Wednesday, 30 March 2011


Last month John treated Iain and I to a one day conference being held in Edinburgh to mark the 200th anniversary of the building of the Bell Rock Lighthouse off the east coast of Scotland.

It was hosted by the Royal Society and held in their beautiful Georgian building in George Street. We were required to arrive early and be settled in place as The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) was to start the day off with her Opening Address.

Well, it certainly gives the day a great sense of occasion when, on instruction, we all rise upon the entrance of Herself and her entourage! She is a seriously good sailor and patron of many worthy causes, including the Northern Lighthouse Board. And, with everything running strictly to time the whole process was repeated at the end of the morning as the dramatis personae exited stage left.

The speakers covered a variety of topics during the day. A couple of subjects left me curious to find out more. To that end I decided to pull together a couple of articles for our yachting organisation whose newsletter I produce.

I was greatly impressed with these excellent graphics: refer to Ian Cowe's Flickr website for stunning photos of Bell Rock Lighthouse. (My graphics are Wikipedia's.)

The first topic that I looked at was the shape that was decided upon for the structure:

"The concepts behind the building of this lighthouse, off Abroath in the North Sea in Scotland, are an example of empirically based engineering 200 years ago. The man behind the design was the Northern Lighthouse Board Chief Engineer, John Rennie and his Assistant or Resident Engineer, Robert Stevenson. In his report of 1805, Mr. Rennie felt that the tower should be higher than the Eddystone lighthouse and have a somewhat greater diameter in the base. Furthermore, the shape was to be cycloidal. “The slope he adopted for the base of the tower, as well as the curve of the building, fully answered his expectations... they presented comparatively small obstruction to the roll of the waves, which played round the column with ease.” [Smiles, S., Lives of the Engineers: Smeaton & Rennie, Chapter VII, John Murray, 1904, p. 338.]

A straight line is the shortest distance between two points but if you want a bead [in this case, a bead of water] to travel from one point to another in the fastest time, you need to make the line follow a cycloid path. Wherever any given beads of water fall on the side of this curve they will reach the bottom at the same time."

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


In April Iain and I are planning to visit good friends in Oberstdorf, Germany (via friends in Paris). All the travel arrangements are now organised. We did everything on the internet - all done with just the click of a button.

Our only hesitation was booking our train trip from Paris to Stuttgart and then on to Ulm in southern Germany. There were only 1st class seats left for our proposed Sunday trip. With Alastair's voice in our heads "Go for it! Live on the edge Mom. Do something way out and different!" we considered: "When have we ever done this?" [Answer: never!] So ... we took the plunge and decided on some luxury! (You wouldn't believe the delight this prospect gives me! I guess I lead a pretty dull life!)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, John and Mairi were away for an overnight stay in a bothy up north. These shepherd's huts or gamekeeper's facilities are maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association and are open (unlocked) and free to use. They are usually in remote areas where it is necessary to hike in.

They hiked in to Gorton Bothy in Argyll and stayed there last Friday night, returning to Glasgow the next day. (I stayed overnight with the kids.)

John took some lovely photos and these are some of them. The rest are on his Flickr website here.

He and Mairi and the kids were over on Sunday night for a meal and were telling us all about their hike in and overnight stay. Just 24 hours but they had a great time in some lovely country in decent weather.

We had such a laugh at John's quip! When they got there they found they had a room to themselves with the luxury of room to lay out their sleeping mats. Heaven! And as John said to Mairi:

"Aren't you glad I got the up-grade!"

Saturday, 26 March 2011


There is nothing like the bagpipes to an event a sense of occasion... and none more so than at a wedding. Iain and I were invited to a wedding in the north of Glasgow - Cadder Church, Bishopbriggs - and Iain's role was to pipe in the guests at the church as well as the reception in the Eagle Lodge, Bishopbriggs. It was the wedding of the fellow who has been doing a phenomenal amount of work on our house; he of the digger and the tractor-trailer borrowed from his mate's Toarrance farm!

While he had his pipes going at Burns Night this is the first time he has given them a real work-out since his accident 9 months ago. He has now got his lungs going again and is building up his stamina for playing tunes on the big pipes (as opposed to the electronic ones).

After the church ceremony he played at the entrance of the Eagle Lodge to welcome to the guests to the reception. As the groom has associations with the Mull of Kintyre, Iain has been practicing Paul McCartney's famous tune of the same name. It is not one he normally plays and was able to memorize it in the past week. (Oh ... that I could that!)

Cava bubbly with strawberries greeted the guests at the entrance. The Eagle Lodge is an old haunt of Iain's. He recalls "the happiest days of his life ... before I was married" when he used to play rugby for Lenzie Rugby Club in the 1960s! This was their watering hole - a real trip down memory lane for him!

We met lots of interesting people at the wedding, as one does! This fellow heading into the pub works on the building sites with the groom and spent a lot of time working on our house. You could have knocked me over with a feather when, during the singing of the hymns during the church ceremony, I could hear a wonderfully clear baritone voice behind me. Finally on the second hymn I turned and saw that it was this fellow who had the wonderful voice!

Thursday, 24 March 2011


The building site is gradually turning into a garden. A day here, a day there ... work progresses! At least we are moving in the right direction!

This is the area that used to be all grass and is now a triangle of ground which will be covered in large slate slabs. They are sitting in a palette out on the street. Delivered by a big truck this week, a man arrived with only himself, using his bogey, to take off his 950 pound load!

This area will be our sit-ootery. Today it was hot and sunny all day long! Iain went out to climb up Dumgoyne and I spent the whole day in the garden - heaven!

These flowers are coming up in my neighbour's garden. I don't know what they are....

And on our side of the fence is our humble rhubarb. It has benefited from lots of manure from Willie's farm. My other neighbour, Agnes, on the south side was out as well and was keen to obtain some of this healthy plant to start a patch in her own garden. So it was a day of comparing plants, garden plans and recipes for rhubarb!

Friday, 18 March 2011


We have a water problem. We are not to use the tap water for drinking, cooking, nor brushing our teeth. Apparently the water treatment plant has found high levels of aluminum in the water and has put out notices over the web and by pamphlet with instruction not to consume.

With texts flying back and forth word of this got around very quickly! Duncan, our brickie, got a text from his wife and he informed us! Neighbours popped in and out of houses all around us checking that folk had heard. Our immediate neighbours were down at our local sports centre and were told by the management. So all in all, quite good information. Why this has occurred? It's all a bit of a puzzle...

The supermarket quickly emptied of bottled water so we were left wondering what to do as we are not sure how long this is going to go on. (We recall about 5 years ago we had our water supply contaminated with diesel and it was nearly a week before the situation was successfully resolved.)

But Iain has turned out to be the Water-Carrier Hero of the Hour! He came up with the bright idea of going down to the boat which is on a pontoon in Bowling (5 miles away) and has a stand-pipe with plenty of water and, more importantly, not in the affected area. So he arrived home with our boat water containers full to the brim with lovely fresh water!

(Actually a big problem has been trying to determine if one is, indeed, in the affected area but this problem was solved by finding an excellent map on the water suppliers' website. Anne said they did not get notification; it turned out they are supplied by a different water treatment works. One could also search by postal code which helps a lot.)

Now it must be remembered that we have a Big Tap in the Sky so tonight I am going to put out a saucepan or 2 to catch some rain water. (However it is a clear night. I went out to see the state of the moon as tomorrow is the day there is to be a particularly special perigee, of the moon, i.e. close to the earth and hence appears larger.)

In the meantime one does one's best...! Like Marie Antoinette with "Let them eat cake" I guess some of us will just have to drink whisky!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


Midst the large flakes of snow falling this morning a vehicle arrived to take away the chemical toilet that has graced the front of our house all winter. This was for the use of the various builders and workmen who have been our 'guests' for the last 3 months.

It had become a rather fetching garden feature on this street where all the houses look the same. It even had its own rakish angle perched 'neath the front-of-house window... like the Leaning Tower of Pisa... or should that be Pee-sa?

Hooray! It's away! Duncan arrived to build the wall in the sit-ootery in the back garden and finish the front steps. Gradually the jobs are finishing and the place is getting back to normal. Time to toast the beginning of the end of all the building work!

Monday, 14 March 2011


The earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan continue to shock us as we are presented with the TV news images along with phone and video images of the event.

One of the images is a video of tall buildings in Tokyo swaying. They did not collapse. It is here. (Look at the gap opening between the buildings as they move.)

Amazing! A miracle? Why? Well, I put it to you: there is a reason and here is one case in point (oops... that's a pun):

In the early days of Iain's civil engineering career his subject area of research was Tall Buildings. We are talking of the 1960s and 1970s.

His work involved looking at this type of building, Ronan Point (London). In 1968 there was a gas explosion which demolished a load bearing wall causing the collapse of one entire corner of the building. The structure had been constructed from prefabricated concrete panels bolted together like a giant meccano set.

Analysis of tall buildings was his subject area and over the years he wrote books on this topic and then wrote on more general topics to do with modern structural analysis.

Here is exactly what we are talking about (written in the late 60s when in Chicago):

This Portland Cement Association book is here.

And he still working on the topic.: these books (hardback above and paperback below) are available from either the publisher here or his own website here.

Friday, 11 March 2011


Every Thursday morning I try to listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time hosted by Melvyn Bragg. It is repeated later in the evening and also is available as a podcast here so I seldom miss its erudite discussion.

The topic yesterday was Free Will and there were 3 philosophers contributing:

Simon Blackburn, Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge
Helen Beebee, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham
Galen Strawson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading

Melvyn Bragg writes a newsletter after the programme. One nugget from the many:

There were "some wonderful quotations. Simon Blackburn quoted from Schopenhauer, who suggested that imagining we have free will is exactly as if water spoke to itself: I can make waves (yes! in the sea during a storm), I can rush downhill (yes! in the river bed), I can plunge down foaming and gushing (yes! in the waterfall), I can rise freely as a stream of water into the air (yes! in the fountain), I can, finally, boil away and disappear (yes! at a certain temperature); but I am doing none of these things now, and am of my own accord remaining quiet and clear water in the reflecting pond."

"Einstein wrote: If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was travelling its way of its own accord on the strength of a resolution taken once and for all. Darwin wrote of the great delusion of free will."


Photos by John A:
[1] Top - Canisp from Elfin (north-west Scotland) in December 2005
[2] Bottom - North Harris (Outer Hebrides) taken at the weekend

Monday, 7 March 2011


Scotland in March can have clear days which are lengthening but it can be very cold. However, these 'shoulder months' of the year are good when it comes to the nature of the daylight and shadows (especially at this latitude) so I made a point of walking around the garden and down to the lochside (Loch Lomond) with the camera thinking light and dark i.e. chiaroscuro.

This photo is "as is". It is Ross Priory about 4:45 pm.

The light is going but I just had to take a photo of Ben Lomond in the distance, still with snow on top.
This is an arty shot of snowdrops beyond the garden gate.

The first rhododendron is now flowering. These huge trees were planted 100 to 150 years ago and there are flowers most months of the year.

Twilight. The light is going. The sky was getting pinker with the sun going down. The golfers were heading in for the bar and I was heading in to join an evening of music after some food and wine.

I will leave the last word ... image ... to Rembrandt, the master of chiaroscuro in painting.

Saturday, 5 March 2011


It was late before I got home last night from a soirée out at Ross Priory (Strathclyde University's country residence on the shore of Loch Lomond). Every month throughout the winter they are held and I do enjoy meeting and greeting old colleagues of Iain's and their wives many of whom I know from my days of Strathclyde University Overseas Wives Group.

Various folk gather for a a meal and then an evening of music. This month it was a Serbian accordion player, Djordje Gajic. He started off with Bach's Toccata in D minor (phew!) and played for an hour after our meal. Certainly a handsome fella who could fairly produce a big sound from the bellows of that instrument (especially in the left hand)!

I arrived early in order to spend some time in the garden. The gardeners are clearing some diseased trees (and I think the results are for the better which is not what I would normally say)! On entering the Lady Curran walled garden I came across this barrow outside the glasshouse.

Being the end of the day the light was not great but just for fun here is a cut-out of some glasshouse foliage. I would love to have fabric with all these colours incorporated.

Thursday, 3 March 2011


What's with all this junk mail that comes through our letterboxes these day?! Today the postman delivered one journal and one letter and 6 items of Junk Mail!

As someone who does most correspondence by email or over the internet I note that we get very few envelopes dropping through the post box. Indeed, I am seldom in the post office myself to mail things.

I have tried putting my name on an I Do Not Wish to Receive Junk Mail list but nothing has happened. Maybe I am not going about it in the right way. Does the Royal Mail make a lot of money with these flyers that the postman has to lug up and down the streets?

That being said I have no complaint with mail delivery by the Royal Mail. On the whole (icy winter weather would be an exception) the mail that I post gets to where it should and vice-versa. These days I am particularly impressed with stuff we order off Amazon. I get notification emails if there are delays and notification when things have been put in the post. (I try to patronize local shops but it is not always a success!)

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Spring flowers are hastened in this city because of our wonderful (undervalued) city parks department. They call Glasgow that "dear green place" and it is true. There are lots of parks and today I paid a visit to the Botanic Gardens on Great Western Road.

The sun was out, I took along my camera with the express purpose of heading to the glass houses (Victorian both in architecture and planting from all those years ago).

The good folks in the gardens had great benches of hyacinths along with daffodils, crocuses and fuschias. Here are white hyacinths looking arty i.e. this is my attempt to make some sort of artwork as if I were producing say a greeting card. It is my way of fiddling around with Photoshop; it's the only way to learn, I reckon!

More arty stuff using Photoshop's cut-out in the filter gallery. The original photo had too much back light on the white fuschia but looked OK using this filter. It just shows that you never know when clicking the digi; what looks good often is not and vice-versa!

This is the original thing, unadulterated. These white crocuses were in abundance. I tried to catch the sunlight coming through the window.