Sunday, 31 May 2009


I have be visiting Burns Cottage, in deepest Ayrshire, in preparation for our group visit next week. Meanwhile Iain has been brushing up his Tam o'Shanter. (See previous post of last week).

When I was in Anne's garden today I took these photos of this most colourful flower. And with it must go the 2 best lines in the (Tam o'Shanter) poem:

But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You sieze the flower, its bloom is shed....

Thursday, 28 May 2009


This was sent to me recently.

Sally was driving home from one of her business trips in Northern Arizona when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road. As the trip was a long and quiet one, she stopped the car and asked the Navajo woman if she would like a ride. With a silent nod of thanks, the woman got into the car. Resuming the journey, Sally tried in vain to make a bit of small talk with the Navajo woman. The old woman just sat silently, looking intently at everything she saw, studying every little detail, until she noticed a brown bag on the seat next to Sally.

"What in bag?" asked the old woman.

Sally looked down at the brown bag and said, "It's a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband."

The Navajo woman was silent for another moment or two. Then speaking with the quiet wisdom of an elder, she said, "Good trade....! "


Source: the internet. No credits given.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


When our visitors arrive in June we are planning to take them on a day-trip to Alloway, a suburb of Ayr, to see places and buildings associated with Robert Burns. Iain and I made a rekky trip today to see how we could give our Swedish, German and French speaking friends a flavour of the country which is associated with Burns early life, i.e. first 7 years.

He was born in a cottage (which is preserved) in Alloway and his father and mother's grave is still there (see photo). Burns was buried in Dumfries, 1796, at the age of only 37.

This gravestone, apparently, has been replaced 3 times due to vandalism by Burns relic hunters!

A huge Burns' Monument (photo above was taken from inside, under the dome, looking upwards) was erected in 1823 and overlooks the River Ayr and this bridge, the Brig o' Doon (the photo underneath this).

It was across this bridge that Tam o' Shanter fled from the witches in the poem Tam o' Shanter by Burns. This story in the poem is about a man (Tam) and his drinking mates. After much vivid description the poem finally reaches the climax: Tam, fleeing the witches, remembered that witches were not allowed to cross flowing water. He escaped their clutches and all they managed to grab was "poor Meg's [his horse] tail and she was left with scarce a stump".

And then the poem ends:
Now, who this tale of truth shall read,
Every man, and mother's son, take heed:
Whenever to drink you are inclined,
Or short shifts run in your mind,
Think! you may buy the joys over dear:
Remember Tam o' Shanter's mare!


Photo of Tam o' Shanter on Meg crossing the Brig o' Doon is from the Cutty Sark vessel, London

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


With the European visitors arriving soon I made another rekky today to check out routes, pit stops, eating places, which will form the basis of our day trip in Argyll, i.e. in this approximate location on the map.

The following are some of the highlights of my whistle-stop tour. Each photo itself could be the basis for a story as these locations are either a favourite place of ours or one where we have visited many times either mountain climbing and/or sailing.

Kingshouse Hotel (and Bar!), Glencoe. Many a story could be told about this place! Out of site in this photo are West Highland Way walkers packing up their tents ready for the next leg of their trek.

Looking west to Ardgour from Glencoe Village. Lots of 'weather' for photos today!

Castle Stalker as seen from the new (to me) restaurant built at the top of the hill.

Kilmartin churchyard looking down the glen. One of the burial chambers is in the distance.

Crinan - from the Crinan Hotel. I'm never usually here at this time of year so do not normally see these purple flowers growing along the wall opposite the hotel. I was going to have a pint in the bar for old times' sake but it looked so faded and unkempt (and empty) I headed out and down the road.

Lastly, that is the Atlantic out there. Islands of the Inner Hebrides are in the distance. If boats do not want to sail all the way around the Mull of Kintyre, they come in here to the Crinan Canal and lock through to Loch Fyne thereby avoiding the lumpy seas which churn on the end of this peninsula.

Monday, 25 May 2009


The FT (UK Financial Times) at the weekend here had this excellent article about fraud and manipulation in scientific experiments. There are 3 book reviews one of which is a novel in the emerging genre of 'lab lit'.

But what really interested me was this paragraph in the article:

"[The fraudulent scientist who featured in one of the book reviews] was ultimately exposed not by the dozens of people who tried to replicate and follow up his work but by two physicists who noticed that [he] had used identical data in papers about two different experiments, published respectively in Nature and Science.

By focusing on individual cases, the three books miss out on the broader view of scientific fraud and misconduct. Indeed, even more worrying than the serious cases, says Farthing, is “the undercurrent of low-grade alteration of results, which occurs much more commonly and which is perturbing the scientific literature”. New technology increases the scope for alteration, for example by subtle digital manipulation of images."

He is dead right. Take for example this photo I manipulated some time ago. A blue rose growing on a pink rose bush by the side of the road? No a pink rose bush with one of the flowers having been Photoshop painted blue by me.

Mostly what I do is 'tidy' extraneous stuff out of photos so they are less cluttered (which, of course, is still manipulation). I wanted the shape of this particular keel - not the whole boat - for comparison purposes. So I took out the background clutter to try to improve it.

Many of the photos that I tidy, e.g. erase a name or telephone lines, you would be hard put to see where they had been doctored. I suppose one day there will be forensic tests to check for this. How would you ever know, for example, that a couple of dots, one pixel in size, on a digital image of an x-y axes graph had been erased?

Newspaper cartoon is by Ferguson of the Financial Times, Life & Arts Section, May 23-24, 2009. page 13. Article is by Clive Cookson.

Sunday, 24 May 2009


This tree lead Iain and I to see if it still exsisted in the grounds of Castle Menzies in central Scotland. Yes, it is still there. It is an Arbutus, a lovely tree with characteristic red bark, very common on the west coast of British Columbia.

Why is it here? There are (at least?) two reasons. It seems that "in the nineteenth century Sir Neil Menzies of Menzies, 6th Baronet, actively promoted tree planting and agricultural improvements which were continued by his son Sir Robert." That would make sense. It is probably about 150 years old and is mentioned in the book The Scots Trees in the side bar on the right. (Unfortunately that particular book is presently in storage so I can't get the full story about it.)

"Arbutus is the only native broadleaf evergreen tree in Canada. Another common name is madrone, a Spanish word for the strawberry tree, of which arbutus is a close relative. " (See also here for Pacific madrone tree description.)

And upon looking it up on Google it is ... Arbutus menziesii. This is because "the Scottish botanist Archibald Menzies here first collected specimens in 1792 and described it as the oriental strawberry tree." (Taken from website here where there are full details about the plant and its habitat.)

Menzies was Captain George Vancouver's botanist on board HMS Discovery. Menzies noted the species during Vancouver's voyage of exploration on the west coast of B.C. Ultimately, his specimens were taken to Kew. I must find out if it is known how this surviving speciman got established at Castle Menzies.

The flowers are out just now - see right foreground - and that is Castle Menzies is in the background.

Bluebells are out everywhere! The banks along the road, the woodlands are plastered in bluebells! Carpets of purple! Here is a small bunch at the entrance of Castle Menzies.

And on the wall at right angles to the castle entrance is this intriguing door covered by a grill and a plaque above. I can find absolutely no information on the plaque. I am therefore wondering if the letters IMBS refer to people's initials I (or J in Latin) M (?Menzies) and maybe the name of a bride? The only reason I put this forward is that I recall in Kings College Chapel, Cambridge, the initials of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were carved in a (large!) wooden screen mid-chapel. The date of that work was 1533-1536 (reference here) and the date below this plaque is 1571 so the period might indicate a particular style or convention of the age. Also I notice a similarity in what I think might be the lovers knots' artwork in the two examples.

Later: John has found the answer here. IM= James Menzies and BS= Barbara Stuart and the date is when they got married.

Friday, 22 May 2009


With visitors coming in a couple of weeks the Organizing Committee, i.e. Neil and Christina, Iain and I, have drawn up a timetable of activities. One of them is to be a day trip to Arran. So today I made a rekky (i.e. reconnaisance) trip to the island situated as shown in red below.

MacBraynes run a boat from Ardrossan and the whole thing is fairly easy to manage as there are regular trains going down the coast ending up at Ardrossan Harbour.

And I am happy to report that everything is joined-up with trains, the boat service and buses operating on the island. The food on board was good, the coffee hot and very reasonable. Believe me, it is changed days!

After circumnavigating the island on the public bus (with my free bus pass!) I ended up back at Brodick Bay in time to catch the 4:30 pm boat back to the mainland.

This is Blackwaterfoot on the west side of the island. There are many new houses built here and they seem to be occupied. (This island is very much a holiday island.) Also the bus served as a school bus. It picked up 12 children from Pirnhill Primary which is on the less populated side of the island and dropped them off en route to, and (mostly) in Loch Ranza at the north end.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


Iain and George W. spent a 3 days on the Clyde in Seol-na-Mara (our yellow-hulled boat). They sailed to Arran (an island in the lower Clyde estuary) and based themselves in the bay at Loch Ranza where they could set off for a day's climbing.

I met them at the Royal Northern pier, back in the upper Clyde at the Holy Loch, where Iain is going to leave Seol-na-Mara for a few days as we might do some days sails next week.


Top photo by Clive Reeves, Clyde Cruising Club.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009


John has taken many lovely photos of their weekend hiking in the Knoydart area which is on the west of Scotland ... and very remote! They had blue skies which made for lots of scenic views. He has hundreds (!) more on his Flickr website here.


Ladhar Bheinn (a mountain - pronounced Lar Ven)

Ladhar Bheinn - a closer view.

Scotland from space. Arrow points to Knoydart area, on the mainland opposite the Isle of Skye.

Monday, 18 May 2009


This beautiful photograph caught my eye on Flickr here. It is not a fly on a grapefruit! It is, rather, an awesome photograph, taken last week, of the space shuttle Atlantis in between earth and the sun as it is on its way to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

The NASA site with other photos is here * but the photo is not theirs, i.e. it was taken by this French photographer, M. Thierry, whose website is here. (He is an 'astrophotographer'.)

The UK Times has an article here about the repair.

Discussion on how such a photo taken with a telescope and a sun filter is on the NASA site. Is it for real? Yes! Is it 'Photoshopped'? No!

* This photograph is a cropped image "as seen in silhouette during solar transit, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, from Florida. This image was made before Atlantis and the crew of STS-125 had grappled the Hubble Space Telescope."

Photo Credit: (NASA/Thierry Legault)

Sunday, 17 May 2009


Warning - When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple
By Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple
with a red hat that doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
and satin candles, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired
and gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
and run my stick along the public railings
and make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
and pick the flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
and eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or only bread and pickles for a week
and hoard pens and pencils and beer nuts and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
and pay our rent and not swear in the street
and set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple!


Photo: John A., Knoydart, Scotland, taken April 2009.

Saturday, 16 May 2009


When we were away in USA we spent a lot of time reading in airports and airplanes. As a result we ran out of reading material. (Iain could be heard mumbling, as he walked along The Strip in Las Vegas, "Can't find a bloody bookshop..."!!! I mean, you don't go to Vegas and look for bookshops, do you?!")

Anyhow when in Ashland I bought this paperback The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas in a lovely second-hand bookshop on Main Street. I found it a great read and have only just finished it. The above photo is my copy which, as you can see, is abridged.

Actually, to digress, I was made to read this in our French 91 class when I was about 16 or 17 and absolutely couldn't make head nor tale of it. Honestly, why that was ever given to teenagers in western Canada who would have no idea about the setting, the period etc etc I will never know!

Anyhow, apart from the fact that it is a tale of one man seeking vengeance for a wrong-doing it has lots of sub-plots in it, much like those Russian dolls where one sits inside the other all the way down. One such sub-plot is to do with greedy bankers, men who engage in insider trading on the stock market and men who spread false rumors in order to make their fortune. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose!

Last week while reading on the train a man commented to me that a manuscript by Dumas was discovered last year in a Paris library and it has now been published*. This is it.

"A man called Claude Schopp is France's leading expert on Alexandre Dumas, and it was while looking through the national archives [in the 1980's] that he found a reference to a row in which Dumas was accused of besmirching the reputation of the Empress Josephine.

He could not work out where, because there was nothing of that nature in any of the known novels, until he was poring over old editions of a provincial newspaper and fell upon serialised excerpts of what, with a palpitating heart, he immediately realised must be Dumas's lost, last book.

In fact The Last Cavalier was unfinished when the writer died in 1870 and Mr Schopp has done us all a service by adding the final couple of chapters."**


* The Last Cavalier by Alexandre Dumas, Fourth Estate, 2008, pp754. Photo Wikipedia.

** Article from a BBC News programme From Out Own Correspondent here

Thursday, 14 May 2009


I was out with the children, i.e. grand-children (!) in the lovely sunshine. We have a regular route we take: down to Kilmardinny Loch - where we found a pair of swans at their nest - and then off to the adjacent swing park. Then we head to Joe's shop where Ishie chose a box of Cheese Ritz crackers for us to take home. She is not in the habit of eating (sweet) buiscuits (i.e. cookies) and did not go to them on the shelf in the shop!

Alastair? He likes mud, mud, mud ... oh ... and stones.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


A quick visit to Garelochhead where this lassie appeared (with a little help of Photoshop). This is me trying to learn to 'extract'.

This is Rosalind and she was painted by Robert Walker MacBeth (Scottish 19th - early 20th century painter) here.

Rosalind is 100 years too early to see in front of her, the frigates, minesweepers and submarines at the head of the Holy Loch where she is sitting (i.e. the burn at Garelochhead looking out to sea).

Maybe she has received a letter from an off-duty submariner. (Come to think of it, it would more likely be a text message!)

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Spring has sprung and all the greenery is out now! Glenarn and Geilston Gardens are open and I have been out with my camera.

Fern Emerging

Mecanopsis Sorrow

Unknown Stars

This unusual shrub was in the garden at Ross Priory, Loch Lomondside. I have no idea what it is and do not know how one is supposed to go about identifying it! It has something star-shaped in the middle of each leaf which is exactly the size and shape of a clove when the round ball of spice is broken off the top of it.

Monday, 11 May 2009


Where we live in Helensburgh is next to a large naval base called Faslane. A couple of posts back I was talking about all the men that there are about the place just now ... on the train, in the coffee shops, jogging along the roadside. While I recognize the American accents I am aware that there are quite a number of other accents and this is the reason:

WARSHIPS from eight countries are on the Clyde as part of a huge training exercise.

This is the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane which is the operations centre. Ships in Falsane are British but also overseas vessels are from USA, Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey.

In another part of the Clyde are a German minesweeper Hameln and replenishment ship Rhein, plus ships from Denmark and France.

In 2017 Britain's entire nuclear submarine fleet is to be based at Faslane on the Clyde. The Ministry of Defence says Faslane currently supports 11,000 jobs. (The base is the largest single-site employer in Scotland.) We know this as there is a steady stream of traffic heading in that direction every morning!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

65 PLUS 2!

It's time for the mile-ometer to click over another year and it is not just any old year! Wow! Three-score and five! I treated myself to a day out yesterday (see previous post) and today Iain and I are planning to go out for a meal this evening - not our usual habit, may I say! - to a restaurant overlooking Loch Lomond.
My goodness! The sun is shining. It is Sunday. Time to make a batch of scones and smell the flowers! And time for a photo before we scoff the scones.

I placed all my lovely presents on the kitchen window-seat ledge in the sunshine.

What's what? The vase of fresh Interflora flowers arrived yesterday when Iain was in but I was out. They were a lovely surprise when I got home! Thank you Dawn and Alastair. I wish you could smell them!

The card with the wine bottle is Absolutely Spot On! Just Me! Thank you Mairi and John and the babes. The Grandma mug is also from them! The bottle of wine is Fitou, my favourite, from Anne! Many thanks!

The white rose is from a large bouquet from Kay and David who were here at our Garden Party last Sunday. Thank you both!

Finally, the black box with the Apple logo is ... wait for it ... an iPhone! Big hug to Iain! I absolutely love it! Again - Just Me! That is what I was doing on my various train journeys yesterday - fiddling around with the phone (along with just about everyone in the train carriages)! The technology of it blows me away! As the youngsters say "Totally awesome!"

So what's with the 2 Pheasant's Eye narcissus flowers? Well it has been 2 years to the day that I started this blog! I said when I launched this blog click here that it was about throwing a rock in a pool and seeing where the ripples go!

Well old age has arrived, that is for sure, because I thought I had launched the blog with this posting about the narcissus: click here. (I took this photo 2 days ago right after a heavy shower; I managed to catch some drips, i.e. flower on the right.)

Ah ha! How about 2 flowers for 2 years?!

Saturday, 9 May 2009


Spent a very wet day out - into the city, down to Ayrshire and back - ending up at Glasgow Cathedral for a an evening concert put on by the Glasgow Cathedral Choral Society.

It rained steadily all day and only let up upon my arrival at the Cathedral. The day started with a train trip from Helensburgh into town. The train was packed with men; upon my return late evening it was the same again! Apparently they were all sailors - Greek, French, Spanish, American - all here for naval exercises in the Clyde.

Still in the pouring rain the city was awash with ... more men! It turns out the Old Firm, i.e. Rangers were playing Celtic, and kick-off was midday. Great waves of fans poured (quite literally!) out of the underground stations all heading for the game at Ibrox Park.

The is the Cathedral reflection in a puddle. The concert was sacred choral works with orchestra and 4 young soloists, the lads, I read in the programme, who were trained in the church cathedral choir schools in England. All were in their 20's and students at the RSAMD (Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama) in Glasgow.

The gates adjacent to the Cathedral. We lived in Kilmardinny area for many years. This was a 19th century worthy who was Dean of Guild 1887 and 1888. Glasgow is a Victorian city and has many fine cast iron fences, railings and gates.