A late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house

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Facing The Falling Sky album cover (image: Kathie Touin)

So, here we are, my first blog for nearly six months. Any excuse? Not really.

Not only that but my headline is stolen – it’s all in a good cause, though.

On 1 November Kathie Touin (that is Mrs Brown) released a new album of her wonderful songs, Facing The Falling Sky. And it is a super creative collection.

As the person who looks after Kathie’s publicity I am supposed to come up with snappy phrases to promote her work but I cannot beat this quote…

DJ Steve Conway says: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.” Thank you Steve.

Steve is a great supporter of Kathie’s music. He presents a show on Ireland’s 8Radio.com called the A-Z Of Great Tracks and, to date, six of Kathie’s songs have featured – most recently her single, Waiting For The Silence…

Previously Steve was a DJ on Radio Caroline and was one of the crew rescued by RAF helicopter in November 1991 when the station’s radio ship, Ross Revenge, drifted onto the Goodwin Sands. His book ShipRocked: Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline is highly recommended.

It is great for Kathie to get such positive feedback for the album after all the work she has put into it. She wrote the songs, played most of the instruments, did technical wizardry in her own Starling Recording Studio that goes way above my head, mixed and produced the album – oh, and created the artwork.

We held a launch for the album at Orkney Brewery which is situated, conveniently, just beyond the end of the track to our house. In fact, you can see the brewery from our dining room window.

No jokes please – we did manage to organise a launch in a brewery. We invited friends and Kathie, in her Eeyore mode, thought perhaps 10 people might come. In the event there were nearly 60 folk there and the warmth and support feeding back to Kathie meant so much to her.

I was the MC, introducing some tracks played from the CD and some songs played live by Kathie – as well as quizzing Kathie about the songs and the album. Kathie had a string trio join her for one song, Between Heaven And The Sky – thank you Linda Hamilton, cello, and Elizabeth Sullivan and Lesley Macleod, violins, it was beautiful.

cottage close up2
Publicity shot for Facing The Falling Sky (image: Kathie Touin)

Kathie was interviewed by BBC Radio Orkney for their daily breakfast news programme. You can hear this on Kathie’s SoundCloud feed…

She also featured in our weekly newspaper, The Orcadian, and the online Orkney News reported from the launch.

How would I describe the album? Well, herein lies a problem. These days, of course, music is distributed digitally for download and streaming as well as in physical form (CD in the case of this album). And the digital sites like to have the music put into categories.

Here, I admit, Kathie struggles and her publicity person (me) is not much help either. It is not folk, though I see on Google that is how Kathie is labelled. It is not progressive. It is not electronic. But it does have elements of all three, and more. The closest we have come is folktronic, or folktronica. Answers on a postcard please!

The digital world is a two-edged sword for artists. Potentially it gets the music to anyone, anywhere in the world thanks to Kathie’s website and to digital distribution (Apple Music, Spotify, Google Music, Amazon Music and so on).

But the downside is the income, or should I say lack of it, particularly for streams. A single stream on Spotify, to give two examples from Kathie’s previous albums, could pay you $0.00030394 or perhaps $0.00235781. I don’t know why the figures vary, both were songs written and performed by Kathie. Either way, she is not going to get rich that way.

Recently a track from Kathie’s piano music album Soliloquy Deluxe – Valses Poeticos by Granados – was streamed 133 times on Google Music Store resulting in a total payment of $0.68815381. Hey-ho.

Anyway, back to the new album, Facing The Falling Sky. It has received airplay on BBC Radio Scotland, Radio Caroline, Vectis Radio, Deal Radio, Biggles FM and Glastonbury FM and, who knows, elsewhere in the UK and beyond?

I had hoped for airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music but despite sending eight copies to various people we have not achieved that particular breakthrough. Who knows whether anyone there ever got to listen to the album from the hundreds they must receive each week?

Whatever, I think the album is fantastic and well worthy of UK-wide, indeed, worldwide, airplay. To repeat Steve Conway’s quote once more: “It’s truly brilliant. It’s like a late-night conversation with an old friend in a remote windswept house.”

Here is some more feedback Kathie has received…

“I’ve listened to it several times and each time find something else I like… Your vocals are great, a lovely sound, smooth and warm.”

“Really enjoying your CD. How catchy some of the tunes are – Waiting For The Silence is a real ear-worm!”

“Just the answer to the dreich winter weather bringing into your home a warmth and seasonal feel.”

“Such a good album packed full of great tracks.”

So there.

Poster for Kathie Touin’s new album (image: Kathie Touin)

You can buy the album from Kathie’s website – the CD comes with an attractive lyrics booklet – or from shops in Orkney including The Old Library and The Reel in Kirkwall, the Waterfront Gallery and JB Rosey in Stromness, and Castaway Crafts in Dounby.

If you are into downloads or streaming Facing The Falling Sky is on all the regular outlets including Apple Music, Google Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and CD Baby (Kathie’s digital distributor).

Go on, give it a listen. You could even email 6 Music and request a play!

Graham Brown

To find out more

Kathie’s website – http://www.kathietouin.com/

Kathie’s blog – https://kathietouin.wordpress.com/

Steve Conway on Twitter – https://twitter.com/steveconway

8Radio.com – http://8radio.com/

Radio Caroline – http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Orkney Brewery – https://www.orkneybrewery.co.uk/

Hello again

Now, where were we? Oh yes, writing a blog, at least one a month is my self-imposed rule. I see I published a blog each month until, oh, there was no blog in June. But there was one in July and then – err, nothing since. So, it is time to get this blog back on track. Oh to be like our neighbour Sarah Norquoy who writes something like eight blogs a month (well worth reading, by the way).

Since mid-July I have been either working full-time or showing three sets of visitors around Orkney. I took early retirement before moving to Orkney in April 2010 and I found full-time work pretty exhausting. That said, they are a good crowd at the RSPB office in Orkney and I do enjoy spending time with them.

Anyway, here we are again – what do I have to tell you?

Welcoming visitors to Orkney in July and August was a reminder of why my wife Kathie Touin and I moved to Orkney. There is so much to see, beautiful islands to visit by ferry, lots of history (including neolithic, Viking, both world wars), wildlife, empty beaches and wonderful people.

Statues in the grounds of Trumland House, Rousay (image: Graham Brown)

Trips with our friends included two visits to the island of Hoy, which have prompted Kathie and I to book a weekend trip there in November in order to see more. One day we sailed to Rousay and enjoyed a picnic in the grounds of Trumland House in the rain and midges – but we enjoyed it. Incidentally, if you are thinking of visiting Orkney, please do, and be reassured that midges are not usually a big problem.

Kitchener Memorial, Marwick Head (image: Graham Brown)

We visited the beautiful St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall and the small but packed and fascinating Orkney Wireless Museum. We discovered more about neolithic times at the amazing Ness of Brodgar dig where pre-history is being re-written, and we looked at the memorial wall bearing the names of 737 men lost with HMS Hampshire in 1916, unveiled last year next to the Kitchener Memorial.

And we took the family of three who stayed with us to experience West Mainland Show in Dounby, not far from where we live, the second biggest agricultural show in the county. It is a great social occasion.

Having visitors is a good way of making you look up – both literally and figuratively – to appreciate what you have. One day we drove to our house from Stromness, a nine-mile journey I take when I return from the RSPB office. “Graham, this is a wonderful commute,” said my friend as we drove through the countryside and past Stenness Loch. He is right.

Other recent highlights for Kathie and me, though not with our visitors, include the Stromness Lifeboat 150th anniversary event and the HMS Tern open day.

Stromness Lifeboat, Longhope Lifeboat Museum vessel, Longhope Lifeboat and Thurso Lifeboat in Stromness Harbour (image: Graham Brown)

Living so close to the sea really makes me appreciate the sterling work done by lifeboat crews, and those in their on-shore back-up teams, and all voluntarily. Orkney is big on charity fund-raising and, as you might imagine, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) is one of the top priorities.

Orkney has three lifeboats – Stromness, Kirkwall and Longhope, Hoy. In 2019, no doubt, there will be moving commemorative events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Longhope lifeboat disaster when the TGB capsized and all eight crew were lost.

At the Stromness event four lifeboats were on display – Stromness, Thurso (from across the Pentland Firth in mainland Scotland), Longhope (current) and the vessel from Longhope Lifeboat Museum.

Control tower at HMS Tern airfield (image: Graham Brown)

HMS Tern is a former Second World War airbase, also known as RNAS (Royal Naval Air Station) Twatt, which is only a couple of miles from our house. Tours of the site are available and some of the remaining buildings are being restored. This will include, in time, the control tower. The open day was a chance to see progress and, of course, another social occasion to meet friends.

Meanwhile Kathie remains busy with her music: teaching piano, taking guitar lessons, writing, and recording both her own music and guests in her Starling Recording Studio.

Otherwise we try to do our bit, volunteering for the RSPB (as well as my paid part-time office work) and as Managers, or committee members, for our village community centre, Quoyloo Old School.

Events at the Old School include a monthly quiz to which all are welcome. The next ones are 20 October and 24 November. And we have Harvest Home on 11 November.

Coming up, I have a new challenge.

I was persuaded to stand for the Harray and Sandwick Community Council by Edith, a village stalwart who is standing down from the council after 30 years. I was flattered to be asked and, it turns out I have been “elected” – eight people stood for eight places so we all get on. My first meeting is due to be in early November so wish me luck.

Graham Brown

Rainbow, with faint second rainbow, seen from the track to our house – which is behind you (image: Graham Brown)

To find out more

Sarah Norquoy’s blog – https://norqfromork.com/

HMS Hampshire – http://hmshampshire.org/

Stromness Lifeboat – http://www.stromnesslifeboat.org.uk/station-history.html

Longhope Lifeboat – http://www.longhopelifeboat.org.uk/

HMS Tern – http://hmstern.co.uk/

BBC Radio Orkney In Conversation – Robbie Fraser speaks to Cecilia Pemberton and Walter Crosby about life in the Second World War at HMS Tern –

RSPB Orkney – https://www.facebook.com/rspborkney

Quoyloo Old School – https://en-gb.facebook.com/Old-School-Quoyloo-462982410411472/

Kathie Touin – http://www.kathietouin.com/

PS For a blast of nostalgia, and a demonstration of how radio should be done, try this show I have just listened to: Alan Freeman’s last Saturday Rock Show for BBC Radio 1 from 1978…

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Planet Earth (image: courtesy of NASA)
Planet Earth (image: courtesy of NASA)

And so that was Christmas, to mis-quote John Lennon – “And what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun” as he actually sang on Happy Christmas (War Is Over).

Well, we know one thing for sure, war and violence is not over. If anything, terrorism seems more unpredictable and brutal than before.

And, like any year, the world of 2014 was full of misery, poverty, illness and accidents – this year’s litany including, but by no means restricted to, Ebola, the Ukraine, lost airliners, the suicide of Robin Williams, desperate refugees in overcrowded boats, Syria, Palestine, more cases of historical abuse of the young in the UK coming to light, the list goes on.

Closer to home, and equally painful for those involved, many folk had personal tragedies. I know two women who unexpectedly lost their husbands this year at desperately young ages.

Sometimes I muse on the world, and human beings – is it essentially evil and hopeless, or essentially loving and positive? Your own answer might depend on your perspective, your beliefs, or on what happened to you in 2014.

I tend to think we are overwhelmingly loving and positive – perhaps I am kidding myself, perhaps I’m a hopeless optimist – but most people get through most days without inflicting violence on others, perhaps do a few good deeds, and at the same time appreciate the beauty of the natural world around them. At least I hope so.

Leaving aside the tragedies of 2014, it has been an interesting year politically – and if, like me, you live in Scotland it was fascinating and exciting. The referendum on Scottish independence ignited the political debate like nothing else has done for years.

What of next year? Well, only fools make firm predictions but it seems unlikely any one party will get an overall majority at the UK General Election on May 7. It also seems likely that the SNP – despite failing to gain Scottish independence – will make considerable gains at the expense of Labour. Meanwhile the Green Party and UKIP will probably get large numbers of votes but may struggle to translate them into seats at Westminster.

Will we have another coalition government? Perhaps, though the various parties concerned might not be so willing this time around. A minority government? Maybe more likely. Minority governments are, of course, more unstable so that could lead to another election in quick succession.

So having moved the Scottish Parliamentary elections back a year, to 2016, to avoid the General Election, we could still end up with both elections in the same year. We shall see.

One outcome of the Referendum was the resignation of Alex Salmond as Scotland’s First Minister, to be replaced by Nicola Sturgeon, the first woman to hold the post. And, like her predecessor, she is far more capable than most if not all Westminster politicians – someone you would want on your side, whatever your political beliefs.

Here in Orkney the reassuring rhythms of the year continue (see my blog: The Rhythms And Markers Of An Orcadian Year) but even in our sometimes apparently cosy world there have been losses, of individuals, of people’s jobs, of dreams and schemes.

During the year Orkney’s commercial so-called community radio station closed. Sadly, the Super Station Orkney was a missed opportunity, not really a community station, more a jukebox with adverts, something I wrote about in a 2011 blog (Where Is The Super Station In Orkney?). Not only that, the station’s management handed the licence back to Ofcom without giving local folk the chance to take it over and create a genuine community station.

Fortunately here in Orkney we have The Orcadian, a proper and detailed local newspaper, and excellent programmes from BBC Radio Orkney, an opt-out of BBC Radio Scotland which fulfils many of the functions of a community radio station.

Orkney in 2014 has also seen some exceptional weather. Despite what a few folk in the south of England believe, we are not in “the frozen north”. Yes, it is frequently wet and windy, and sometimes stormy, but rarely frozen. We have milder temperatures than the Highlands of Scotland, for example, because we are surrounded by water and because we benefit from the Gulf Stream.

However, towards the end of this year we had a large number of thunder storms, and numerous lightning strikes. Some people lost chimneys, and many folk lost telephone lines and their internet. In fact, on New Year’s Eve BBC Radio Orkney reported this: “BT say that more than 300 lightning-related faults remain outstanding in Orkney and it will be well into the New Year before the backlog is cleared. Additional engineers from Inverness, Glasgow and the English Midlands are being drafted in from next week.”

We had some lightning strikes in Orkney last year as well – and one family lost their home in a fire as a result – so we all hope this will not become an annual event.

What has happened on a personal level this year? My wife, Kathie Touin, has had some excellent musicians and artists pass through her Starling Recording Studio. And as the year ends she is working on her own recordings – listen out in 2015.

During 2014 Kathie acquired her first grand piano, so realising a lifetime ambition – see Kathie’s blog for more on that (My Life In Pianos).

We enjoyed trips to northern Arizona, where Kathie’s family now lives, and closer to home – but still two flights away – to the Isle of Wight and London. More about these trips in previous blogs as well (Arizona Dreamin’; London Calling, And The Isle Of Wight Too).

Our rescue Border Collie, Roscoe, continues to amuse and entertain us, and more than repay our time and vet’s bills.

We both continue to volunteer with the RSPB and I now find myself on another committee – this time working to restore Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial in a way that better remembers the more than 700 men who died when HMS Hampshire sank, a couple of miles from Orkney, in a terrible summer storm.

The centenary of this event is 5 June 2016, less than 18 months away. It will be a timely reminder of how fragile and precious life is.

I will close with the words I posted on my Twitter account in the early hours of 2015: Happy New Year, one and all. Keep relaxed, cherish your loved ones, be kind to those you know, smile at strangers.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Wikipedia on The Gulf Stream: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_Stream

Kathie Touin

Starling Recording Studio

The Orcadian

BBC Radio Orkney on Facebook

Kitchener Memorial on Facebook

Kitchener Memorial on Twitter

Arizona Dreamin’

The author in Holbrook - on Route 66 in Arizona
The author in Holbrook – on Route 66 in Arizona

Yes, I know the The Mamas & the Papas’ song is California Dreamin’ – incidentally, a great song and, according to Wikipedia, number 89 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

But California Dreamin’ is now off limits and it’s Arizona for me. Let me explain.

My wife Kathie Touin is American and hails from Southern California. So visits to Kathie’s family took us to that part of the world. But last year the family moved – parents, sister, her daughter and husband, all of them – to two locations in Northern Arizona.

And so for the family visit we’ve just undertaken to the States it was Arizona for us. And, I must say, we enjoyed our visit very much.

I love California but the southern end is pretty crowded, busy so-called freeways, countless new housing developments, seemingly endless suburbia.

But in Arizona – at least the part we visited – we found small, friendly communities with space between them. And spectacular scenery.

The Grand Canyon - it's big, really big.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona – it is big

Do not worry, I am not going to give a blow-by-blow account of what we did each day, or make you sit through all our holiday photographs, but I’d like to share some of the impressions I took away with me from our stay.

Incidentally, geography fans, Arizona is to the east of California and the west of New Mexico, while to the south is Mexico itself, so the state is land-locked.

We were based with Kathie’s parents in Cottonwood, a small town with a population in the 2010 census of less than 10,500, according to Wikipedia. I must say, judging by the number and size of the shops alone it seemed a little bigger than that.

The town sits at 3,300 feet above sea level – at home in Orkney we are just above sea level – and during the week our travels in Arizona would take us up to more than 8,000 feet.

The Petrified Forest, Arizona - wood turned into stone
The Petrified Forest, Arizona – wood turned into stone

The first impression has to be the heat, particularly for us coming from Orkney. It is dry. Really dry. After a few days your skin dries out. Leave your washed t-shirts out to dry and they are ready in about half-an-hour or so – the air just sucks out the moisture.

A familiar image on Arizona tourist souvenirs is a skeleton in the desert with the caption, “It is a dry heat”.

The temperatures were ok for us, heading towards the 80s, which was fine in the dry heat. We were there for the last two weeks of April, but now in late May temperatures are edging into the 90s in Cottonwood and further south in Phoenix – where our plane landed – over 100. That would have been too hot for us.

One side effect of the dry heat is the static electricity. My wife Kathie Touin and I were constantly getting shocks from everyday objects and each other.

There was one day of heavy rain, coupled with wind whistling around my in-laws’ house, then later sun, rain again, and even some hail. It was rather like an Orkney day.

Their neat, single-storey house – much larger than they would get for their dollars in California – reminded me of visits to southern Spain, with tiled floors and ceiling fans to keep the heat down.

Red Rock, Arizona
Red Rock, Arizona

By contrast my sister and brother-in-law live in Rim Rock, a scattered community about 20 minutes away, where they have spectacular views out to the mountains and a home which is a major restoration and re-building project – but that is the way they like it.

Out and about we noticed lots of old cars – as my brother-in-law pointed out, they do not rust in the dry atmosphere. However, some of the paintwork has clearly faded in the hot sun.

We saw many solar panels, placed to take advantage of the sun. There was a school, close to where we were staying, where solar panels had been built on concrete stands above the car park thereby creating both a solar panel farm and a shaded car park.

Water is, of course, important in the heat. We even spotted in Cottonwood a store called Water Mart which seemed to sell just water and water containers, up to enormous proportions.

"More tea vicar?" "No, that's plenty thank you. Is this real tea?"
“More tea vicar?” “No, that’s plenty thank you. Err… Is this real tea?”

Of course, here in the UK we always joke that everything in the USA is bigger – the cars, the food, the roads – and to a certain extent that is true.

Food and drink portions in restaurants are generous and Kathie noticed the supermarkets now sell many products at supersize. The roads are wide – if you go the wrong way and the rules allow, performing a u-turn is easy, there’s no need for three-point turns.

I also noticed the railway trains were huge. Several times we crossed or drove alongside a railway line which seemed to run roughly parallel to the old Route 66 Chicago to Los Angeles road. My niece, who is at college in Flagstaff, Arizona, tells me there are occasional passenger trains on the route. But mostly they run enormous freight trains, typically hauled by two, three or even four diesel engines. The trucks usually carry shipping containers, sometimes two per truck, one on top of the other.

Double-headed train in Flagstaff, Arizona - there were two more diesel engines at the rear
Double-headed train in Flagstaff, Arizona – there were two more diesel engines at the rear

While we were in Flagstaff we had to wait at a crossing while one of these freight trains trundled through. This one had two diesel engines at each end to power it. I had wondered aloud earlier that day about the length of these trains and my niece, bless her, counted all the trucks through – 134 on a single train. On a rough calculation of each truck being 30 to 40 feet long, the train was easily more than a mile long.

A train more than a mile long rumbles through Flagstaff, Arizona
The train – more than a mile long – rumbles through Flagstaff, Arizona

Arizona is a Republican state and the people there still seem to have something of the spirit of the Wild West. Unlike in California – and I would imagine most places in the USA – you can ride a motorcycle without a crash helmet and riders mostly do so.

More startling, coming from the UK, you are allowed to openly carry guns in Arizona. Not many people appeared to do this but we saw a few men exercising their right to bear arms, openly – including one retired man who came to the breakfast diner with his pistol in his holster.

Ready for departure on the Verde Canyon Railroad
Ready for departure on the Verde Canyon Railroad

Arizona is a big attraction for tourists and we saw countless out-of-state cars, ie cars with non-Arizona registration plates. People had travelled from the neighbouring states of California, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada but also from much further afield. We saw plates from, amongst others, New York, Florida, Washington and Alaska.

I guess it helps for your US road trip that fuel is much cheaper than in the UK. A typical price for a US gallon of unleaded seemed to be $3.47. Admittedly a US gallon is only 3.8 litres, compared to an Imperial (UK) gallon of 4.5 litres but even so it seemed a bargain to me.

It is no longer true that US cars are much bigger than European ones – sadly, gone are the days of endless chrome and large tail fins. American vehicles look very much like the ones we see at home – as Americans have moved to slightly smaller vehicles, we in Europe have moved to bigger ones. And, of course, car manufacturers want to make “world vehicles” that can be sold anywhere, so reducing their costs.

Towed trailer at Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Towed trailer at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

But you can still see some exceptions. We spotted a Phaeton camper at a petrol station, sorry, gas station, which was enormous – it was the size of a luxury coach. And at the wonderfully named Dead Horse Ranch State Park, on the edge of Cottonwood, we saw a towed caravan that you would be hard-pressed to manoeuvre on European roads.

Being loyal members of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) we also did some wildlife spotting while we were there. I expect Kathie will write about this in detail in her blog – as she was in charge of identification and the all-important list of what we saw – but it was great to see colourful birds like cardinals and orioles, as well as birds of prey such as turkey vultures rising high above us on the thermals.

And, of course, we did some sight-seeing while were there.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona - I mean, really big.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona – I mean, really big

One of the highlights included the Grand Canyon. It is big. Really big. I was reminded of the wonderful Douglas Adams quote about space from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: “Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

It is hard to capture the Grand Canyon in photographs but, of course, like every other tourist we tried. The guide books tells us it is 277 miles long, a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide.

Other highlights included the beautiful scenery in Red Rock – aptly named – the Painted Desert – also aptly named – the Petrified Forest, driving the scenic route through the tall trees of Oak Creek Canyon, the spectacular ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, and visits to the Route 66 towns of Flagstaff, Williams and Holbrook.

The author at the giant Meteor Crater
The author at the giant Meteor Crater

And, also big, really big, was the giant Meteor Crater – rather like the Grand Canyon, it was impossible to get a real impression in photographs but we tried. The crater was created by a meteor which landed at a speed of perhaps 40,000mph. We are told the crater is large enough to hold 20 football pitches – American football, presumably – and the banking created would hold two million spectators. Amazing.

Of course, we enjoyed eating out at establishments including Mexican restaurants, a steak-house, diners (breakfast out is a particular treat) and a very cute tea shop.

And we went shopping. Despite saying we would cut down on this visit we still had to pay excess baggage to get one of our cases onto the airliner leaving Phoenix for the return to the UK.

It wasn’t all expensive stuff – well, Kathie’s cowboy boots were not cheap – but we also discovered the joys of the charity shops, or goodwill shops as they are known. I’m particularly proud of my “You’ve been goosed by the mongoose” t-shirt, which celebrates a radio station in the Virgin Islands.

Well, I must stop. It is difficult when trying to describe a new destination. Is what we saw typical of Arizona? I think so. Of the USA? Up to a point. Is it different from what we saw in California? Yes. Is that because the United States itself has changed since our last visit two years ago? In part. But also because Arizona is different in itself.

It was a great trip and we look forward to a return visit.

PS Don’t forget to look out for Kathie’s blog when she has a free moment from her Starling Recording Studio.

PPS. All photographs in this blog taken on inexpensive smart phone. More images on my Instagram page: http://instagram.com/grahambrownorkney

The Painted Desert, Arizona
The Painted Desert, Arizona

To find out more

http://www.arizonaguide.com/ – Tourist guide to Arizona

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottonwood,_Arizona – Wikipedia: Cottonwood, Arizona

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arizona – Wikipedia: Arizona

http://az.gov/ – The Arizona state website

http://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm – National Park Service webpages about the Grand Canyon

http://tiffinmotorhomes.com/phaeton – Want to buy a Phaeton?

The Mamas & the Papas – California Dreamin’ –

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Dreamin’ – Wikipedia: California Dreamin’

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker’s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy – Wikipedia: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

https://twitter.com/starlingorkney – Starling Recording Studio, Orkney on Twitter

Brakes off, we’re speeding into 2013 and there’s no stopping…

The Earth taken in December 1968 by Apollo 8 astronauts as they became the first humans to circumnavigate the Moon (image courtesy of NASA)
The Earth taken in December 1968 by Apollo 8 astronauts as they became the first humans to circumnavigate the Moon (image courtesy of NASA)

Well, here we are, a week or so into a New Year. What will it bring for us all?

For Kathie and me it started on a positive note – we went to one of the most enjoyable New Year’s Eve events we’ve ever attended.

As we are in Scotland I should properly call it a Hogmanay party, as this is how New Year’s Eve is known here. In fact, it was our first Hogmanay party; last year we were visiting my father in England, two years ago we were at home and before that we were living in London.

The party was held in the old school here in our village of Quoyloo. It is actually one of two old schools in the village, the one that is used as a village hall. The other old school is now the Orkney Brewery & Visitor Centre which is handily placed just beyond the end of our drive.

But even the “village hall” old school – I hope you’re following this – is only ten minutes away on foot so just after 10pm off we set off in sensible walking gear and with a torch.

The set-up for the party was straightforward. Recorded music playing off a computer through large speakers and, down either side of the room, trestle tables and benches. We all brought our own booze and “nibbles” were provided. The adults sat talking and drinking, while the children ran around crazily, loving a late night out.

Ah yes, nibbles. I should have realised this was an Orkney event. We had a large dinner before going out only to discover that by “nibbles” the organisers of the event meant a large spread of delicious food.

Many of the folk we know in the village were there. At midnight we listened to the New Year chimes over the radio and then everyone stood up and circulated around the room, shaking hands, hugging and kissing as they went.

It was a simple event and that was its strength – though it was not without considerable work for the organisers which, I believe, was the community council. Thank you to everyone involved.

And so we go into the New Year with high hopes.

Mrs Brown, Kathie Touin, is busy setting up her Starling Recording Studio and has exciting work coming up through her University of the Highlands & Islands course in Applied Music – though she is hampered at present by a wrist injury after the dog yanked on his long line at Christmas.

I’m planning to clear my office – I love it as a room, particularly since I decorated it last year, but I’ve allowed too much junk to pile up and I want it to be a more relaxing space.

I’m about to take-over as the RSPB Local Group treasurer and I have work to do to promote the photographic competition the group is running with Orkney Camera Club.

Also I hope to have some more paid work at the RSPB and perhaps freelancing elsewhere – but not too much!

Kathie and I will both be busy with Roscoe, our rescue collie dog, who has now been with us for more than six months. He provides endless fun and laughter in the house.

My flying-V ukulele has been neglected in 2012 so that’s a priority for me – and something Roscoe will no doubt enjoy.

And we look forward to welcoming more visitors to Orkney, and to our home, during the spring and summer.

Not everything is rosy for everyone, of course. I know two folk who are each in deadly serious battles with cancer, as well as a close relative who hopes to have beaten cancer. Another friend is trying to cope with a mother who does not recognise her.

We all know people facing these and other issues and, frankly, we never know when they will turn up on our doorstep.

Others on our planet face death and destruction through war, or through natural disaster.

And some folks live in peaceful places but find a random act of unspeakable violence takes away their loved ones.

So I am thankful for good times, reasonable health and the beauty of Orkney, where Kathie and I live. And we pray, each in our own way, for those less lucky now and in the future.

I wish you and yours a peaceful, rewarding New Year.

Graham Brown

To find out more

Starling Recording Studio on Twitter

Kathie Touin

Visit Orkney

Orkney Brewery & Visitor Centre

RSPB Orkney blog

Orkney Camera Club – enter the RSPB Local Group/Orkney Camera Club photographic competition – Wild Orkney: The Way I See It – through this website.