Thursday, July 03, 2014

Welcome to Hoy

Every Friday I would run from school and straight onto the M.V. Graemsay that would take me to the island of Hoy: my muddy childhood paradise. My family had a cottage on the island that sat high up on a hill. It was heated by peat that my Dad had dug up and dried earlier in the year and water came from a homemade pump up the hill. The gas stove was just about functional enough to cook some tins of soup for dinner and the porch was cold enough to function as a fridge so I could have my bowl of coco-pops in the morning. The hill was home to miles of heather which gave my sister berries for jam and my grandad with the vital ingredient to his infamously intoxicating homebrew of heather ale. The cottage provided me with the best playground a child could ask for: there was a beach with a sea to swim in, sand to search for treasure, endless animals to draw (and keep as temporary pets), and endless places to explore and conquer.

The North of Hoy is home to beautiful and different scenery to anything on offer on the rest of Orkney. It was the landscape of fairytales for me as a child with glistening streams, giant dragonflies and toads the size of a dinner plate. There is no escaping the Hoy Hills as they dominate the skyline as the tallest point in both Orkney and Shetland – although the highest point (the Ward Hill) is only a mere 479 metres. The Hoy Hills were shaped by glaciers in the last ice age but depending on what source you prefer they may have been formed from the teeth of the Stoorworm. My first ascent of the Ward Hill was also my first – literal – hands-on experiences with nature. While the dog had already ran to the top we were fascinated at the heathery lower slopes which are home to Common Toads – which at the time easily filled my cupped hands. Golden Eagles became extinct in Orkney due to hunting but the majestic giants are slowly returning even if it is still a rare sighting.

The top of the hill is decorated in wind stripes and sandstone scars from thousands of years of lashing wind and frost action. When the clouds clear away you can see across Hoy Sound to Stromness and the flat, green meadows in the north. Where the hills flatten out into the sea at Moaness there are the sandy bays of Quoys and Creekland. Although these beaches often look like they are 50° further north than they ought to be with cream-coloured sands and turquoise waters they are simply over shadowed by Rackwick Bay. Locals often comment on Rackwick’s bizarre microclimate which is usually the complete opposite of the rest of the county. This means that for most of the time Rackwick has a Mediterranean climate. The reason for this has not been thoroughly investigated but Rackwick Bay is sheltered from incoming weather systems from the Atlantic by the highest vertical sea cliff in the UK – St John’s Head and any polar winds from the north are well sheltered by those Hoy Hills.

Rackwick Bay was once much longer than it is today due to longshore drift which is caused by the sea waves moving grains of sand along the beach at an angle. Rackwick Bay is sheltered by more sandstone sea cliffs which act to catch the sand moving in their direction. These sea cliffs are home to numerous birds: puffins, fulmars and black-backed gulls that sit and watch several herds of common and grey seals around the bay. Killer Whales are also spotted in the bay throughout the year having resident and transient pods causing fear to the seal population but fascination to other crowds.
Orkney is not famous for its woodlands but as with the rest of the Hoy landscape and elsewhere in Orkney – Hoy is different. For having barely any trees whatsoever – let alone native woodlands – Hoy is actually home to the most northerly ancient woodland – meaning it has existed continually since 1750. However studies suggest forests similar to this covered Orkney around 7000 years ago. Berriedale Wood is another example of Hoy’s varied assembly of pristine landscapes. It is the only place in the islands you will find a natural canopy of hazel, rowan, aspen and willow covers a bed of heather, ferns and even roses.

It would not surprise me is there were actually more species of bird on Hoy then there were permanent residents. Every year hundreds of ornithologists travel on a pilgrimage to Hoy to enjoy the wealth of winged residents. The official RSBP reserve is surrounding the Sandy Loch which is along the walking path to Rackwick Bay however the whole island is dominated by birds. Most of the bird species on the island are viewed for their grace and beauty such as the peregrine falcon, puffin and red-throated diver but there is one species that has both locals and visitors bemused. Locally known as Bonxies, the Great Skua is known to dive bomb anyone walking near the proximity of their nests – and Hoy alone has around 12% of the world’s population, so watch your head!

Over the years, our cottage in Hoy became a bit of a graveyard for cars as my parents’ inability to throw anything out progressed beyond the boundaries of the house walls. As a child my favourite car was our tough Soviet Lada Cossack 4×4 which was white with black zebra stripes. Every time I got in it I felt like we were about to embark on an epic adventure deep into the rainforest. The thing didn’t even have seats in the back but it was so full of things that it wasn’t much of a problem and we didn’t mind cuddling up to the dog. More so it reminds me of my real childhood, the one before computers appeared. The one that instantly makes you remember the smell of mud in your hair and when car journeys really did seem to take a lifetime.

The Lada Cossack, guard dog and childhood everest.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Things You've Realised After Four Years in Dundee

Homage to the class of 2014, here are some things that we have come to realise after (at least)four years at university in this fine city.

You'll have no idea what is going on in the world without Hermes.

If you thought you could speak English then you're wrong; who knew it's Nice-a not Neesa(aka the centre of the universe if you're a westender).

The bridge to Tesco will never be built, that is until the year after you graduate.

Riverside apartments are a mythical land.

Free heating in the library should not be taken for granted.

You'll never stop wishing you could still have pre-drinks at Templelane.

RIP Tay Mills.

Perth Road has an end.

"Going to Tesco" is a acceptable pastime.

You'll feel old at Skint by second year.

Nobody told me they actually charge you to graduate.

North of Dundee does exist.

All of the No.5 buses have a name.

(Sorry about the crappy photo...)

At Grad ball you'll suddenly realise all the people you wished you'd got to know better. And those you're glad you'll never see again. 

(I'll happily see this lot again!)

It's about time you visited Newport but you'll only ever remember how long the Tay Bridge is when you are already halfway along it.

The library security guards are top of the food chain.

You'll never really be ready to leave...

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Eurovision Warm-Up

Most of you probably hate Eurovision but you’re just lying to yourselves. It’s the passively aggressive political cheesy crapness that makes it fantastic. I probably stick to watching Eurovision every year better than I do celebrating Christmas and with the event only a few weeks away I have trawled through the entries so you don’t have to with my application to be next in line to the BBC Eurovision commentary throne.

Who I want to win:
The Netherlands - I'd actually buy this, meaning it's definitely not going to do well at Eurovision.
Denmark - Bruno Mars’ Scandinavian cousin demonstrates how lyrics mean sweet F all and all you need is a catchy song..
UK (...of course) - The Soviet belt will love this "power to the people" stuff, maybe we have a chance? Ha...

Who will Probably Win:
Sweden - Okay we get it Sweden, you’re good at Eurovision. And everything else...
Armenia - Don't be fooled by the first 2 minutes, it changes pace and gets good.
Hungary - Radio 1 would be all over this if it wasn't Eurovision, plus he’s pretty.

The Worst:
Georgia - Most colourful lyrics, if you can catch them.
France - France obviously have some more pressing issues than Eurovision but this will probably still beat us.
Macedonia - Imagine those women out on hen parties singing karaoke and dancing and you're there.

Other “Highlights”

Albania - Sounds a bit like a poor man’s Shakira filmed on a go-pro at Tentsmuir, at least they take their horse-riding safety seriously - helmets are the new sexy.

Austria - With an innuendo filled name like Conchita Wurst, this had to sound like a Bond theme.

Azerbaijan - If you want to watch a lady grope some instruments and be blown about by a wind machine, then here is what your poison.

Belarus -  Surprisingly, not the only cake euphemism of the year.

Finland - Finland’s answer to One Direction: dip ‘em in bleach and make them sing about death. Classic Finland.

Greece - Ah so this is what they do to the British Lads they arrest in Zanté.

Iceland - The Beastie Boys eccentric cousins reinventing peace and love for Millennials.

Israel -  The angry Israeli women’s 'Single ladies'.

Latvia - A song about the munchies. Thank you Latvia.

Malta - Tonight Matthew we want to be Mumford and Sons.

Norway - Keeping out of tradition as ever..

Poland - Britain, what have you done to Poland.

Portugal - Ricky Martin chundered on Portugal.

Russia - Sochi seems to have blown Russia's budget this year.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Dundee Bucket List

1. Walk up the Law both in the day and night.
2. Walk across the road Bridge.
3. Visit Broughty Ferry "beach"
4. Eat at The Tapas Bar
5. Have a Sunny's Curry.
6. All day BBQ and drinks on Magdalen Green
7. Midnight playpark trip
8. Visit St Andrews and moan about all the poshness.
9. Visit Tentsmuir for a real beach
10. Have a flat bake-off (for a bakesale or for fun)
11.Watch Dundee Stars play ice hockey
12. Cheer on and play for a uni sports team
13. Visit Clarkies at an ungodly hour.
14. Go on an adventure to bacon nirvana that is The Horn
15. Order a 3:30am Dominoes because you can.
16. Visit Riverside Tesco at an ungodly hour and buy something you really don't need.
17. Visit the new Olympia
18. Go to Camperdown Wildlife park
19. Catch the uni Night bus
20. Go along McGonagalls walk and remind yourself why "McGonagall has been acclaimed as the worst poet in British history" and finish up at Bridgeview Station for a scenic dinner.
21. Visit the Campbeltown or find your own local away from the Union.
22. Visit the Go-Kart arena
23. Go aboard the Discovery and Frigate unicorn
24. Walk up to the Observatory (and go in...)
25. Watch a film, eat and be cultural at the DCA
26. Go to DUSA's Skint one last time
27. Go to the Casino even if just to eat food.
28. Buy something priceless from the Recycling Centre
29. Visit The Botanic Gardens
30. Discover Frasers Fruit and Veg
31. Rummage in Grouchos
32. Walk the entire length of Perth Road
33. Visit Newport on Tay and Tayport
34. Bonfire night from the Law or Balgay Park
35. Venture into Fat Sams, liquid and Underground.
36. Enjoy a beer in Scotlands Sunniest city at Laings Beer Garden
37. Stay in the library until closing (or overnight for the 24hr period).
38. Eat in Perth Road's finest eateries (Don Michele, Malabar, Piccalo, Agacan...)
39. Visit Abertay Student union, just to see how the enemy live. 
40. Have a flying lesson or actually fly out of Dundee airport. 
41. Selfie with Desperate Dan and Dundee's Dragon
42. Wander in Dundee's Nature Park
43. Tell the people at Ketchup it's your friends birthday (and draw a picture for their wall).
44. Experience a Dr Noodle
45. Get a sandwich as big as your face from Supersnacks.
46. Have a Tonic burger.
47. Live in a "typical" student house, a close relative of the igloo.
48. Go watch the Arabs or the Dees.
49. Go to the Carpark Rave
50. Join DUSA Media!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Alternative Christmas Message

Christmas always reminds me that one day I would like to have kids. I’d like to bring back the magic of it all. Remember the sleepless nights on Christmas eve? Genuinely spending hours flicking through catalogues preparing your letters to Santa and forcing your eyes to sleep. I miss that feeling of Christmas. I know I’ll never be like that myself again but I can’t wait to help play the role for my own kids. I won’t even mind them waking me up at 5am asking to open presents while I am still nursing the effects of Santa’s brandy. 

At my age, as someone who hasn’t started their own family, Christmas gets more and more like another day where the family are forced to spend time together because society says so. There is a kind of loop where you enter it as a kid completely under Santa’s spell  but then after a while the 25th just misses something and you don’t really get it back until you go full circle and have to play that role for your own kids. Most of you who know me well know that Christmas has never been that big a deal in our house and that might be the reason my opinion is slightly biased. I understand some people my age are still as excited about Christmas day as they were when they were 5 years old and kudos to their families for obviously having a healthy relationship with both alcohol and each other, either that or they just get spoilt rotten ever year. 

However you have to admit, Christmas is becoming more of a social event than a religious celebration. I am in no way religious so I am not calling for the end of Christmas: l personally can’t wait to host my own one day. You all may think of me as someone that thinks the idea of a settled life is petrifying but there is that side of me that can't wait to have a garden, a huge kitchen and some dogs. I can’t wait until I am older I can have everyone I love under one roof (however, I know that is an impossible task for me), cook them a lovely meal and get very jolly on mulled wine as we sit round to watch Dr Who. This is not just including my own family but also the families of my closest friends as they often know me better and I often consider these people as much part of my family as I do my blood relatives.  Although (other than with food), I’ve never been a fan of the excessive nature of Christmas that fills up my news feed with people taking photos of their new car using their brand new iPad. In my eyes not even food should be allowed to be spoilt, let alone people. A few modest gifts are fine but spending hundreds, even thousands of pounds on almost any present is madness to me. 

As nice as it is to have an annual excuse to get everyone together (assuming you all get on) I just hope the magic doesn’t get lost before I have a chance to be the magician myself. I fear that with the new internet generation, belief in Santa will die out completely. Thinking about it believing in Santa is like another strange religious aspect of Christmas. As a child you can’t explain how it all happens, you just can’t as a child’s brain is fuelled by magic, but you still believe he’s come for a visit. It’s only when you start to question this “magic” do you doubt yourself and start asking other kids in the playground. Either that or some loud mouth kid ruins it for everyone. Nowadays though, kids can just search the internet and find out for themselves. Although their parents wallets will no doubt be relieved at this point. However, even without the mystical figures that are behind the modern celebrations of Christmas, it is one of the best times of year to have everyone together - the middle of December when the weather is no doubt making everyone feel shite, surely that is reason enough for a get together?