Saturday, 20 December 2014

Soft kitty, warm kitty....

Mum spots my approach and guards her children.
Peekaboo! Lilli prior to her troubles
Our new family members started life in the stables. We first saw them and photographed them in early August, but they must have been at least six weeks old, when we saw them step outside to eat the food we’d left for their mum. We continued to feed and water her and the two little bundles until things came to a turn. On the last day of the month, I noticed a veritable rabbit morgue on the stable yard. Shortly after, the dam seemed to begin to distance herself from her kindle. Was she leaving them with a full larder? In her absence, a fortnight later, we first noticed that one of the kittens had developed an eye infection. This prompted us to make contact with a Cats Protection rep on the island to arrange the use of a trap. Until it arrived, we gradually moved their food saucer closer and closer to the house until they were happy to come indoors, until we showed up, at which point they would leg it back to their stable roost. The eye was getting worse but our attempt to capture the patient in a zip-up carrier failed. Finally, the trap arrived and within minutes, Lilli was caught. We drove her up the road to the shelter and we left her in the good hands of Janet (the rep). I returned to the stable to reset the trap for Salvo. He ran off as I approached but had begun to slope back as I left it behind. I’d barely got half way home before I heard it snap shut. I will hesitate in calling him stupid. He could just have wanted to be reunited with Lilli. Janet took them both into town the following morning. That would be it as far as our involvement with them went for a while. Lilli, following her operations, was kept in Kirkwall and though Salvo came back to Sanday, he stayed at a pen at Janet’s while he got over a mild eye infection of his own.
Andy's cue for action!

During their time at either the shelter or in town at the clinic and foster home, we noticed the reason that the dam had walked out on them. She was in the family way again, but the days were getting short and the temperature was dropping off. The mission then was to trap her as quickly as possible. But one morning I found a dead kitten lying at the gate. It was already too late. Within days, she’d had the rest of her young in the shed. When I saw her going out hunting, looking slimmer, I had a look around and found four little bodies. Kelly calls kittens born late in the season “hearseys”, as they rarely survive. It was too late for her babies, but I was still determined to get her spayed. I don’t ever want to have to bury kittens again. The only view of the path up to the road is from the ‘goat rooms’, so it was by pure chance that I had seen her as she made her way back. Optimistically, I set the trap up on one of her popular routes. She’s no fool. She could smell the food I’d left as bait, but she tried everything short of telekinesis to get to the food without walking into the trap. In the end, though she had no choice. I quickly drove her around to Janet’s, but on her way to the vet, she escaped. After a few days, she made it back here and I continue to put food out for her until a trap is available. (I don’t have to leave water because half the garden is flooded!)

An early publicity shot of Salvo. What a poser.
Salvo came home first. For a feral cat, he is as soppy as anything and purrs at the drop of a hat. He loves being picked up and has a penchant for leaping vast distances to land on shoulders. In fact, he’s so clingy, it was impossible to leave him locked up alone at night. We took it in turns trying to sleep sitting in a Poang with him in his room. Hence my total surprise when, while letting him witness the great outdoors, he suddenly reverted to wild and ran away. Gail wouldn’t speak to me until I managed to coax him back. It was impossible and required the trap again. However, once indoors he was completely tame once again. Fortunately, Lilli came home soon after. Now it’s her job to keep him under control.

Lilli coming to terms with her new, hopefully safer, environment.
An impossible job. We felt so sorry for her, with her one eye, her spaying bald patch, her clipped ear and her weird short tail. (Gail and I disagree on whether it’s short or whether her brother’s is just freakishly long, or perhaps both). But she is quickly adapting to her disability and gives every bit as good as she gets. She hates being picked up though and is more shy. We suspect that she was fostered in a home with dogs, because she wags her tail like one when she’s happy or interested.

They still overnight in one of the goat rooms together. I’ve taken nearly all the plant pots off the window sill to stop them knocking them onto the floor. They make better use of my telescope than me, by using it as a bridge between a chair and the top of the stereo cabinet. Recently though, we’ve started to let them have the run of the rest of the house during the day. Of course, Smokey isn’t too happy about it. She’s been quite well restrained, resorting to hisses and spits rather than boxing them around the ears, despite the provocation. She seems to have a perpetual growl going on, even when she’s asleep. It could be a survival tactic. Gail has started to refer to Salvo and Lilli as velociraptors for the way that they spend a lot of time outflanking and stalking her.

Argh! Keep still for goodness sake!
Now we are finding out how distinctly not kitten-proof the house is. There’s rarely a moment when voices are not being raised, when one of us isn’t leaping across the floor in the hope of catching whatever it is they’ve knocked over (this time) or rushing to get the dustpan and brush to sweep up whatever it was we didn’t reach in time. They are fascinated by everything and we have too much stuff. We ‘presently’ have too much stuff I should say, as I can express with certitude that we’re sure to have considerably less soon. They tend to get ‘the rips’ at eleven o’clock at night, when all bets are off. They run behind the television, so that’s living on borrowed time. They walk all over the keyboards of the laptops, especially when my ‘Felix’ screen-saver pops up. And it goes without saying that any fabric item, whether it’s a sofa, a laptop case, a denimed leg or the clothes on the clothes horse, makes a jolly good scratching post. The clothes horse also doubles as a tree, as they climb to the top of it, displacing clean clothes onto the floor as they do so with gay abandon.

Who knows what the future holds. It's a big world out there.
There is some debate at home as to when and if they will be allowed out. I am of the thought that they were born wild animals, whereas Gail insists that they are domesticated, if a cat can ever be said to be. I’ve provisionally got Gail’s permission that I can let them go in April. When it comes to birthday presents I am very easily pleased. However, I can see the bond becoming even more established by then. It is fully understandable that one could be protective of Lilli, given her rough start in life, but surely the choice is her own. She sought us out once when she was in need. Wouldn’t it be nicer if she was here because she wanted to be rather than under duress? Well, not duress exactly. It’s not as if she’s scratching her way out through the door. I’m sure her reign of terror indoors has plenty more miles and mounds of broken glass ahead of it.  
The incumbent. Smokey surveys her estate, in calmer days.

In other news, guess who is the secretary of the newly formed Sanday Bowling Club? Well, I get my insurance from Saga these days so I suppose I’d have to learn how to play it sooner or later. The really annoying thing is that I seem to be quite good at it. There’s none more shocked than I. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

The anti-Christmas

The old bus went to the school. In earlier days, chances are it
would have been parked on the beach until the tide took it away.
The Sanday Bus company got their hands on a new vehicle in the Summer. We even had a ‘grand opening’, with champagne and an internationally renowned, record breaking athlete, who just so happens to also be a regular passenger, with some kind and encouraging words. It’s a brand spanking new seventeen-seat Transit with a motorised accessibility ramp in the back of it. It’s mahoosive! Even Richard Osman could stand up in the back of it it’s so tall and the weight of it pushes my driving licence D1 entitlement to the limit. The new features required that I attended a Midas course run by the Orkney Disability Forum in Kirkwall. As class began early, I even got an overnight stay in the big city. With four drive wheels back there too, there’s very little chance of me getting it stuck in my garden (like I did the old one!). It’s a fancy bit of kit and no mistake. It’s taking me a while to get used to the six forward gears though. With that many gates it’s a wonder that I can find any of them. It has to be said that it is also a colossal amount of real-estate to valet, too. With the amount of muck it picks up every day on the island’s agricultural roads, it’s a bit of a relentless exercise. Kelly has named it J-Lo on account of its generously proportioned rear end.

Either from Greece, New Zealand or the Imaginarium?
The most thumbed tome in the shed, (other than the dictionary on account of me one of the greatest illiterates of all time!), is our Collins guide to British wildlife. You just never know what is going to turn up next. Among the species new to this particular budding naturalist (they’re the ones that keep their clothes on, right?) are paper wasp, hen harrier, cormorant, shag, razorbill, marsh orchid, eyebright and grass of Parnassus. There are also some species that I am familiar with but never really expected to see all the way up here, like hedgehogs, owls and butterflies. I don’t go out and about much to find them. It’s more of a case that they kindly find their own way to me. Apart from the starlings, our most common visitors are lapwings, a family of barn swallows, blackbirds, a robin, a cute little wren and a skylark that I can perpetually hear but never actually see. Our primary protagonists remain the over-abundance of rabbits.

Germany winning the World Cup standing on one leg.
As a proud (part) boche, it’s hard not to love the World cup. Not that I watched every game. Fortunately the last group matches kicked off at the same time, so you have to make a choice, but it’s safe to say that if there was footie on the television then I was watching it. That was except, of course, when work interfered. Following a reasonably successful international side, it makes one quite sanguine about disappointment, unlike, say, following one that has only ever experienced success on its own doorstep with the help of dodgy officials. Qualifying for the knockout stages is the only real expectation. Anything else is a bonus. As usual, the tournament was a gallery of heroes and villains. The Dutch demolition of tiki-taka, James Rodriguez wonderful volley, Ronaldo crying and the host’s hysterical capitulation in the semi-finals were my highlights. Mario Götze’s winning goal in the final was more of a relief than a celebration, though the roof was lifted, I’ll not deny. The fact that that cannibalistic Uruguayan moron isn’t forced to play in a Hannibal Lecter mask continues to astonish me. That it is out of the English game is my only satisfaction.

The principle driver for the Sanday bus certainly enjoys her holidays. This is good for me as it provides some much needed income. Working fourteen days consecutively isn’t quite a cheery prospect but it’s uncanny how easy a habit it is to fall in to. They are only part-time days but you are obliged to be on call all day for taking bookings. The vehicle doesn’t clean itself either, so that takes a fair while, as I have already alluded to. There are other duties that I am not involved in that Kelly catches up with when she gets back, data-capturing the fare records, balancing the books and banking the takings. Even so, for those two weeks, I find it totally immersive. It’s a great way to meet the locals and see the sights. I also had a number of opportunities to drive the Sanday Experience tour as well over the Summer. More often than not, sometimes to my surprise given the oft inclement weather, visitors are absolutely chuffed with their visit. Rarely is it more of a pleasure than when the opportunity to show off a live archaeological dig presents itself halfway through a tour.
The Meur burnt mound, excavated and ready to go.
The burnt mound at Meur was in serious risk of being lost to tidal erosion and a team was sent to save what they could. After recording the site and taking organic samples for analysis, many of the stones were extracted and moved to a new home beside the new heritage centre where it was exhaustively reconstructed, far from the rigours of the tide. A lucky few got to see the process when we stopped the bus to give everybody an up-close-and-personal peek at the work. It’s gone now, so it was a very narrow window of opportunity. As is so often the case with digs, the archaeologist’s efforts uncovered an even earlier occupation phase which they are keen to explore in the near future. They’ll probably keep going until they find Doug McClure.

As the summer ended and the children went back to school, I was asked if I would mind supplementing my pool lifeguarding duty with attending their training as they prepared for an annual gala at the pool. It was a reward in itself to watch them develop their skills and confidence in the water. At the end of their training, I was asked back to be one of the lane timekeepers for the gala itself. The children of all ages were divided into three teams of equal ability to slug it out before the assembled parents. I also got involved with their Bikeability Scotland training and last week attended assembly where we handed the successful children their certificates and badges. The toughest part was amending my own riding to set a good example. Gone are the beanie and the i-pod. In are the reflective jacket and the helmet. I’m due to go into Kirkwall to get the proper training at some time over winter in order to be able to play a bigger part in the process next year and an application to register with Protecting Vulnerable Groups government scheme is pending. I still consider that I do not having a single paternal bone in my body, but I must have mellowed some with age. Mind you, I did have to put an immediate damper to any notion that I’d be willing to dress up as Santa. The suggestion has though made me think seriously about going on a diet in the new year.

Coos in the mist. What's out your window?
In an attempt to encourage me to blog more regularly and make me to take more photographs, I signed up to blipfoto and although I have long ago ceased to post every single day, it is, other than Facebook, the site that I most commonly submit to. If one was ‘inspired’ to keep an eye on my faltering steps toward retirement, they might want to join up and follow Turts99, perhaps sharing their own photographs with the world while they’re at it. It’s just a suggestion.  

Monday, 15 December 2014

Getting outdoors (at last)

March started with high spring tides. In fact I’ve never seen the wreck of the B98 so far away from the water. With the anniversary of the outbreak of WW1 looming, there’s been an increase in local interest of the island’s wartime history. It included the heritage centre borrowing of some of my recently acquired reference material, a piece of which has been donated to the centre for display.
Lopness farm through the wreckage of B98
When I heard that the ranger was in the process of purchasing a scale model of the B98, I assumed that he had managed to track down a better one than my 1:700 scale resin one, which given that the real thing was 98m long, even a modest ability in maths would tell you that the model measures a mere 14 centimetres. It turns out, however, that he’d bought exactly the same one. If it goes on display, I hope that they position it under a magnifying glass. At least it was constructed by an experienced modeller. I haven’t dared to try making mine. Whether the heritage committee has also managed to get hold of any of the supposed many ‘salvaged’ parts that have been collected by islanders, allegedly, over the years to complete the display awaits to be seen.

Not a popular holiday destination, I'll grant you.
With the tides being so revealing, I decided that it was an ideal opportunity to try to make a dash for the beacon at the tip of the Riv Skerry. I packed an emergency overnight kit just in case I managed to get out there to find that the returning tide had made the way back impossible. I was quite prepared to stay there, wrapped in a silver blanket and tucked up with a good book and a hot drink until the waters receded once more. As it turns out, the rocky path was untraversable and part of it was still actually submerged beneath the briny. I returned home a little disappointed but, admittedly, mightily relieved. Gail was pleased to see me too, primarily because I promised to cook dinner for us both if I made it back.

One of the problems facing bus drivers in remote locations is communication. Gail may have two mobile phones but they are hardly ever switched on as reception is so bad. In order to improve the accessibility of the Sanday service, the company has kindly fitted a signal booster here at the shed. Talk about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear! Before it was fitted, if we had wanted to send or receive text messages, we had to attach a mobile (ein Handy) to our clothes-line pole and poke in out through an open window. With the booster turned on, the phone goes all the way from no bars at all, (not even a flicker), to a full five bars and ne’er wavers. It’s uncanny just how effective the kit is. Of course it has to go off in the evening. Try as we may to inform folk that we are not on duty twenty four hours a day, there’ll always be someone that decides, just before they go to bed, that they need a lift to the pier the morn.

Ice on the dunes. My definition of the word 'juxtaposition'.
It is still far too early in the year for the weather to be settled, if indeed it ever is. On driving to the North end the other day, I noticed that the dunes at Cata were an unusual colour. On closer inspection the culprit turned out to be a layer of hail. Yet again, it would have to be one of those days when I’d left home without a camera, so I had to get home, grab one and head back out again, much to the amusement of the lady of the house. It wasn’t thawing in any kind of a hurry so I managed to snap a few shots before the risk of exposure forced me back into the warm car. At low tide, it’s possible to drive over the shallow beach. I have been on the island long enough to hear of the plenty of tales of stranded vehicles and decided that a closer inspection was not necessary for the purpose of this narrative.

This handsome chap deserved better
One of our ranger’s responsibilities is to monitor sea pollution and to that end he conducts regular beached-bird surveys on the island. Toward the end of month, he advertised for some assistance in covering Bay of Lopness. It’s a long, gently sloping coast so the inter-tidal, or littoral, zone is rather wide for a single person to cover. In the end there were four of us, scanning the whole beach for washed up dead animals. Rod insists that the quality of the water has very much improved over the years of his residency, so he was very much hoping that we’d find nothing. He was to be disappointed however on this occasion. An animal washed ashore is often a free meal for someone else. By the time we find them, most of the remains are stripped bare, a couple of wings and assorted bones. In addition, a stiff breeze had been drifting the sand all day and I was ‘lucky’ to spy a feather tip poking up out of it all. I managed to dig up a whole, fresh gannet, most likely the injured one that Rod and I had tried to rescue a few days earlier. The remains are tossed up onto the dunes to ensure the bodies are not recorded again in the future.

Boloquoy Mill
Eventually, the longer days started to encourage the next generation of flora and fauna. In their hollows in the dunes, the seagulls laid their eggs and wild flowers exploded from the grasses. It was also an ideal time to be out and about. The days were long and warm, out of the wind, and nobody had bothered to tell those annoying flies that were to plague us during Summer and Autumn. Rod the ranger held a walk out from Mill Geo to Boloquoy, along a cliff-top path of rocky coastline to the West that is in stark contrast to the shallow, sandy bays of the Eastern side of the island. It offers a roost to a myriad of seabirds and some dramatic vistas. It ended at the old mill at Boloquoy, now redundant. Formerly a grinding (until the stones were sold to another island) and latterly a threshing mill, it is an icon of the island’s past. There is still a pond and evidence of a channel to bring the water to a large wheel on the outside of the Western wall. Inside, a rusting collection of old fittings continue to lamentably rot.

Never expected to see the pitons from Duncansby!
Far from your average Nissen hut.
June started with plan to get back onto the British mainland. A friend from the old gig was taking part in a charity bike ride all the way from Land’s End to John O’Groats. This mind-boggling accomplishment required some kind of welcoming committee and as the only guy within hundreds of miles, I wanted to be there. They had been on the road for the better part of a fortnight. I just had to set out the day before. I cycled from home to Loth Pier, got on the boat to Kirkwall, then cycled South. Before the wars I would have had to catch another three peedie boats to get to Burwick on South Ronaldsay. Now I just had to ride across the Churchill Barriers instead. I ran out of daylight at St. Margaret’s Hope, where I availed myself of a waiting room that remained unlocked overnight. Thankfully, the night was short as the bench seats were really uncomfortable. I set out early in the hope that the waiting room at Burwick for the John O’Groats ferry would be nicer. When I got there, though, it wasn’t even open. Cue me standing around and my body temperature dropping like a stone. The ferry was great, despite being really narrow and the Pentland Firth being is usual, choppy self. I had plenty of time to spare before Zara and Richard were due to arrive. Enough to get to see Duncansby Head, though it nearly killed me. The geography was up and down. Exhausting to pedal up and a white-knuckle freefall descent with the brakes screaming like a banshee. The views were spectacular, though. I rode back into John O’Groats with the hero pair, took pictures of them beneath the sign and introduced them to Orkney beer. My bad. I was very happy when they managed to cadge a lift on board a coach heading back to civilization. My return journey North involved Orca’s in the Pentland Firth, photos of and in the Italian Chapel and another night in a ferry waiting room, this time in Kirkwall. Hurrah for padded seats!