Thursday 29 June 2017


I left the Island on Sunday. After two days of gales The Minch was calm and the crossing was good. I had hoped to take some photos to accompany a post but, frankly, ever since I left home the weather has been dire and definitely not conducive to landscape photography. 

However most of the UK had been basking in record hot temperatures for June so  I packed accordingly but knowing that it was cooling down. Which meant that I brought mostly short-sleeved shirts. "Big mistake. Huge!" to quote one of my favourite film lines. I have four warm long-sleeved shirts with me. Oh dear. It's 11℃  and pouring with rain in Glasgow.

However I'm about to drive over to Tweedbank on the other side of the country where, according to the weather app on the phone it is 4 raindrops whereas here it's just 2. Hmmm. 

The last few days has been a wonderful round of eating lunches with friends and catching up.  Yesterday we managed (after 4 tries on Monday when we couldn't park anywhere near) to drop off five boxes of LPs at the Oxfam Music Shop. 

The to Oran Mor for A Play, a Pie and a Pint. The play turned out to be an hour long opera Tosca: The Henchman's Tale. It was brilliantly done. By coincidence for the evening we had been invited to see Verdi's Otello as a live streaming from The Royal Opera House, Coven Garden with Jonas Kaufmann makes his role debut as Otello in Keith Warner’s new production of Verdi’s thrilling Shakespeare-inspired opera, conducted by Antonio Pappano. It was streaming to 1001 cinemas across the world. It was the first time I'd been to such a streaming. However for me, and Verdi is not my favourite opera composer, the star of the show was Maria Agresta's brilliant and moving Desdemona.

I'd never been to such a huge cinema before: Glasgow Cineworld. By 2003 it was the busiest cinema in the United Kingdom by admissions, having attracted over 1.8 million patrons that year. It has 18 screens over 6 levels, and can accommodate more than 4,300 people. Its most distinctive feature is the huge glass curtain wall on the east face which houses a system of criss crossing escalators which are lit neon blue during the hours of darkness.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

The Good Old Days

People of my age have a tendency to talk about the ‘good old days’. I recall that when I was young people did so then as well. In reality there has probably never been anything as general as ‘the good old days’. I recall Harold Macmillan saying “We’ve never had it so good.” and then, off the record, turning to the person at his side and saying “And we never will have it so good again.”

I happened to be in the local hospital recently and whilst I was able to walk in through the front door with no problem all other exterior doors are now open only to code-holders as are many interior doors. I can understand that I suppose.

When I started work as a (reasonably senior) public servant in Western Isles Council (as it then was) any member of the public could walk into the council offices and seek me out and knock on my office door (metaphorically because it was usually open unless I was engaged). And people frequently did.

I was recently in the Council offices and there are still a few people left from my era (I retired from there over 20 years ago). I was invited upstairs to wait for someone but this involved various people with different passcodes accompanying me just to get me through doors. Apparently now even people who work in the building do not have general access to other areas of the offices. Security in all its forms now rules most things that are done.

I can't foresee what might happen that would make people who work there now look back in thirty years and say "Ah those were the good old days." I won't be around but I hope upon hope that things don't get any worse.

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]