Sunday 26 December 2010

More Pictures of Winter on Lewis

These pictures taken by Pat tell me just a little of what I've been missing:

 Lews Castle

 Stornoway  from Lews Castle Grounds

 Lews Castle Grounds on harbour front

 Kate and Briagha in Lews Castle Grounds

 Kate beautiful as ever

 Creed River

Creed River

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Winter on Lewis

I know that it's a few years - 2005 to be exact - since I spent any of the winter months on Lewis however this year I'm really missing something - snow.  Pat's been keeping me supplied with photographic reminders and I've realised that I do sort of feel that I'm missing out on something.  Snow is unusual on Lewis.  Even more unusual is the bitter sub zero temperatures the Island has been experiencing.  Here's some idea of what it's like.  The first photo of the back of my house from Carol's at the other end of the township and the rest by Pat alias Spesh.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Panic Set In

I arrived in a wet and miserable Glasgow after the first leg of my journey late yesterday afternoon.  I made up for that with a lovely evening being fed and watered by Anna and having a good catch-up.  However I realised just how dependent upon Broadband I am when I realised that Anna's Broadband provider had been changed and that I couldn't log on to the router:  the password on the router didn't work.  In fact after  dinner Anna discovered from her son who had set it up that the password had changed it and after a few hours I was connected again.  However it did make me think quite hard.  I actually got quite agitated by the inability to attach myself to my cyberworld via my own laptop. 

A few days ago our news had reported upon the effect that having a day completely removed from all electronic media had had on some students who took part in an experiment.  I have to say that I thought that they over-reacted.  Now I'm not so sure that I wouldn't have reacted in the same way.  To some extent I think my reaction was due to the unexpected nature of the withdrawal.  Even so I think I'll trty and avoid it again.

This will be my last post for a couple of days unless I have a few minutes to spare in Heathrow Airport and can log on.  In a couple of hours I shall be setting off for Glasgow airport and the main leg of the journey.  I shall hopefully arrive in Napier at 0930 on Saturday NZ time which will be about 2130 on Friday UK time.  Of course the time difference will alter again in a couple of days when the UK daylight saving/British Summertime ends.

I'll post about the journey on this blog and then I shall be back on A Hebridean in New Zealand. I hope that you will follow me.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

That Time Again

It's just after 11pm or, in my parlance, 2300 hrs on Tuesday 26th as I start this post.  I'm sitting in bed with some Alkan piano music playing.   I don't quite know where this sudden going to bed 'early' and  reading a book or reading blogs has suddenly come from.   I've had a great day and, have shared a bottle of red with a friend this evening (perhaps, given the proportion that I guzzled as compared with her, 'shared' is not quite the correct word).  Tomorrow I shall wake up (this is a prediction based upon the experience of the last 23,500 or so mornings) and by lunchtime the bed will be re-made and the kitchen cleaned and the house will be ready for me to say farewell to it for the next six months.

I would like to think that the plans I had for posting a very brief pictorial review of the last six months will come to fruition but somehow I think that's not going to happen.

Tomorrow afternoon I will start my journey South.  I feel rather like a Godwit or a Swallow in search of constant warmth. 


When Anna and I went to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery to see the Glasgow Boys Exhibition - about which I have not yet blogged much to my shame - we also had coffee in the Gallery's restaurant.  On the table was a curious thing:

What, I wondered, was it?  Well the answer was a

Not the best piece of photography I'm afraid but I think you'll get the drift.  I would have got something a bit clearer from their website but it's down at the moment.   And actually I did wonder what had happened to good old service where a waiter caught your eye or whatever.  There was a bit of conflict in my brain, however, between the me that is the old and the Mr Gadget representing the new.  However it was all a bit academic on the day because I didn't get whatever it was that I'd ordered until after we'd finished our coffee and were just getting ready to leave.  By then I didn't want it and didn't have it.  So perhaps all the gadgets in the world don't necessarily provide good service after all.

Is It Possible?

I've just been looking through some of the photos I have taken this summer so that I could do a posting summarising some of the things that have happened.  All of a sudden I saw something that made me wonder.  Unfortunately it was only part of a photo and by the time it was enlarged it's a bit blurred just where it matters.  But could it be that a certain Blogger and his two dogs were in West Wemyss  on the Fife coast on the 24 August at 1952 hrs? 

Monday 25 October 2010

Two More Sleeps

"Only little children use sleeps to measure time."  I was told yesterday.  Hmmm.  That explains a lot then.  Personally I find it quite a useful and accurate measurement of time remaining before an event.  If, just for the sake of argument, I were to leave in an evening would I count the day in which that evening fell?  Anyway I use sleeps.  Alternatively I could tell you that at the moment I press the full stop at the end of this sentence I will have 2 days 7 hours 49 minutes and 17 seconds before my plane is due to leave the tarmac from Stornoway Airport to convey me to Glasgow where I will stay the night before embarking on the 34 hour journey to Napier.  But, hey, why am I being defensive?  What's wrong at my age of thinking like a child?

My case is packed and my flight backpack just needs my laptop and charger and it'll be ready too.  I've never been so prepared.  So today is the day for cleaning the house, emptying the freezer and fridges and taking down the weather station from the garage roof (In a few hours heavy rain and winds are due to set in for the next few days so I think that might be my first job this morning) and getting the storm shutters in (they will never be carriable in a wind over force 3 because they are humungous).  That will leave tomorrow for coffee in town, a blog entry or two and a relaxing day before I leave on Wednesday.

Sounds good to me.  I wonder if it will pan out like that.

A Whale, an Aircraft or a Sturgeon?

When I was in Chester in September I saw an aeroplane which appeared, even from tens of thousands of feet below, very strange:  it looked like a dolphin - a  flying dolphin.  Hmm.  Today I came across the photo I took which,  considering the great distance involved, shows a remarkable amount of detail.  But what struck me was that it appeared devoid of windows.  So into Google I typed 'Which aeroplane looks like a dolphin?'  Immediately, and very much to my surprise, came back the answer:   an Airbus Beluga (also known as the A300-600ST Super Transporter).   Ah, I thought, it must look like a Beluga Whale but, no, it actually looks like a Beluga Sturgeon.  Why am I still amazed that I had never  seen nor heard of such a huge aircraft and that Google has answered just about very question I've ever thrown at it.

Sunday 24 October 2010

A Weakness of Will

J'ai dit qu'il était très délicieux*.   The result was a gift which has just broken my resolve.   I've been trying to think which culture it is that, if you admire something, then the possessor must give it to you.  I remember hearing that Queen Victoria was prone to taking a rather unfair advantage of that.  Qui sais?  Anyway Sophie the (French) hostess on Friday had provided Terrine de Canard aux Abricots brought directly from Donzy en France.  Les ingrédients étaient Chair de foie gras de canard, oeufs, apricots, sel, poivre, armagnac (foie gras of duck, eggs, apricots, salt, pepper, Armagnac).   It was absolutely decicious.   So delicious, in fact, that I've just been unable to keep up my resolve just to have an apple for lunch today because I have eaten over-well for the last two days.  Ah well.  The waistline will just have to stay as it is for another day.

* I said that it was very delicious

Jenny Wren

There's so much I want to say but the last few days and nights have been very full of doing things and going out enjoying the company of friends and eating (definitely not things to be complained about) but it'll have to wait a bit.  Today I was in the Study just as a Wren landed nearby.  All the recent winds have salted up the windows and it doesn't matter how frequently I hose them down they get dirty again.  However I did manage a couple of semi-reasonable shots of this tiny and fairly secretive bird.  In fact although the Wren Troglodytes troglodytes is also known as the Winter Wren because it is often seen more frequently in winter when it becomes less secretive as it searches for the insects and spiders which are its food.  Apart from the minute Goldcrest I think that the Wren is the smallest British bird  with a length: 9-10 cm (4") wing span: 13-17 cm (5-7") and weight: 8-13 g (¼-½ oz).  It does, though, have an amazingly loud voice!

Friday 22 October 2010

A Redwing Visits

Yesterday I saw the first Redwing of the year in my garden.  Although it was once hoped that they may have become permanent residents in some of the wooded parts of the Island the ones I see are on their was from Iceland to warmer climes for the winter.  They are the smallest of the commoner thrushes in Europe.  Oddly it appeared alone.  Usually Redwings appear in flocks.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Oh What a Difference The Sun Makes

It's 0900 and I've still got the light on in the kitchen because it's so dark and miserable.  Where is the sun that peeped out yesterday?  Albeit between the squalls and downpours.  The house in the photos is perhaps 4 or 500 metres away and the sky yesterday was dark and heavy as another squall approached but the sun lifted it and gave some texture to our lives.  This morning all is grey, very grey.  I should add that the bottom one is also taken through 4/500 metres of fine rain!


Lewis Weather

Lewis Weather

It rained and rained and rained and rained
The average was well maintained
And when the fields were simply bogs
It started raining cats and dogs
After a drought of half an hour
There came a most refreshing shower
And then the queerest thing of all
A gentle rain began to fall.
Next day was pretty fairly dry
Save for a deluge from the sky
This wetted people to the skin
But after that the rain set in
We wondered what's the next we'd get
As sure as fate we'd get more wet
But soon we'll have a change again
And we shall have
A drop more rain

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Battle For Survival (Well, Perhaps Not Quite)

Whilst Pat and I were having coffee at The Woodlands Centre on Monday there was a Gull sitting on the roof with something that he didn't have the ability to swallow whole nor the type of bill that could rip it into pieces. He was, however, defending it against all comers.  Until a Hooded Crow came along and the Gull met its match....and lost the battle.

Look what I've got and it's mine!
Not now, it isn't.  The booty turns out to be a fish.
(Apologies for the lack of clarity - it was taken on telephoto through a rather dirty window)

A bill designed for destruction

Tuesday 19 October 2010

It Turned Out Like This

This was how the sky eventually turned out as evening fell. I wonder if we'll see the moon tonight?

Thank You BT

Well I really have to hand it to the call centre in India that dealt with my call today.  I was just typing on the Mac when I realised that the internet connection was down.  I looked at the BT Homehub and realised that all the lights were on and connected.  I checked Samantha and Palin and they were both connected.  Uh?  One of the things about Macs is that everything is automatic - it just happens - so I had absolutely no idea what to do.  Mac diagnostics are pretty good I found.  They said that the problem was that I needed to contact my service provider.  Hmmm.  But why had the Mac suddenly thrown a wobbly and disconnected?  It couldn't or wouldn't tell me that.  So I rang BT and spoke to Shan.  I spoke to him for 1 hour and 5 minutes.

First thing:  if you have a BT Homehub then make sure that you keep the ethernet cable handy!  I know where my 5 ethernet cables went.  Oops.  Memo: get one back.  However Shan had the patience of a saint and I am now back on line.

The thing was that it was purely a Mac problem.  I'm still not sure what the problem was but I have to say that after 65 minutes Shan never batted an eyelid (ok, the occasional sigh of frustration, but he really kept his calm).  We ended our relationship a few minutes before the 6 o'clock News.  I've now got a full set of notes and if it happens again then....... I shall probably get myself a large Cognac and hide under a table somewhere.  I just hope that if I have to ring BT I get Shan.

I'm glad it turned out OK because I've had a brilliantly productive day so far and, even though it's 1850 and I'm sort of watching Strictly Come Dancing...It Takes Two as I write this, it's by no means over yet.

However, I confess that as soon as I was back on line I poured a glass of red.  That was a glass and a half ago!

The Post I Didn't Write

I woke to the smell of fresh bread.  It was 0547 (don't you just hate digital clocks?).  I had to be up reasonably early this morning anyway to take Gaz to the airport.  

So by around ten minutes past 6 o'clock (the kitchen clock isn't digital) I was sitting at the breakfast bar with a cup of tea and toasted fresh bread smothered in Marmite and a sliced tomato pondering the day to come.

At 0413, however, I had been a less happy bunny.  That was the time I had last looked at the clock before I crossed the Lethe again.  By that time sleep had alluded me for an hour.  I had woken at 0312 and been unable to get back to sleep despite Satie's Gnossiennes doing their utmost to lull me there.  That was after I'd decided to get up and start my day really early by catching up with a few blog posts - and then thought better of it.  Laying awake is so unusual for me and made me appreciate what some people have to put up with as a matter of course.

Now I've been up for three hours and am ready to face the day with a new mindset having read Pauline's post Slow Down and having resolved that I would stop getting my knickers in a twist as I always do as the time to leave for my New Zealand life draws near.

As I look out from the Study I look at the sky and wonder what on earth that holds for us today:

Monday 18 October 2010

Culross Palace

A friend and I recently visited Culross Palace, a late 16th - early 17th century merchant's house in Culross, in Fife.   The palace (which was never a royal residence) or "Great Lodging" was constructed between 1597 and 1611.  The palace is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland who have restored a model 17th century garden, complete with raised beds, a covered walkway and crushed shell paths.  The herbs, vegetables and fruit trees planted in the garden are those that would have been found in the early 17th century.

I was very saddened by the fact that the NTFS have a policy forbidding photography in their properties.   Their stated grounds are conservation (flash is said to be able to damage things!) but the NT in England has largely abandoned that policy except in special circumstances.  Presumably if flash is the problem flash photography could be forbidden.  With modern digital cameras it is largely unnecessary anyway.  

Sunday 17 October 2010

On Chocolates, Knees and Outer Mongolia

Amongst other things.

How do you eat a chocolate?  I mean the individually wrapped soft-centered Cadbury's Roses for example (sorry I've no idea what the US equivalent would be,)?  The easiest way is to pop it into one's mouth whole.  That's what I would do if I were in company.  When I'm on my own I bite bits off so that I can make them last right through my mug of coffee which is the only time I would ever eat one.  I used only to eat hard centres but now I eat soft because the hard ones can do too much damage to my molar crowns.  The problem with biting bits off is that the soft centres then run out and invade fingers, desks and anything else they can lay their stickiness on.  This has got to stop!  No more after this tin is empty.  I only had it by accident in any case - bought as a 'spare' present and not used.

John and Sue, Donnie and Cath and the latter's steamer trunks (reminding me very much of The Tourist's Trunk in the first couple of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series) have arrived in China after having left Paisley and travelled by train (except across the North Sea) via Moscow and the Trans-Mongolian Railway.  When they arrived in China Sue emailed to say that she couldn't access her blog.  No.  You can't access anything Google in China.  So the postings are being emailed and posted from here.  If you fancy an amusing ride you can visit it at Gilmour Street to Hung Hom

I visited the Royal Mail website this morning.  The first thing that met me was 'postal dates for Christmas'.  Arghhh.  If I'm sending cards from New Zealand to the UK and US I have to send them almost as soon as I arrive at the end of October.  Of course I always leave it later and have to pay accordingly.  Of course there is a wonderful twist to this.  Post early and the card will arrive shortly after because the big rush hasn't started.  By Christmas it will have been mislaid by the recipient who then wonders if their family has been struck off the list.  Post late and it may or may not arrive on time but it will cost a fortune.  I'm just not a Christmas person.  Never have been (as an adult).  Probably never will be.

I woke and rose this morning in the dark.  To me that means it's winter.  Actually it's a balmy 11 deg outside this morning.   It is, however, a wet, miserable, windy morning.  Only 10 sleeps.......  But then look on the bright side:  the garden is full of birds - the Stonechat family seem to have taken up residence - and Sarasate's virtuoso and very amusing violin and piano music is playing on the hifi .

Which brings me to abbreviations.  We all know what hifi is even if we don't know what the abbreviation stands for (high fidelity).  Most of us probably know what wifi is but do you know what it stands for - wireless what?  Wireless nothing actually (although Wireless Fidelity has sometimes been used).  See Wikipedia if you want an explanation.  Now there is MiFi and if you know what that is then you're a more knowledgeable person than I was Gunga Din.

For about 5 or 6 years my right knee has been a bit bothersome with arthritis caused, I presume, by a combination of an accident when I was 16 and being a fencer and fencing coach which really punished that knee.  Yesterday for the first time my left knee mentioned that it was feeling envious and has decided to join the club.  That's an irritation.

I've drunk so much tea and coffee since 0630 that I'm glad I'm not going out today!

I might even manage a blog posting before friends come for dinner.

Friday 15 October 2010

Colourful Clothes

It's a while ago now but something in a blog - by Dawn Treader I think - elicited the comment from me that I had a lot of polo necked sweaters because I like to wear something that suits my mood of the moment.  Leastways I think that's what I said.  Dawn Treader I recall said that she awaited seeing my 'collection'.  Here it is.  Now before anyone says that I'm profligate or whatever let me say that I've amassed my 'collection' of these garments - 30 plus - over a considerable number of years.  When I used to live during winters over 5 years ago then unless I was wearing formal shirts then I was wearing a polo neck.  Because I don't wear clothes out very quickly the collection just sort of grew.  It's over 5 years since they have been out of my wardrobe.  Here is one of each colour.  The odd thing is that all my black ones and my red ones are quite different when seen in the sun.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Sainte Foy La Grande Market

This year David and I went to the market in Sainte Foy several times.  There is something quite magical and natural about French street markets.  This afternoon I was looking for some photos from our visits in September when I remembered that several of my favourite photos of Sainte Foy were taken at the market some years ago.  I'm afraid I've been playing around a bit.    The odd thing is that I was convinced that I had blogged using these photos at the time but I wasn't blogging when I took them.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Water Boatmen

I was cleaning the pond yesterday when something jumped on the path at the water's edge.  After a while it stopped jumping around and I discovered that I had a really attractive little creature - to photograph.  It was about 15mm (just over 1/2") long.  It's (leastways I hope it is) a Common Backswimmer or Water Boatman. 

 Common Backswimmer: Notonecta glauca 

This small (no more than 16 mm long) creature is an extremely potent hunters. They have three pairs of legs, two of which are used to “walk” underwater, while the third one serves as a kind of oars.   Although a water creature, the Backswimmer also has a pair of wings, which are covered under a layer of protective plates when the creature is not flying.

The Backswimmer uses the gel-like top layer of water by swimming under it, with the legs upside down, touching the water membrane. There the animal hunts everything that is small enough to catch.  They are one of the most aggressive water creatures hunting everything that comes near and is small enough – other bugs, larvae, small fish and tadpoles, as well as flying bugs that have fallen in the water.   These animals are so dangerous that they can even wipe out populations of fish completely, by hunting out all the young fish.

When the prey is close enough, the Backswimmer charges it at lightning speed and pierces the victim’s body with the small snout and injects a paralyzing substance, as well as digestion fluid which quickly dissolves tissue and turns it into a liquid substance, very much as spiders’ poison. does.  Afterwards, the Backswimmer sucks out all the feeding substance from the victim’s body and only an empty shell is left.

They are also competent fliers and often fly from one pond to another, in search of better suited surroundings – waters rich with oxygen and plants.

When I was in France recently I photographed another type of Water Boatman - not that I knew what it was until I asked my niece, Helen - which had flown into the swimming pool.  Plenty of bugs for it to eat but I'm not sure how long it would have survived the chlorine.

 [Thanks to www.itsnature.org for the information on which much of the text is based.]

Monday 11 October 2010

Of Paradise and Mice

I've had a wonderful day - almost.  The weather's been brilliant for the third consecutive day: full sun, no wind and even some October warmth.

It started with good news from a friend who'd managed to solve some issues and whose life was back on an even keel.  Shortly after I had a visit from a boiler engineer about 30 minutes after I'd rung to say my central heating boiler was having problems.   He'd solved the problem before I'd opened the door to say 'hello' (my boiler's outside).  Coffee and lunch and a crossword with Gaz at The Woodlands (always a great way to spend a few hours).  An afternoon in the garden clearing things and finishing the last bit of painting I'd overlooked.  The joiners came to do some work on the conservatory.

The icing on the cake came in an email from a friend this evening.   Another issue  on the way to a solution.  The details don't matter to anyone else but it made me as happy a person as a very happy person can be to get a message.

So I decided to read some blogs and post a few pics.  Then a comment on my blog Such Cynicism in One So Young by Adrian made me think of an incident this afternoon - and I knew he was correct.  His comment included the sentence "You could post a picture from paradise and the following day a dead rat...which would get the most response?" 

The last few days have been like paradise up here:

Yesterday - Waiting for a wave

This is a third of the way through October - the sea is COLD!

Today the sea was like glass and it's still cold but we're a hardy lot up here.

And then came the bit about the rat - well, actually the mouse.   I'll spare you a picture.   Firstly before there are any animal rights activists condemning me let me say that I love mice (as a child I kept mice - I could tell you tales of daring do by Spudge and Cornelius - and rats) but I don't like them taking over my garden shed as they did one year when I didn't take preventative action.  So I put down traps - nice modern quick and efficient mice killers.  And every time I empty them I'm a bit sad.  However today has given me a real problem.  One of the mice didn't approach the peanut butter bait with his mouth but obviously tried to scoop some up with a paw - I've seen them do that - and the trap closed without breaking his neck and killing him instantly.  And I realised that deep down I'm just a big softie.  I hate to see suffering in any creature.  So now I have a dilemma.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Stornoway meets Villeneuve

In Stornoway until about 5 years ago there was a hardware shop known simply as Charlie Morrison's.  It was where Digby Chicks Restaurant is now.  It was a Stornoway institution.  Enter and ask for virtually any item of hardware or ships' chandlery and they would stock it.  It was also where one took the can for paraffin oil and wicks and even small anchors but  one could also buy a cut glass Waterford decanter.  Over 30 years I must have said "I'll just pop into Charlie Morrison's for that" more times than there are hairs in my beard.    The shop closed down when the owners retired.  I suspect that no one else could ever have found their way round the stock.  I wish that I had a picture of the interior of the chandlery store.

Villeneuve-de-Duras with a population of about 250 makes Stornoway with its population of 12,000 look positively metropolitan.  Yet it has something in common with the Stornoway of 5 years ago - a Charlie Morrison's.  Of course it's not called by that name.  It's the Quincaillerie  and it's a treasure trove.  I assume that it serves the whole of the surrounding area's rural population because the stock is immense.  However unlike Charlie Morrison's where you described what you wanted and they went off and, depending upon how good your descriptive powers were, brought it, or something resembling it, to you the Quincaillerie is very organised as you'll see from the following photos.  You find what you want on the board, tell the proprietrix the number and she'll scoot upstairs and find it for you.