Wednesday, 28 September 2011


The weather today was absolutely glorious - hot, hot, hot - so it was out to the garden to get on with some autumn jobs.

Iain has taken a break from solving the world's ... Scotland's ... energy crisis and spent the whole afternoon digging away a bank of earth and then laying slabs behind the garage. It really is the last "landscaping" job to do.

I planted these sunflowers late June as it was so wet and cold all through May and early June. I did not think they would flower ... but they did!

This gives the basic idea of how the garden has shaped up. That is the kiddie's park in the centre distance.

And this sums up the total bean crop harvest. Like the potatoes ... it is a not-to-be-repeated exercise!

Monday, 26 September 2011


I happened to catch a programme on the radio announcing the winner of the 2011 BBC Short Story Competition. The contenders are all listed on the Radio 4 website here.

To my amazement, and delight, the winner turned out to be D W Wilson, a young Canadian writer from the Kootenays (south-western corner of British Columbia near the American border). The prize was £15,000!

The title of his entry is The Dead Roads and is set in the Kootenays. The website reference above gives link to hear the podcast (and other material).

Wilson "was born and raised in the small towns of the Kootenay Valley, British Columbia. He is the recipient of the University of East Anglia’s inaugural MAN Booker Prize Scholarship–the most prestigious award available to students in the MA program. His stories have appeared in literary magazines across Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, including the Malahat Review, Grain, and Southword. He lives in London." [Amazon website blurb]

He has already written another selection of stories Once You Break a Knuckle to be published this autumn by Penguin Canada.

"Set in the remote Kootenay Valley in western Canada, he tells stories of good people doing bad things: two bullied adolescents sabotage a rope swing, resulting in another boy’s death; a heartbroken young man refuses to warn his best friend about an approaching car; sons challenge fathers and break taboos. " [Amazon blurb]

Saturday, 24 September 2011


On the spur of the moment a friend and I hopped on the bus to Edinburgh and spent the day there enjoying the lovely autumn weather in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

This famous garden (actually it feels more like a park when you walk around) has been known for several centuries as a place of seed and plant collections. In the days when plant hunters searched the far corners of the earth many specimens were brought back here some of which form the basis of plants we buy in nurseries which grow successfully in our northern latitudes.

An example of this is Pieres forrestii, a Himalayn shrub named after George Forrest the plant collector associated with this particular botanic garden. "The specific epithet forrestii occurs in more than thirty genera and thousands of hybrids have been bred from Forrest stock."

Today these gentians were giving a wonderful display as I caught the last of the sunlight about 5 pm.

And similarly with the autumn crocuses.

The John Hope Gateway building was built 2 years ago to provide a visitor centre with various facilities on offer to the public. I was greatly taken with this staircase. Details of the architects and structural engineers who did the work are here on the RIBA website.

I had never heard of John Hope (1725-1786). Apparently he was was a Scottish physician and botanist. He is best known as an early supporter of Carl Linnaeus's system of classification. [Wikipedia]. However there are many other botanists associated with this Botanic Garden as seen from the Scottish Plant Hunters list here. (Anyone who lives in Western Canada will recognise the names.)

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Retail therapy comes in many forms and guises. For me, it is a trip to IKEA. Iain hates the place ... if he really must go he enters the revolving door with his head down (as if diving into deep water) and goes straight for the purchase, through the till and straight out the door, only raising his head once he is back in the fresh air of the car park.

Mairi and I headed there on Saturday to indulge our fantasies and partake of the excellent coffee and Scandinavian treats in the cafeteria. The children get one hour to play in the Smaland Supervised Play Area and love every minute of the colourful, well organised creche.

Back home we arrived with 2 kiddies chairs to be assembled. Mairi, who is a dab hand with the screwdriver and a set of IKEA instructions is now bringing the children up in the faith. No discrimination here. Ishie has her Allen key and Alastair has his.

Teddy lies abandoned while Himself gets on with more important things.

Grandpa has put together a good few IKEA purchases in the past but his preference is to build shelves to his own design from scratch. He is presently fitting out shelves in the garage for all his bits and pieces.

Monday, 19 September 2011


Doors Open Day allows the public to access many parts of the city of Glasgow that are not normally open. One such place is the studio workshop of sculptor Andy Scott. He is the man who has created some wonderful works of public art now dotted around the country.

It was the Garden Festival of 1988 that made people aware of how nice a place can look with a bit of colour, or works of art situated out in the areas people live, work and travel.

This man has done a lot to contribute to the Feel-Good Factor that such works instill. His website is here.

His big warehouse of a studio was full of work-in-progress. Outside were these 2 magnificent horse heads awaiting their journey to their final destination. Originally it was supposed to be on the Forth and Clyde Canal near the Falkirk Wheel where they were to be placed on platforms which rocked back and forth in water so that when you viewed them from afar they would look like water sprites moving in the canal.

However it seems there has been a change of plan due to the fact that the canal folk found they did not require so much water to be displaced as they had originally estimated ... the Kelpies, as they are known, are to go elsewhere.

Inside the shed were finished sculptures (in poor lighting for photos) which are heading for destinations out in the countryside or highway areas.

Meanwhile this huge Clydesdale Horse sculpture is also by Andy Scott. It is on the edge of the Glasgow to Edinburgh motorway at the Glasgow Business Park, Easterhouse and is mighty impressive. I like it because it means one has arrived in the west after driving from Edinburgh (which is about a 45 minute drive from city centre to city centre.)

Bottom Photo: © Copyright Chris Upson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. (I found it on this website here; there are more photos - all in the public domain- here.)

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Cameras are everywhere in our lives ... and no more so today than in the city of Glasgow. Mairi drove the children and I into the city centre to take advantage of Doors Open Day when the city lays on guides to various buildings and establishments to let you look around places that are not normally open to the public.

We had a great time in the Police Museum before we moved on to George Square and the Glasgow City Chambers building full of Victorian carved marble from the days when the city traded in tobacco, sugar, cotton and other things that people don't teach you in the history lessons.

Here are Alastair and I at the foot of one of the Great and the Good who adorn the main square of the city.

After they headed off I took advantage of the open access to the city's traffic control department. That is the place which monitors - all day every day - those cameras that are used for speeding checks; bridge, motorway and tunnel traffic flow; information signs; all traffic lights both road and pedestrian, The staff make adjustments to ease congestion and help buses (which are linked to a satellite) to keep to timetables by adjusting light changes.

The biggest screen in the room above was looking at something that was happening in the city centre and which happened to be, literally, right around the corner.

What is going on? Halle Berry is in town ... they have blocked off this (hilly) street to allow filming of the film "Cloud Atlas" for which this bit is supposed to be San Francisco. (The traffic people said that the blocking off of this particular fairly quiet area caused more congestion in adjacent areas than they had anticipated.) Can it really be economic to film half way round the world and not in California? (Brad Pitt was here a month ago ... weird!)

However ... I was fascinated to see the big American cars brought in for props, also a half-ton Chev truck and some sort of armoured vehicle, all of the 1950s or 60s. (Heavens! I used to drive one of those cars,.. oh yes, and Chev half-ton!) I mean ... do they ship these things in for the filming? Really?

So great numbers of camera crew are gathered - along with the public behind a barrier - to make the shoot. They even had water spraying up in the air. It must have been about the only time it wasn't actually raining!.

When Alastair first went to Canada he spent some time in the States working on the animation for Halle Berri's film "Cat Woman". I did see her in the distance, Ali, but I did not get close enough to say "Hi"!

And here are newspaper boxes with San Francisco newspapers "for sale" and another big black car used for the film - maybe it is for the bad guys.

So this is me taking pictures of people ... ?paparazzi? ... taking pictures of people taking pictures. Poor Halle Berry ... what must it be like lying on top of a "crashed" car waiting for the cameras to roll .... with zoom lens - both official and unofficial - homing in on you from every direction!

Oh dear ... filming in Glasgow canny be that much fun! Now if they would just build a roof over the city ....

Thursday, 15 September 2011


A wonderful way to extend the summer is to go to France for a week and spend time in the wine producing areas, in our case, Reims, where champagne is made. We joined our Swedish, German, Scottish and French friends for a very pleasant time speaking various languages depending on who was trying to improve which language!

The activity level was fairly low-gear meaning we spent time in cafes, touring vineyards and champagne houses and generally easing ourselves into autumn with food and drink. These 2 photos were taken in the vineyard of Pommery brand champagne.

Alain and Francois were our hosts and I am pleased to say that every day passed most pleasantly without any hitches given that we are all of a (rapidly) advancing age! A friend of Francois's, Jean-Claude, spent time giving us a tour of Reims Cathedral and then joining us for our canal boat restaurant meal later. On our last day we enjoyed a son et lumière cinema projection on the outside of the Cathedral which was all to do with the fact that this year is the 800th (!!!) anniversary of the building of the Cathedral.

The following 2 photos I took showing the wonderful sculpture on the outside of the Cathedral. So why the black borders to the pictures?

Sadly, 2 days after we returned from our week with our Pan-European friends we were telephoned to say that the eldest of our party, Arlette, had just died. What a shock! She and I had spent time figuring out how to pay and travel on the lovely modern tram that runs from the city centre to our hotel by the railway station. (I found the phrase "M'aider" most useful!) Such adventures are my last memory of her and now she has gone. Well, we all had a good time; I wonder if the Smiling Angel at the main door of the Cathedral knew something we did not?

Friday, 2 September 2011


Time for a ceilidh (that is Scottish term for a party which in our case is a musical evening with friends).

Iain bought a large salmon from the fishmongers in Milngavie and baked it whole in the oven in a tin-foil envelope having filled the salmon with lemon, butter and our garden herbs.

"This is my Baker's Hat"! Every Thursday I collect Ishie at mid-day from her primary school not far from our house. This afternoon she helped me in the kitchen to prepare for our party and she even helped me cut the grass with our brand new hand-mower (which cuts much better than our old electric machine ... now taken to the dump).

Earlier in the day I baked a coffee and walnut cake (Scottish Women's Rural Institute recipe which is simply a basic Victoria Sponge or White Cake to North Americans). She helped me ice it and arrange the walnuts on the top.

Da dah! She is great fun to have "helping"! We are very conspiratorial ... sharing secrets like "Cooks get to lick the spoon/bowl."

I borrowed the cake stand from Mairi. Ishie and I also made chocolate cupcakes ... again another secret we share: they are made from Tesco cake mix packets for 12 cupcakes costing 45 pence, i.e. next to nothing. We break up pieces of a really good chocolate bar (72% cocoa solids) and dump it in the mix.

We did a double batch: one for her to take home and one for me for the party. She carefully went through the packet of patterned baking cups picking out the pink ("for girls") ones. Then we had to ice the cupcakes with pink icing just to keep everything right!