bed..... waiting to return.....

Sunday 27 January 2013

Graemsay Burns Supper

A great tradition in Scotland (and around the world it would seem) is to hold Burns Night Suppers on 25th January, which is the birthday of Rabbie Burns, known as The Bard in Scotland. He wrote many poems to his many loves, and lyrics to songs too - Auld Lang Syne being one of them! A Burns "Supper" is not a tradition in Orkney, however, as Orcadians do not consider themselves Scottish having been annexed to Scotland a mere 400 years ago as payment of a debt from the Norwegian King to the Scottish King....sigh....

And as most of the residents on Graemsay are either Orcadian or English, with just two Scots, we have never had a Burns Night on the island.  However a new neighbour, Sue and some of her friends from the South of England were keen to hold a party.  And, as one of our Orcadian musicians said - they might not celebrate Burns Night but an Orcadian will drink whisky with anyone!!

Sue did a magnificent job, making a delicious scotch broth (with lamb), cooking two haggis made by the Stromness Butcher, Fletts, served with mince and clapshot (neeps (turnips/swede and potatoes mashed together with lots of butter and milk - yum!). Cathy (originally from North Ronaldsay in the North of Orkney) made the clapshot - oooh it's the food of the gods!  LOTS of butter must go into it as it's lovely and creamy and smooth.  Dessert was a non-traditional chocolate trifle.  And of course a lot of whisky flowed.  That was the meal - but the night is not a Burns night with lots of ceremony and Odes.... so here are some pictures to illustrate!

First, when everyone is seated the Welcome was offered by Mac and the quaich (filled with whisky of course) was passed round to those assembled.

Before the meal begins the Selkirk Grace, is read. This time beautifully read by young Becky.

Then the haggis is piped in....... Ian MacDonald from the Stromness Pipe Band kindly came to the island to do the honours.

The Haggis follows the pipes, carried by Sue. We all pay due reverence to the Haggis....

This is placed before the Master of Ceremonies (Mac) who then addresses the Haggis.  And the poor Haggis is ceremoniously stabbed!

Dinner is served and much Whisky quaffed during toasts and even poured over the Haggis as "gravy"!

Time then for the Toast to the beautiful lasses! Proposed with humour by young Joe

And the men were upstanding to toast the lasses.....

There was then the ladies "response to the handsome escorts" proposed by Irene (she was sitting next to me so no photo!!).  Various other toasts and responses were proposed (each with a glug of whisky!).

An Odes were read (here's Mac reading one)

It was time then to clear the tables and let the music and dancing begin! Once again we were delighted that Leslye and John Budge could join us for the evening. John providing music, song and stories, accompanied by Leslye on the Bodhran

There was the Graemsay version of Strip the Willow  Young and old take part in this. The young need to learn the traditions too!

Irene Mathieson and John sang "Ae Fond Kiss" as a duet - another Burns favourite

And Irene played some tunes on her guitar - including my favourite "Lonely Scapa Flow".

There was more dancing..... not quite the speed of the whirling dervishes but nearly!

More pipes were played

Ummm notice the wee girl in pink...... not a fan of the pipes then ;-)

More songs were sung - with the kids joining in of course

And maybe the next generation of Graemsay musicians??

As you can see a great night was had by all!  The Graemsay folk know how to party and Sue did a great job of providing a wonderful Burns Supper!  There were quite a few sore heads the next morning and the island has been fairly quiet this weekend. I had a couple of wee drams but as I had to get the visitors to the boat the next day (I usually put up the musicians and guests when I can) I didn't "overdo" it! Though thankfully John & Leslye know not to stand on ceremony in my kitchen. :-)

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Winter weather...

I've not been posting much as I've not been doing much apart from working! No significant snow falls here yet, just a sprinkling so far in some parts of Orkney. Temperatures are hovering around freezing for the most part. The wind also adds the "wind-chill" factor so it's felt very cold for the last few days.

Today the wind died down for a while but it's been blowing for several days in a row. The direction is not good for our pier, so although the water might not look that "choppy", our ferry has trouble coming alongside the pier. We've had more cancellations to our service, and the children have missed a few more days from school.  I'm sure they don't mind but I also think they would prefer SNOW!  They may get their wish yet!!

The choppy sea between us and Stromness on the Orkney Mainland

Meanwhile as I still can't get outside much I've been baking.  A fruity sponge traybake and some little lemon cakes.

This was taken on a run up to the post box to post some letters. Looking back at Hoy High Lighthouse and "home".


I don't participate in "commercialisation" with my blog. However one site has kindly named my blog as one of their "15 Brilliantly Unusual Blogs" so the least I can do is put a link back to them HERE  They do have some lovely things in their catalogue too so I might just be tempted ;-)

Friday 18 January 2013

Bit choppy at sea today....

The above photo was taken from the island webcam run by my neighbour Mick. It's handy to see what's going on at the pier re tide and sea.  As you can see it's a little choppy today. Remember these are very sheltered waters so it's worse out of the Flow. What you can't see is that the wind is also quite strong, south-easterly.  So our ferry is cancelled for the day. We have some new skippers on board. The old skipper who retired this year had sailed this stretch of water for over 50 years and saw it as a challenge to come out in rough weather, these guys are not so familiar with the vessel so, understandably, they are more cautious. Hence the boat being cancelled.

However apart from that all is fine - we have no snow, just sleety showers. And the power is still on! I've just heard that 10,000 homes in Wales are without power in snowy and blizzard conditions. I feel for them!! And the poor power line workers who go out in appalling conditions to restore the lines.

I'm hoping the cancelled ferry is the worst thing we have to deal with this weekend!

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Heating restored - Hooray!!

Last night heating was restored! A. came along and replaced the leaky pipe and the house is now warm again. Yippee!! Just as well as the temperature is dropping. There is snow in other parts of Scotland and the UK but very little here in Orkney so far.

Button is, of course, delighted that she once again has warm paws..... it's odd seeing a cat stretched out on the floor when there are cosy chairs around, but she's no fool - the underfloor heating is keeping her warm!

It's been a lovely dry, calm and bright day so I took a quick turn around the island in the car as the sun was getting lower in the sky. Well OK it doesn't get particularly high at this time of year! But the days ARE getting longer. Sunset was at 3.50 today. An improvement from a month ago!  The light is very "blue" at this time of the year.  I love the bleak beauty of the landscape in Winter (as long as I have heating at home!).

The old croft of Dean with the Hoy Hills in the background.....

Across Burra Sound to Hoy......

Another old croft house...

No snow on the hills of Orphir on the Orkney Mainland though....

Thanks for all the recent comments - I'm behind in replying but I really DO love getting comments. It's nice to know that someone is reading my blog!

Monday 14 January 2013

Brrrr.... no heating!

Great, snow is forecast and my heating has broken down, or to be more precise there's a leak in a pipe. Help is at hand and it will hopefully be repaired in the next day or two.  Meanwhile I have some portable heaters that can keep a couple of rooms warm and the extra thick duvet on the bed..... however I am fighting with the cat for the heat..... of course.

Just checking the temperature

Clearly to her liking.....

Protecting the controls so no one can remove the heat from Princess Button?

Yesterday to help heat up the kitchen I did a batch of baking.  Welsh cakes and a new recipe for one of my favourites, coffee and walnut tray bake.  Both were yummy though I say so myself!  And at least I don't have to fight Button for them as she is singularly uninterested in Cake.....

Saturday 12 January 2013

Why the interest in a vacuum cleaner?

Is the question I have for Button....  I had to purchase a new vaccum cleaner this week.  I am no Domestic Goddess by any stretch of the imagination so did a quick bit of research on a consumer site and round friends. When I asked Irene at Breckan questions about her vacuum there was a pause and she said "What have you done with the real Sian? Bring her back immediately!"  Anyway I decided on a "cat and dog" variety  that is supposed to be better at sucking up all the fur and hair from pets.....  It arrived this week.

Button has concerns about it being a cat AND a dog and can't understand how that works...... Or maybe it EATS cats and dogs????

The question is - why are cats so curious??? Have they not heard what happens to curious cats??!  I mean - this could be a fire breathing monster that will singe her whiskers in a trice.  But even when it's making its strange hissing whirring noses - she's still curious......

My next question is - how do I teach a cat how to vacuum to save me a job???

Sunday 6 January 2013

New primary school

On Saturday the new primary school in Stromness had an open day so folk could get a chance to see the new facilities because the school children and staff moved in during the next week or so. The current school is in the town but is no longer "fit for purpose" as the current phrase has it. So a new one had to be built  with funding from the Scottish Government. The site chosen was very controversial due to it's proximity to a roundabout, ferry traffic and being below "sea level" potentially prone to flooding if there are exceptionally high tides and the wind in the "wrong" direction.  However the local Orkney Islands Council chose to go ahead with building on the site.

As you can see above it fronts onto the sea and looks out to Stromness Harbour and town. Will the children be distracted by the view? Dreaming of going to sea? Playing along the shore? Or simply take it for granted as their home where they grow up?

Inside the new school is light, bright and airy with all the state-of-the-art facilities including computerised screens instead of "blackboards". It probably dates me but I remember the old chalk blackboards that the teacher would write upon!

Though there are more traditional boards (white boards now) and notice boards etc and lots of storage

The nursery has washing facilities and a kitchen, as well as mats for the children to sit on to listen to stories, and wee tables and chairs. I want to go to nursery!!

There is also a gym and a canteen for the children to have school dinners (shudder - oh how I remember those!). Though on Saturday they were serving tea/coffee and delicious homebakes.

There are lots of bright indoor areas, some for art, some for music, and some for activities if the weather is too bad to go outdoors. Outside there are courts to play formal games of football or netball on, and informal places for the children to play. Winding stone walls with seats on top, sheltered spots and my favourite for the nursery area - a wooden caterpillar to climb upon.  Hmm think I want one of these in my garden!

Five of the Graemsay children will be attending this school when it opens in a week or so. I'm sure they'll store up lots of memories during their time there. There were ex-children of the "old school", walking around with children of their own,  reminiscing about their old school and how great this one was. Though the "old" school was only build in the 1960s! Times change and the building hasn't worn well so that will become offices while the new school welcomes the latest generation of children.

There are still doubts among folk about how well the new building will cope with the challenges of location and wind. Teachers and staff are eager to see how it works with the children in it too.  Time will tell.

This is the stained glass picture that welcomes folk in the entrance hall representing some of the landmarks of the town and surrounding area.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Happy New Year!

Wishing you health, happiness, joy and laughter in 2013.......

I saw the New Year "in" with island friends who all gathered together for a party at one of the farms on the island. Lots of lovely food, some whisky and good chat! I'm not really a "night owl" so headed for home about 1.30am while others didn't leave till about 5am I hear!

Today there was time for "first footing",  and I visited Irene & Bobby at the other end of the island along with other neighbours. New Year is always a very sociable time on Graemsay!

Earlier today I did find time to go for a walk though it was cold and quite breezy.  "Bracing" is the word I'm looking for I think!  And - er - invigorating! As a consequence I only ventured down onto the shell beach which is just a few yards from the house.

Button came along too but was protesting loudly as the wind ruffled her fur! She didn't stand still long enough for me to take any photos and was back home before me again!

A friend went for a walk long the West Coast of the Orkney Mainland at Yesnaby where the sea was frothing around the base of the cliffs. Magnificent!

This sea stack is known as Yesnaby Castle

Sleety showers rattle against the window panes and the wind is getting up. I do hope the weather pattern is a little more benign and kinder to us all in 2013!