Two photos to bookend the day

Firstly, this morning’s sunrise (yes, dear reader: I do occasionally manage to catch one) was spectacular: this was taken at 08:34 when the orange colours were at their most intense, contrasting with the silhouetted infrastructure and the foothills of Thacla, looking south-east from our lounge window:

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Sunrise was at 09:07 for us, although the sun didn’t poke its head above Thacla for another 25 minutes or so after that (just before it did, there was the most gorgeous light blues and silvers and mid greys of the sky and clouds, with the oranges having faded to the most gentle of lemons – given my title here, that one will have to wait a bit longer to see the light of day…). And the silence being broken by the whistled song of a single blackbird (to confirm the impression I had of a few posts ago, I have seen a couple of blackbirds skittering around our land, one – a young male, brown at the front end and black at the back – taking a lengthy rest on the bottom bar of our fence just yesterday).

After all this natural drama, an exciting day of pensions followed, competing towards the end with my view from the west-facing office window, looking out over the croft buildings and houses of our neighbours, this one (actually a composite of two snaps) looking south-west and west taken at 16:22 and with the buildings deliberately under-exposed to highlight the colours in the sky:

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As early in January as this, it’s good to see light in the western sky stretching out well after five o’clock, too. The year is on the move and seeing (and hearing) simple evidence of that is both heartening and refreshing to the soul.

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A little mood indigo at the Solstice

Winter Solstice indigo

And the close of daylight on the shortest day; the sun having set behind the main roof of the house on the right and calmly reflecting gentle pink skies a little further south; and a first quarter moon rising bright in the clear sky.

We’ve not had a lot of days like this these last few months, and sunrise this morning saw a familiar pattern: grey skies and little warmth in the sky – albeit with no wind and, therefore, no cold. But the weather slowly improved as the day passed and the clouds lifted, before clearing to the south and west, giving a fireglow sunset of colour and gentle drama.

This is my view from the office – here, south and west with the sun on this day setting several points to the south of west. And, recently, it’s a view that I have been taking in a lot – though I’m not absolutely complaining 🙂 – except with a little less to detain my interest than here, on the day with the longest night.

PS 22 December: As if to emphasise the message that this is the turning of the seasons, I heard a songbird this morning, just after sunrise. Not one of our usual gang of starlings chattering away as they do at sunrise and sunset, but a single bird calling, a little like the song of a blackbird, although that would be unlikely since we don’t see too many of them; or perhaps a redwing – we have plenty of them although its song is rare, so that’s unlikely too. But, whatever it was, its song was pretty, and very welcome at this darkest time of the year. Not quite Hardy’s Darkling Thrush but somewhat in the same vein, at least.

By the way, on blackbirds, see here for evidence that blackbirds, in contrast to the prevailing view that they’re happy to be more or less home birds, do indeed get about enough to need a CalMac island-hopping ticket (without tender, of course).

As dusk falls

I’ve recently been in Mazury, Poland’s lake district, where I’ve been helping my partner pack up her house following its sale (this is the sixth house move I’ve been involved with in little more than six years, a process of now rapidly-diminishing returns!).

The weather was mostly damp and cool, although autumn is well underway and the colours of the trees, even against a grey sky with little sunshine to lighten, are beautiful. My subject here is a small lake at Wilkasy, near Gizycko (which Germans know as Lötzen: Wilkasy has a few signs advertising rooms, with Zimmer Frei alongside the Polish Pokoje), unusually not connected by waterways to other lakes and thus with few tourist yachts and, with a shoreline dominated by swamp and mud, it is not so popular with wild swimmers either. Those in the know tell me that it is, therefore, great for fishing and there are a few small boats moored at the side of the lake. As winter sets in, and ice covers the lake sufficient to walk on, they will be frozen in, marking time until the spring thaw.

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Here, looking north, the desolation of the derelict, sunken, wooden landing stage, set against the background of the messy, untidy curve of the reed beds, the soft tone greys providing an absence rather than the presence of colour, other than the yellow hint of a set sun reflected in the water, delivers a lonely scene of a contrastingly calm stillness. To complete the picture, a rook in the forest on the far shore utters a few of its deep, evisceral KARK! calls, half-warning, half-assertive of self, as it settled into its night’s roost.

As for the soundtrack, a soft piano would seem to suit – perhaps, given the picture, the sonorous calls of Satie’s Les Trois Gymnopédies, or, to lighten the mood a little, some soft jazz. All I can think of, however, is Phil Collins and In The Air Tonight – not because it fits the particular mood I have been painting, or because I particularly like the song, but because RadioZET, our listening station of choice when in Poland, has, amongst a mix of popular Polish artists and today’s auto-tuned stars, a continuing and deeply obsessive fixation with 1980s power ballads. Think Tina Turner denying that we need another hero while Bonnie Tyler is continuing to hold out for one; think Foreigner wanting to know what love is, as well as Journey admonishing us not to stop believing (though that one also has a more recent connotation of which I’d perhaps rather not be reminded now!), alongside all the other US bands badged under what we used to know as AOR (adult-oriented rock); think the soundtracks to Footloose and Dirty Dancing. And, on this visit, think Phil Collins feeling ‘it’ coming in the air tonight. No fewer than four times in less than one week, that I am aware of, and when the radio tends only to be on for less than an hour at a time, is a little bit much to take. The 1980s, punk energies abandoned and the old guard, initially hiding behind the settee as a riot of anarchic popular vandalism took over at least the music press, starting to be confident enough to reassert itself, was (and with a few honourable exceptions) really the decade that popular music forgot. And don’t get me started on Rod Stewart, after all these years, asking us (afresh) if we think he’s sexy. But, after all, perhaps RadioZET is just en vogue. Nightmare thought.

Back to packing up stuff, I think. In a different room where my music folder might, if I’m lucky, provide me with a few new, more acceptable earworms.

Sunset on Perth

IMG_20170818_204322Sunset on Friday night, taken with my low-pixel smartphone (hence the grainy, somewhat impressionistic approach) just before quarter to nine, looking west along South Street, Perth (South Street runs east-west; neither is it the most southerly road in Perth’s grid system; and it leads to the middle of Perth’s three bridges over the Tay. There must be a reason for this name, although I’ve never yet been able to establish it…).

I am currently in Perth and will be here for the immediate future as I have just managed to sell my flat, courtesy of the hard-working folks at Next Home, and there’s a lot of stuff (an awful lot, given that administration of my paperwork has never been my strong point) to pack up and shift out (I’m expecting record tonnes of paper recycling being achieved by Perth in this quarter!). On top of quite a bit of incoming editing workload, in addition to two major ongoing projects, I’m going to have my work cut out over the next couple of weeks. I bought the flat at the tail end of 2008 and, in terms of central Perth prices for flats, as well as in terms of economics, it’s been pretty much a lost decade (even if not one of lost equity) – although my story might well have been a little different had PKC got on with redeveloping City Hall (which my flat overlooks, and which was key to the original decision to purchase it) rather than wasting much of the intervening period fighting Historic Scotland over its demolition. Now those plans are – at long last – starting to crystallise, with the decision as to which architect to go with being announced last Wednesday, I wish the new owners better luck with their investment!

Since the sale, I’ve had many people question whether I’ll miss the place – and I will, I guess, although I’m not sure it’s possible to miss a building, only the people and memories that have populated it and given it life. By my reckoning, my flat in Perth is the tenth place I’ve lived in and built memories in during my life (of 53 years, and counting) and, being well underway with the eleventh, I do wonder how many more there’ll be. Certainly I’ll be missing Perth (and city centre living), and Southern Fried, but I’ve been living away from here now for a year, and people change, and move on; and it’s the right time to finish off this particular chapter and continue actively writing the new one – in which direction, of course, the sale proceeds will (hopefully quite soon) come in very handy.

In the meantime, if anyone does have a use for Red Dwarf VHS tapes, do give me a shout…

Midsummer sun

I was hoping to see at least one end of the summer solstice in style. Not being by any means an early riser, this was always going to be this end of the day rather than the other. But, unfortunately, the damp mists of early evening around the bay have given way to a blanket of grey cloud without so much of a hint of a dying ray of light – though, conversely, this morning’s sunrise was, apparently, rather good.

So, here’s one from last night’s sunset, instead: the sun not quite sinking into the sea – a smudge of cloud on the horizon preventing that – and actually taken a good hour after sunset (timed at 22:31) – but with the Monach Islands showing rather well as a series of low-lying lumps on the horizon:

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So, at more or less midsummer, the sun was setting at round about 320 degrees – that’s past north-west and well on the road to north-west by north (no – not that one: Ed) on the 32-point compass. And quite a change from midwinter, when the compass point at sunset was more or less 230 degrees and getting on for south-west: almost exactly a quarter swing in the point of sunset by virtue of the angle of the earth’s tilt.

Not enough light to read a book outside at midsummer (and somewhat too cool, regardless of the heatwave which is gently cooking the southern half of England), but with plenty of light in the northern sky. Here’s the long view about an hour later – half past midnight (and towards the end of an hour-long power cut here on South Uist: somewhat frustrating for those of us on Economy 10 tariffs when the power comes back on just as the cheap hours disappear…). Here, we’re looking broadly north-east (NE is actually a bit to the right of centre) and from where, if my guesswork is right, the sun would have been rising a few minutes less than three hours later (at 04:31):

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Good luck and have a great gig to all those heading to Pilton this weekend – or, alternatively, to Eriskay On The Rocks!

NNW twilight

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The sky to the north, last night, just after 23:20 (so just beyond the golden hour, the sun having set at 20:16 and almost exactly at the formal ‘end of twilight‘ on our part of South Uist last night).

I tweeted recently a picture of the sun sinking into the sea as it set, as viewed for the first time this summer from our lounge window – and, of course, this picture is taken from the same place (though it’s a composite) and parts of it are also aimed a little further north, the slightly blurry rock in the centre foreground being located pretty much NNW from where I took the picture. Indeed, we can now track the earth as it spins around the sun, and as the continuing levels of light in the sky shift gradually from twilight in the (north-)western sky to pre-dawn in the (north-)east. As I went to bed at 1am, the sun still not due to rise formally for another couple of hours, similar smudged greys and midnight blues and soft apricots, as well as bold, striking cloud formations, had shifted into the north-east sky.

It does get dark here; even at the peak of midsummer there is about 3:40 of ‘night time’ in the hours between twilight formally ending and beginning again – but, for this month or so, you can still see some light in some part of the sky right throughout the night hours.

As a celebration of one year of living in our new place – we moved in, into a few rooms while the remainder of the renovations were still being finalised, precisely a year ago last Friday – the reminder of things coming full circle, with a new journey now getting underway, seems very well-timed.

And some Easter lambs

Did someone mention lambs yesterday?

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If anyone can come up with a better caption than Fetch! the prize* is yours…

These twins were born overnight on Easter Saturday/Sunday, so as of now they’re less than 48 hours old. The crofter who owns the sheep was telling me that he’s been involved with sheep all his life and has never had one like this mother: apparently she’s a ‘jumper’ (wot already :-)) and had to be rescued from a neighbour’s garden, having jumped the fence one way, only on Saturday morning so they had doubted anything was inside her. Let alone twins. Jessica Ennis-Hill – eat your heart out.

From my untrained observations, she’s a good mother, too: putting the lambs between her and the occasional passer-by (very occasional, obviously) and, perhaps more fundamentally, from two ravens that I watched taking a close interest from the perspective of a nearby fence.

May they all live and thrive.

* There isn’t one, really – sorry…