Monday, 11 September 2017

Stuff On My Phone (3)

OK, I have to admit to a thing... 'Stuff On My Phone' wasn't the first choice name for this series. I know, it's a bit of a bombshell, eh? For a while, I had been toying with the idea of calling it 'A Window On My World', which was just as descriptive and does sound much more... sensible. Let's face it, that probably sealed its fate, right there. But neither were my preferred choice. However, third-placed 'Stuff On My Phone' it became.

And the mystery title... ?

One of the songs in my playlist is a bit of an anomaly, in as much as it doesn't sit particularly comfortably with the melodic/progressive rock and 60s/70s/80s pop that makes up the bulk of the list. No, that's unfair, it is very comfortable, that's what makes it different.

Let's rewind a few years. Our Lass, Second Born and I were dining at a restaurant in Aberfeldy, Perthshire. It was a very pleasant evening, the food and service were excellent, the barman created a unique and amazingly red mocktail for Our Lass, and the background music was varied and interesting in time and style. Lots of songs I knew well or had heard of, some I hadn't heard before but knew of the artist, and one song that caught my ear despite not previously having heard it or knowing who the band were. It stuck with me all evening. And the next day. And I couldn't stop humming the tune. So, somehow, I had to figure out what it was from a few vaguely-remembered bits of the lyric. Thankfully, this is the work of a few moments when there's enough Gs and bandwidth available to search the internet. Which is how I discovered the genre that is Downtempo or Trip Hop.

The band was Morcheeba and the track is 'World Looking In', a single from 2001 on the album 'Fragments Of Freedom' (2000). It's become a Go To track and I still play it a lot.

I found it on the compilation album 'Parts of the Process'
Here's the official video for the track.

As if that wasn't enough of a hook, the holiday in Aberfeldy also featured several chickens, belonging to the family who were renting us their cottage. These chickens had obviously done well out of the self-catering business, as they hung around all day, staring through the windows and doors, in the hope of shaming us into providing a few tasty morsels. Some chicken, some hope!

World looking in, indeed.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Environmental outreach meets arty crafty

To be absolutely honest, I don't think I'm remotely qualified to be either an outreach worker or an artist, but when has Old Tense ever let factual accuracy have any sort of bearing on blogpost output!

Yesterday, Saturday, saw the Family Day at the Orkney International Science Festival. Not having ever attended a Science Festival event (family weddings have seemed to coincide with the Festival these past few years), I wasn't sure quite what to expect.

It's safe to say that there were lots of hands-on science experiments, being demonstrated by enthusiastic science-y folk, from molecules to the Milky Way, and I can tell you're wondering where I fit into this, aren't you?

Well, it could probably be said that, to some extent, I have pushed dragonflies and damselflies up the Orcadian agenda this year, so it was pretty much inevitable that I would be 'volunteered' on the Orkney Field Club stand to do something Odonata-ry for the Science Festival. Live specimens of aquatic larvae or flying adults certainly weren't an option, so I decided to go with the pipe cleaner vibe, as trialled on Graemsay recently.

A fellow Field Club member, Helen, kindly volunteered to help me, so we spent the day sitting on tiny chairs, fashioning all manner of weirdly-hued dragons from a few pipe cleaners. I say 'a few', but I reckon the visitors to the stand helped us make over 150 reasonably anatomically-correct dragons. With two contrasting colours for the body (maximising the stripey effect) and two white pipe cleaners for the fore and hind wings, plus the addition of a pair of pony beads (wtf are they?) for eyes, the kaleidoscopic possibilities were numerous. Pink and purple were a big hit, probably reflecting some gender stereotyping that had befallen our diminutive clientele, but I thought it best just to go with the flow and not become to proscriptive about the physiology of my favourite insect group.

The calm before the storm

"Have I mentioned that they eat midges?"

Forget Red Bull, Helen and Graeme can give you wings!

Monday, 4 September 2017

Stuff On My Phone (2)

Yesterday morning, I was outside cleaning the windows (a visitor was due, which had swiftly promoted the task up the To Do list), when I heard a small flock of Skylarks go by, their gentle contact calls a mere shadow of the more well-know territorial song. And not long after that, another flock went by, this time Golden Plover, the plaintive notes of their progress receding into the distance.

These musical musings reminded me that we don't really hear 'normal' garden birds at Tense Towers, but I do still have several soundscapes of a suburban garden from times past squirrelled away on my phone. Just in case I feel the need.

This particular example, from a June evening in 2012 in Milton Keynes, features a Song Thrush, with a supporting chorus of Goldfinches, a Wren, a Blackbird, a Carrion Crow and, in the far background, the rumble of traffic on the M1 motorway.


Apologies for the lack of moving images, but it's taken me the best part of two hours to move the track from my phone to my computer, try to upload it as was via Blogger, fail, try to upload it to Youtube, fail, download Vimeo to discover that won't help either, download Audacity to convert the file format from mp4a to WAV, try to upload the resulting WAV file via Youtube, fail, say "Stuff it!", create a Powerpoint presentation with one slide (a screenshot of the Audacity project), add the WAV file, record the result, finally realise I can export that as a movie and... upload to Blogger. Hip Hoo-flippin-ray!

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Subtle signs of the changing seasons

Working on the outskirts of Kirkwall yesterday, I was packing away the tools ready to move on to the next task, when something fluttered past my nose, which can be a bit disconcerting when you're carrying a three-section aluminium ladder. After securing the ladders, I went to see if I could find the flutterer. Sure enough, on a low southerly-facing wall, was perched a Painted Lady butterfly. Not the only one I've seen this year, but always a joy to experience one this far north.

With only my phone to hand to capture the moment, I crept carefully forward and took a couple of shots. To my untrained eye, it looked to be an absolutley pristine individual, so I wondered if it had emerged locally.

There were also plenty of Red Admirals around, again, dressed in the best finery.

I was beginning to realise that the customer's garden was a bit of a nature hotspot!

In the evening, I was gazing out of the lounge window at Tense Towers, when I spotted a movement in the field over the road. With the application of a coat of looking at through my bins, the activity resolved itself into three Wheatears, busy foraging through the grassy sward. Apart from the local blackbirds, we don't see many members of the thrush family for most of the year, just the occasional Robin, Song Thrush or, as in this case, some Wheatears on migration.

Yep, here we are at the end of August, and all manner of species that came north to breed during our Summer, are turning their thoughts to heading back southwards. This may even include the morning's Painted Lady, which just seems such an incredible undertaking for a wee creature that must only weigh a few tenths of a gram.

Stuff On My Phone (1)

In what I hope will be the first of an occasional series, Stuff On My Phone looks to shed a spotlight, or at least a few photons, upon the multimedia files residing on my mobile phone. Whether they be pictures, sound recordings, videos or music tracks, often there is a story behind why they are stored there. Perhaps a tenuous link, or a mere whim, nothing earth-shattering, you understand, but there'll be a reason that resonates deep within the Tense psyche. Scary, huh?

So, first up is a music track by Chris Rea, a Middlesbrough-born singer/songwriter. It is 'Stainsby Girls' from the 1985 Shamrock Diaries album, a particular favourite song of mine, which doesn't seem to have dated one bit. Although the same can't be said for the music video linked above! 

In December 1981, in a chance encounter, I met a girl on a train which was leaving Kings Cross station in London. We were both travelling back to the north east of England for Christmas and spent a happy few hours chatting to each other. She was different, out of reach, had attended a private girls' school and was now studying on the south coast, hence our paths converging at Kings Cross.

I still recall her first words to me: "Is that seat free?"

When, in 1985, Chris Rea's track was released, it brought back fond memories of that train journey... sigh.

Over the next few decades, there were various, ever more expensive, ways to store music and, sadly, I never caught up with this Chris Rea track. So, when I finally dragged myself into the 21st Century with a smart phone, it was pleasing to be able to download 'Stainsby Girls' and transport myself back to the 80s. 

Fast forward to the present day, and all I will say is:

"Happy Anniversary, pet!"

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Graemsay gig

Back in early July, a trip to Graemsay aroused some local interest in the damselflies breeding in a quarry pool on the island. From this tiny spark, Sian (from Life on a Small Island), gently fanned the flames of enthusiasm with regular reports of sightings of Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damselflies.

Photo of the quarry pool (S. Thomas)
A male Common Blue Damselfly (S. Thomas)
Following a chance conversation whilst travelling on the ferry between Graemsay and Stromness, Sian had realised that the island's children were keen to learn more about dragons and damsels.So, shortly after National Dragonfly Week had ended, she asked me if it would be possible to come to the island to give a talk. How could I possibly refuse a request such as that?!

And so it came to pass, last Friday, Our Lass and I caught the early evening boat to Graemsay, armed with a laptop, a bag of assorted craft materials and some empty larval skins in sample tubes. Oh, the glamour!

Not long after we arrived at the tiny Community Hall and started setting up, the audience began to arrive. For an island that has a small population, perhaps because it has a small population, the turn out was impressive. Not least due to the age range, a multi-generational crowd such as anyone would wish to see. One of the perceived problems with natural history is a dearth of young blood at meetings and events where, too often, a worried sea of grey is the overwhelming impression. Not here on Graemsay, I thought to myself, much relieved. It fair gladdened the heart.

The view from the back of the hall (S. Thomas)
The view from the front!
My brief was to keep it light and short, but the intended 20 minute talk (with a much-pruned Powerpoint presentation) sort of morphed into over an hour of random tales of dragon hunting, before a short question/answer session and then some crafty diversions making dragonflies from pipe cleaners. Once I'd finished waffling on, the children soon got into the spirit of the occasion, with competing dragonflies having aerial dogfights and colourful dragons decorating their hair.

Dragonflies under construction
Then it was time for supper, with a wondrous spread laid on by the islanders.

Having attended various seasonal functions in the hall on Graemsay (it's amazing what the islanders can cram into such a small space), it was lovely to be able to give something back to the island, and the fact that I've now 'gigged' the Community Hall is a treasured memory I will savour for many a year. My thanks to all involved in making the event a success, and especially to Sian for her hospitality and photos.

For an alternative view, please see:

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Shedding tears of joy

Following the success of a second knee operation and her subsequent physiotherapy-filled recuperation, Our Lass decided that the endpoint of her convalescence needed marking in some small way. After several microseconds of thought, it was decided that the purchase of a garden shed would be a good way to celebrate the return of positive perambulation.

Cunningly, Our Lass had scoped out a suitable shed during a local gardening show in May, so all that was now necessary was to decide where to locate it and place an order.

The most appropriate site appeared to be in the lee of the house, offering protection from westerly gales, and not too far from the back door to the garage. The only down side of this plan was that our rotary airer would need to move. We measured out a suitable new site for the airer (see left hand pile of old carpets and tyres) and then tried to shift the airer pole. It didn't budge an inch, no matter what the instructions said about it being possible to remove it from its ground socket and relocate to a new socket (already ordered over the internet). We decided to see if the shed supplier/installer had better ideas or heavier tools to shift the pole.

Installation day arrived, as did an afternoon of persistent rain, and play was suspended for the day without much progress.

The following day brought more benign weather and, in the late afternoon, we returned from work to discover the new shed fitted in position. The airer pole had to be dug out, and its relocation has zoomed to the top of the 'To Do' list.

Our Lass set about moving in to the shed, and I set about tidying the garage as the horticultural paraphernalia was removed. A bit of a win/win scenario, I guess.