Monday, 26 June 2017


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Books From Blogs - The Book

In my post on  12 June I discussed some alternatives for  converting blogs to books. I decided to try out Blook. I now have the book and an ebook in three formats which should cover any ereader. The book has 154 pages and covers the first three months of blog posts for my first blogging year in New Zealand (which, unfortunately, was not my first year there).


Advantages: It took very little time and is very simple to do. The quality is good.
Disadvantages: There is little flexibility and if a post has one word (one of mine had a heading: 'Paper Wasp' and a text 'R.I.P.'.) then it still occupies one page. Only softback is offered.
Cost: The cost of the paper book alone was £49.31. The cost of the ebook at £3.44 (standard rate regardless of size). The cost of carriage worldwide was £6 (regardless of size).

Having done one I will certainly do more. My next one will enjoy a 15% discount.

I anyone want to have a go then the first person I introduce who produces a book will get a 30% discount. (as would I).

I may also have another try with Blog2Book which, last try, met with technical problems.

Post script: Since writing this several commenters have pointed out that there are no dates on the posts in the book. I hadn't noticed! Silly me. That is quite a serious disadvantage. I shall investigate.

Monday, 19 June 2017

A Mug's A Mug For Aw That

Some years ago (in fact, and rather scarily, well over a decade ago) I came across this mug. It's rather chunky but it appealed to me because it was unusual and very comfortable to hold. Unfortunately I couldn't find out who made it.

When I was watching the morning news on the BBC's Breakfast programme it struck me that no one held their coffee mug by the handle.  Everyone held it like this:

Thank you Marcel/David. I try to live by this mantra.
So I wondered what you might think of the innovative design and how you hold your mug. 

Those who prefer China tea cups need not respond.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Fire Safety

The terrible fire at Grenfell Tower affected me deeply in the same way that it has doubtless affected anyone who followed it during that night and in the days since. I've always been a bit obsessive over fire safety. During the war our Dad was a fireman by night on the Liverpool Docks which were a prime target for enemy bombers. When we were young Dad taught us quite a lot about fire safety. So I've always had fire extinguishers in the house and car. I've been fortunate never to have needed them for myself although I did once extinguish a car fire for someone whose car burst into flames in the middle of a roundabout near Chester many years ago. Nowadays with fire extinguishers being so cheap it's not even worth getting them overhauled. I just replace them every so often. 

It goes without saying that my house is fitted with smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and that they are fully checked and maintained.I hope that yours are too.

However I was thinking about means of escape this morning. My house is all on one ground floor (apart from the loft which is used for storage). It has three doors to the outside and, apart from the bathroom and bedrooms all rooms have more than one door. 

Windows (except ones which open to the floor) are not (unless things have changed in the last couple of decades) allowed to be counted as means of escape in case of fire. However in an emergency anyone able bodied enough would obviously uses a window if they had to. That's probably more the case if one had to be rescued from the first or second floor by a fireman.

However it is a requirement of most, if not all, house insurance policies that windows fitted with locks (which means most double glazing for a start) are locked when the house is not occupied and that the key is not visible from the outside. Failure to comply can invalidate the policy. Of course most people check that their windows are shut and latched before they go out but I suspect that very very few people lock them. I'm also fairly sure that those who do cannot be bothered unlocking them all when they come home.

I'm also a bit obsessive over making sure that I follow the letter of insurance policies (which is probably one reason why I've never had any trouble with claims). So my windows are locked even though up here on Lewis theft from private properties is almost unknown. The trouble with that is that I only unlock them when I want to open them (which, in all honesty, is not that often here). 

If, therefore, in the middle of the night there was a fire cutting off my escape from my bedroom I'd hop out of the window. However in such a case I'd almost certainly find that the key for the windows had dropped off its hook and disappeared into the washing basket or under the bed. Life's like that.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017


I have hundreds of old LPs. They have been in the loft in boxes since I moved into this house over 23 years ago. I do still have an analogue turntable for playing them but have never bothered. The quality of CDs is so much higher (some people would argue against that but even they would have to admit that CDs are at least free of dust crackle).  So they are going to Oxfam who not only have dedicated music shops but also sell vinyl on line. Today I got them out of the loft:

Of course I couldn't do all that without looking through them. That led to some awakening of a lot of memories: LPs I'd forgotten I ever had; music I remembered with considerable fondness; music I haven't listened to for years; and a realisation that although I have more 'classical' than anything else my tastes have always been catholic or eclectic. 

Was the first record I ever bought still there and still playable? Yes it was there. There was only one way to find out whether it was playable. So a search of the loft and the turntable emerged and I plugged it into the amplifier.

Yes. It is and as I write this it is playing and, apart from the start which is showing signs of being well over half a century old, it is in remarkably good condition.

What was the record?

One of the reasons I chose that record was that Sir Malcolm Sargent had been my mother's hero when she was a member of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society and I had seen him conduct. I bought it in Rushworth and Dreaper, piano makers, in Liverpool's Whitechapel just along from NEMS which was one of Brian Epstein's shops. But that's another story.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Books From Blogs

In the comments on my last post Cro wondered if I had considered printing my blog. As it happens I had but, today, I decided to explore the matter further whilst it was in my mind. I discovered that I had tried several times before to do that very thing. 

Blurb (which I have used for photobooks for people) turned out to have a major problem because the editing would have taken me a lifetime and there is a limit on the number of pages one can download with no apparent way of using dates to limit the number. 

Blog2book seemed to tick all the boxes but I kept getting the message that there was a problem, that their engineers would look at it and then it all crashed - repeatedly.

I ended up doing a trial run for the first three months of my NZ blog (of which there are about 60 months of posts) with Blook. The advantage is that it's very easy. The disadvantage is that there is no editing and every post starts on a new page. The first three months cost £63 (but one gets a free eBook version).

I will report upon the results in due course.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Ten Years

I started blogging 10 years ago today. In that time I have written two main blogs: this one when I was/am not in New Zealand and A Hebridean in New Zealand when I was living half each year in that wonderful country. In all I have published 3170 posts (and written a lot more that I never published). That's a pretty sizeable portion of my life if one takes into account the time used to take and sort the photos added to the fact that it usually takes me a while to write a post. As an aside I often wish that I'd had the mind of a journalist and not the mind of a bureaucrat when it comes to writing.

The principal reason that I started blogging was to keep friends in the UK au fait with what I was up to in my 6 months during the New Zealand half of my life and vice versa when I was back in Scotland. I thought that it would save me time on emails. Little did I know what it would blossom into and the beautiful friendships it would bring me and the wonderful places I would see through those friendships.

It had been my intention to trawl through the blogs and see if I could identify a post or two that stood out in my affections or the affections of you, my readers, but the task is beyond the time I have at my disposal given that I've already spent the best part of a day in total on it. That's not to say that I haven't been doing some reminiscing on my blogs. I have. It brought back so many happy memories and astonished me that I had forgotten so many things. If I am fortunate to arrive at old age then I shall be able to live again through those memories. I shall be sad sometimes but I shall also be happy.

The first image on this blog was a view from the house over the Minch to the Scottish mainland. It's a view I've shown many times since.

My first photo on the New Zealand blog was of The Handbag. It was my trusty steed  in that country for nearly a decade

I'm sure that over the next while (what a vague statement) there will be some reminiscing on this blog but I shall leave you with my enduring view of the hills of Hawkes Bay

Thursday, 8 June 2017

For the Love of Bees

It's official. I am a member of the International Bee Appreciation Society.

Those of you who have followed my New Zealand blog will be no stranger to Kate Steeds although you may not have seen her posts on The Cottleston Gallery at which the AGM of the Society was held - or was it?  Among many others my 'portrait' appeared:

Tuesday, 6 June 2017


Why? Why does all our food have to be perfect? If I grow vegetables then I eat them in the form that they come out of the ground or off the plant, bush or tree. Supermarkets, on the other hand, insist on perfection. It may be bland or tasteless but at least the shape will be perfect. I was in a major supermarket a few days ago and I happened to see some lovely looking Hereford strawberries with the following label:

I bought a punnet:

Some of them were a bit misshapen but they were absolutely delicious. At a fraction of the price of the 'perfectly shaped' ones they tasted even better.

It made me wonder exactly why we demand perfection or whether it's just that supermarkets only provide perfection and that marketing is leading.

Either way I would love to know what price perfection adds to our food bills.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Dolce far niente

Literally 'sweet doing nothing'.  For Italians - and I suspect they are the only people who have perfected this art and it, as much as the Mediterranean diet, may have a lot to do with their longevity.  

Today is a day - or rather today is a date - that will always be etched in my mind. A day I decided that I was going to indulge in dolce far niente.  Andrew (Andy), our elder child, died on this day 11 years ago. A very dear friend's father died on this day 10 years ago. Gaz, deciding to try and ameliorate the bad connotations of the day, got engaged on this day 4 years ago. And today we are, yet again, listening to the horrendous effects of terrorism at home. 

Today is also the anniversary of my birth: the 73rd to be precise.

I shall be out to dinner at friends'.  

This coming week I am determined to return to Blogland. I'll see you there.

[Written yesterday, 4 June but posted today]

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Midge Hell

I am on Skye. It is hot. It is Scotland. There is no wind. There are midges. EVERYWHERE. 

The bedroom I am occupying is not large and last night it was hot and stuffy so I opened the window - for 3 seconds and then shut it again. However I could not shut the ventilator. 

Midges, like mosquitoes, are attracted to carbon monoxide. The room soon filled with my breath and thus contained enough carbon monoxide to attract every midge in Portree. Which I think it did.

Despite having disposed of the duvet when I got into bed I woke at 0322 cooking in my own perspiration being bitten mercilessly by females feeding their young (only female midges bite).

It has not been a good night. Fortunately I do not react badly to midge bites which, given that I must have well over a hundred that I can see and there must be many more that I can't, would have been terrible for some people who react very badly.

Today is going to be interesting. I'm meeting a fellow blogger and her husband who will be visiting Skye. I shall blog about that after the event. However this evening I have to drive to Glasgow. I f I'm too tired I might end up sleeping in the car. It's Bank Holiday weekend and it would seem that every available bed in the West of Scotland is occupied for the next few days.

I've blogged about midges many times but this one entitled 'B****y Midges' at least had some humour in it.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Snails and Slugs

It is probably too dramatic to describe the quantity of snails and slugs in the garden last year and now as of plague proportions but it's been pretty near to that.  After the amount of damage last year and after having resorted to slug pellets (which I really hate using because I don't really like killing anything - apart from wasps) I thought that the weather conditions which led to the large numbers were so different this year that things might have changed. Not at all.

A couple of weeks ago some Redwings popped in on their migratory route and in a few minutes two of them had demolished a lot of slugs in the grass at the back of the house.


However what has really puzzled me is the fact that snails always go upwards when it gets very wet. I recall them being collected in the rain when they crawled up the houses in Italy. So finding this one having a drink in the pond was one thing:

 But following this snail trail and finding one in the stream was quite another:

  Anyway a couple of days ago I decided to have a snail hunt and this was my haul:

Since then it's only been about half a dozen a day. I'm hoping that I can keep them under control this year.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Emotionally Drained

Apart from my times in New Zealand when I posted on my other blog this is, I'm pretty sure, the longest period between posts since i started this blog in 2007. 

I've been very busy helping my son get his house finished. It's nearly there. I've also been working on my own house in my 'spare' time.

Yesterday was the turning point.

I'm in Glasgow for a few days and yesterday was one of the most emotionally charged days I can recall for a long time.

The first thing I did was take my beloved Nighthawk to be sold. As she sat there all valeted and gleaming at the Car Auction I steeled myself to walk away. Writing this (after the rest of the day) I want to go back and bid for her, ask for her forgiveness, and take her back to Lewis for a long and happy retirement. As it is I can only hope that her new owner gets as much enjoyment and is as happy with her and as good to her as I have been.

In the afternoon a couple of friends and I travelled over by train to Edinburgh (an impossible place in which to park a car) to see an exhibition of Joan Eardley's paintings at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two). 

Then we went to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre to see Matthew Bourne's ballet company perform his production of The Red Shoes. I love ballet and have done ever since I saw a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake at the Royal Court in Liverpool as part of the Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1965. In New Zealand we used to go to (and I have blogged about) several productions each season at the Napier or Hastings theatres. I've been to far too few productions in the UK. 

Even if one does not like ballet I challenge anyone to go and see yesterday's production and not be moved. For me it was one of the most magnificent, dramatic and emotionally challenging ballet production I have ever seen. The standing ovation was well deserved.

We all arrived back at Anna's in the hour before midnight. Cheese and wine appeared as if by magic and disappeared down grateful throats as we reminisced on a wonderful afternoon and evening.  We eventually made way to our beds and slept....and slept.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

A Sporting Weekend

I really have little interest in watching sport. There are a few exceptions which I do try and watch and enjoy: the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races (brilliant now that the ladies race is given as much TV time as the men's), the Grand National and The Golf Masters from the stunningly beautiful Augusta National Golf Club. 

Having been born in Liverpool it's inconceivable that I wouldn't have come into contact with the Grand National. Almost everyone used to have a flutter (usually as a member of a workplace sweepstake) and may, so far as I know, still do. My family made a (minor) killing in 1956 when E.S.B. won the race. My maternal uncle's initials were E.S.B. Enough said!

This year I knew one runner: One For Arthur and I knew about him because he was the only Scottish trained horse in the race and the owners, registered as Two Golf Widows, managed to make the Scottish news before the race. 

I decided to have a flutter and then realised that to do so I'd probably have to set up an online betting account so abandoned the idea. It's a shame because my intended £10 would have netted me £140 which would have provided a case of an acceptable red. Hey ho.

Then on Sunday night I stayed up to watch the enthralling final round of The Masters where the last people on the course, Justin Rose (England) and Sergio Garcia (Spain), battled it out and at the end of four rounds and 72 holes were level so went to a sudden death play-off. They are friends and their respective partners (wife and fiancée respectively) were very obviously friendly as well. I would have been very happy for either to win but Sergio in his 74th Major event managed his first Major title. 

There was an added poignancy because it would have been his fellow Spanaird the late Severiano "Seve" Ballesteros's 60th birthday.

I was pleased that he won. However what was really heart-warming in this age of business which is called sport was the wonderful attitude that the defeated Justin Rose displayed.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Where is Adrian When He's Needed?

It's probable that CJ will identify this Diptera but if Adrian had still been in Blogland I'm sure that he or one of his readers would have been on the case tout de suite. My best guess is a Cynomya mortuorum but I could be way out. Diptera are really not my strong point. It was on a Grape Hyacinth in my garden today.  I thought it was rather beautiful.

Monday, 27 March 2017


Every answer to a question by a journalist on television these days seems to start with "So..." Am I the only one who finds that intensely irritating.

And whist I'm on the subject of irritating things can anyone explain the rational behind the practice that seems to have developed in the UK (I have no idea whether other countries/cultures also have the practice) of clapping oneself in a situation where one would usually expect other people to do the clapping.

Friday, 24 March 2017

A Beautiful House

Out for a coffee recently we were walking down St Vincent Crescent in Glasgow's Finnieston

and were deafened by birdsong from this wonderfully cultivated frontage:

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

One For The Weegies

Many of you, my dear readers, will know what a Weegie is but many of you will not. A Weegie is a Glaswegian. The Scottish equivalent of a Liverpool Scouser. The difference being that Weegie has an obvious link with the term Glaswegian and Scouser has no grammatical link to Liverpudlian. (I do like rambling introductions).

There has been a rumour for the last couple of centuries that the folk from Lewis are a dour Presbyterian lot.  Presbyterian many may be. Dourness is, however, fading fast and, even then, I'm not sure a many deserved the accolade.

Some years ago a number of statues began to appear in Stornoway. This is one of them. Recently someone with a sense of humour (and probably with Glasgow connections) has tried to outdo the Weegies as their own game.

So what, you might ask, is the Weegies game? It is adorning the head of the Duke of Wellington statue outside the Museum of Modern Art in Glasgow's Royal Exchange Square with a traffic cone.

Monday, 20 March 2017


This week we visited the Huntarian Art Gallery. I enjoy going back every so often to see the Whistler collection and a few other special pieces. Often there is a special exhibition and I never cease to be amazed when I find something new to see in a work I've seen a dozen time before.

Anyone who knows the work of the American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 to 1903) will have their favourites (assuming they like his work). His most iconic works (I think) are his life-size portraits which started with The Symphony in White No 1. The Hunterian has a significant number of these portraits. However whilst they are wonderful works (they have a vaguely Pre-Raphaelite feel about them which attracts me) far and away my favourite work is a small portrait apparently unusually done in one sitting entitled Dorothy Seaton, A Daughter of Eve (1903).

There are a great many versions of this image on the internet including an enlargable one on the Hunterian website at the last link I have given .

This is how I see it:

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Books and People

One of the things that I do when I am in someone's house is look at their book shelves. Books interest me. In fact books interest most people that I know.

I was recently reminded of an incident about 40 years ago when I was living a few doors away from one of my colleagues. We were both new to the Isle of Lewis and were both from the North West of England. Our families had become friendly. We often shared a car into work.

One day I was in the friend's house waiting for him to get ready (I am compulsive about being on time. He wasn't). I started looking at the books on his bookshelves. When he came into the room I said (and I have absolutely no idea why I said) "I hope you don't mind me looking at your books." To which he responded that he most certainly did. Of course I thought he was joking. He was not. He went on to opine that it was a violation of someone's privacy because you could tell too much about a person from their bookshelves.

I suppose that he was correct but I certainly hadn't seen that coming.

Would you object if I was looking at your bookshelves and do you think I would learn a lot?

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Flora Edwards

Where does time go? Where do people go? On this day 15 years ago (and it seems like such a short time) the mother of CJ and me died at the age of 93 with all her faculties. It was her decision to, as she believed, join her husband and many of her friends.

Today the father of a very close friend died. A few days ago a friend in New Zealand died. All during one's life people die but as one gets older it is those of the same age who start dying and somehow this brings one's mortality to one's notice quite forcibly.

This first photo was taken in the early 1930s by my Dad. Mum would have been in her 20s.

I have blogged this photo before. I took it perhaps over half a century ago and it's a photos of which I've always been quite proud.

This photo was taken in the caravan we had towed up to Scotland in about 1960 and somehow the dress doesn't reflect the fact that the caravan was in a waterlogged caravan site at the foot of Ben Nevis. Mum hiked (tramped) and camped all over the English Lake District and Wales but somehow always seemed to be beautifully turned out.

This photos was taken on the same caravanning holiday in Killin. I've spared CJ and me the embarrassment of our photos being shown.

How things have changed.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Abou Ben Adhem

A short while ago Rhymeswithplague wrote a post entitled On approaching the end of one's time on this planet, plus Davy Crockett which, amongst other things, asked the question as to how one should approach life at that time. Bob is a person with strong religious beliefs so some of the comments inevitably revolved around achieving salvation.
My comment was that my motto is simple: carpe diem. As I am atheist I don't try and please a deity but to live as I have always done trying to be considerate to those other humans (at one time I would have said 'my fellow men' but I understand that is frowned upon nowadays) with whom I share this planet. I don't expect or seek salvation. I'd just like others to show me the same consideration. 

To which Bob recommended the short poem "Abou Ben Adhem" by Leigh Hunt for my reading pleasure. As for the not seeking and not expecting, his hope was that I will be pleasantly surprised.

I was astonished because I had not thought about that poem for many years but I responded that some of my Mother's teaching obviously rubbed off on me because it was one of both my Mother's and her Mother's oft quoted works. Not that either of them were atheist.
So, for those of you who are not familiar with the work here it is:

Abou Ben Adhem

By Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Bring a Plate

Until I read Lee's recent post I'd forgotten how unusual the expression 'Bring a plate' must sound when one first arrives in Australia or New Zealand (and perhaps other places of which I am unaware). It is the usual practice when going to a party or when an organisation such as a croquet club is having a function or tournament for guests or members of the host club to 'bring a plate' of food.

It became my standard offering to make a cheesecake. Why? Because the first time that I can recall doing it was for a croquet tournament the club of which I was a member was holding. That must have been in about 2007 and it led to the following incident.

When I came into the clubhouse from a game I was met by a lady from a visiting club who, loudly and in front of all present, asked if I was Graham. That is my name so I decided on an honest approach and admitted as much. "Then marry me!" That, I have to admit totally threw me. I looked around at all the amused faces hoping for help. Of course none came. My obvious perplexedness (I'm sure there's no such word but I'm equally sure that you'll understand what I mean) caused her to ask if I was the maker of 'the cheesecake'. I confirmed that I was. So she repeated her offer of marriage. She was wearing a wedding ring but as she was obviously older than I she could have been a widow. Anyway I took a gamble and said that I didn't think her husband would approve. "Bugger him!" was her response.

At this point I should explain that the term "bugger" is not regarded as a swear word in New Zealand and I doubt very much that many people even know its legal meaning. It is often used by ladies of a certain age without as much as a batted eyelid.

A couple of years ago I was at a tournament and the said lady was talking to a friend. I said 'Hello' as I joined the group and she looked at me and said "Do I know you?" My friend told her that she had once proposed marriage to me. She didn't bat an eyelid; looked me straight in the face and asked if I had accepted. "No." I replied. "Your loss." she retorted and carried on with the conversation.

Of such memories is life's rich tapestry made.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Lengthening Days

For the last few years when I have spent much of my winter in this country I have looked forward to spring. Before the decade of winters spent in New Zealand I didn't think about winter in a negative way at all. I worked during the day and  I hunkered down at night and did winter things. Now the days when it's dark until after 8am and dark again by 4pm have begun to pall. More than that, though, is the uncertainty of being able to leave the Island. Winter gales often stop the ferries and even, on occasion, the planes. However as I can't take my car on the plane and, being over 70, I can't hire a car at my destination I rarely fly unless I'm going abroad.

This year we've actually had one of the sunniest winters on record although that hasn't stopped the gales and rain from playing their usual part in our lives.

But there are signs of Spring. Yesterday the Blackbirds were singing their hearts out as the light faded and I heard a Wren. Today I saw a Wren in the garden and the frogs  decided it was party time and the first spawn appeared about 10 days earlier than the last time I can recall the event.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Inverness at Night

When I was in Inverness a few weeks ago with my son Gaz we stayed at the Glenmorriston Hotel on the bank of the River Ness. I used to stay there years ago when it was far less "upmarket" than it is now. There were no Singapore Sling cocktails available 'back in those days'. After an excellent dinner Gaz and I decided to take advantage of the very cold, crisp late evening air and go for a walk along the river or, to be more accurate, along one bank and back along the other.

The view from my bedroom window
Looking back towards the hotel (not in view) and the Castle. The old Highland and Islands Development Board offices between the camera and the Castle are now luxury apartments
The road bridge from the town centre towards Loch Ness and Fort William
There are a lot of churches on the river's banks
One of several footbridges
Just a closer view
Just a wider view