Thursday, 4 May 2017

Arnol Blackhouses, Isle of Lewis

These are the blackhouses, situated in a bleak and open area on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. They are unique. Built into the land, with earthy banks round them to keep in the warmth and keep out the cold, they have thatched roofs, held down against the wind by rope and heavy stones.

Life inside them would have been dark and cosy. There is some light but the overall impression is of it being a dark living space. Look carefully at the picture above and you'll see the hole in the thatch at the end of each house. This is the window, which was there to let in air as well as light. It shows up on the picture here. Cosiness would have come from the curtained bed set into the wall, in what would have been a bedroom, complete with chamber pot.

In the middle of the separate living area there is an open fire, set directly below another opening in the roof to let out the smoke. When I visited it was gloomy, with very little light, and the room reeked of smoke. Living, cooking, and eating all happened in this room. One section of the house was divided to provide pens for animals, which could be  sheltered inside.

These long houses are are part of the Hebridean heritage. They are kept as they were when in use to give visitors an idea of what life as a small holder husbanding a few animals would have been like.

I can sum up what I think life would have been like in one word. Hard.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

A devil-horned spider

Of all the wildlife and living creatures I saw during my recent trip to Costa Rica, this spider has to be the weirdest and most fascinating. It's an Arrowhead Micrathena, and it's a female.

The guide we had for our visit to Manuel Antonio National Park, on the Pacific coast, spotted it and made sure we saw it close up, both with our eyes (it was close to the path) and then an enlarged version through the scope he carried with him. It's quite small and we were able to get close to it.

At first I couldn't make out which was the spider and which, as I imagined, was its prey, as I thought it had caught a large insect. But no, Andres our guide assured me that it was 100% spider, and that the two horns at the end of its body aren't something it's caught. 

What was also interesting is that this particular spider spins a web with no centre. Instead of there being a central point in the web, there is a hole. The spider sits in the hole, its legs clinging to the sides, and through the hole it has access to both sides of the web. We speculated on how it began spinning its web - this one was large, vertical and the silk threads looked strong - without the usual central starting point.


Friday, 24 March 2017

Quiet - the Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

In a world where outgoing confidence, having plenty to say and being expected to assert oneself in the marketplace and workplace are the "norm", it's refreshing to hear someone speak out for the introverts - those quieter people - who aren't naturally up front.
Quiet people tend to be introverts, and at least one third of the people we know are introverts. They prefer listening, they may not like speaking too much and when they do speak they will have considered their response rather than jump in spontaneously to say something. 

As I read this book I became increasingly comforted by the fact that I'm an introvert. I don't like to shoot my mouth off without a bit of reflection first; I prefer working alone and in silence and although I have worked in a team in an open plan office, I really found it distracting and not conducive to creative thought or productivity. Susan Cain's input on these very issues resonated strongly with me. Starting from the Myers-Briggs concept of Introvert and Extrovert personality types, she outlines some of the traits the of the introvert in an interesting and very readable way.

Not all introverts are hermit-types or shut themselves away. Some are accomplished public speakers, but what they do need is essential down time after giving a talk, lecture or presentation, to recharge their batteries and offset the feelings of being drained. Many introverts who have to perform publicly can develop a public persona which they assume for the period of time needed to be "on stage". She gives the example of a high-powered public speaker known to her who retreats to the bathroom and shuts himself into one of the cubicles in order to regain his personal recovery space.

Introverts can be very creative and inventive. Cain offers many examples of people who are content to beaver away alone in order to produce something which may benefit all. Here she discusses Chopin, Dr. Seuss and Steve Wozniak, all of them introverts who have contributed something to society.

This is not only an interesting but thought-provoking book, and if you wonder if you might be an introverted type, it will act as reassuring confirmation that all is OK for you to be just the way you are, too.