Sunday, 15 October 2017


We love Orkney! We were there in September enjoying their week long Science Festival based in Kirkwall organized by Howie Firth.  Iain gave a talk on 'Bridges'.  Lots of (other!) interesting speakers and mostly retired people who made up the audience.

The final event was topped off by this chap, Peter Higgs (of Higgs-Bosun particles), who was interviewed on the stage by Dennis Canavan, one of his old physics students*. A legend in his own lifetime.  Photo: CERN.

We stay in a cottage on a farm (Tenston Farm) on Mainland Orkney, near the Stones of Stenness.  Extensive new archaeological work going on there this summer.

These photos show the landscape... fertile soil, healthy animals, not many trees. Fields of barley were being cropped that week.

Eynhallow Sound on the east side of Mainland Orkney.  In the past we sailed through this narrow stretch of water between two islands.  Or rather we didn't sail but 'stood still' while caught in the 5 knot tide going against us. The engine showed us going nowhere fast at 5 knots!  Finally after about 40 minutes the tide turned and we were able to make out way forward!
On the west side of Mainland Orkney at Yesnaby it is possible to study the geology. When quarried the rock slabs can be: laid on the horizontal for roads and pavements, paths, stone walls, burial chambers; sloped as roof tiles; lastly, upright as 'fences', gate 'posts' and, of course, stone circles or monoliths.

⇌ ⇌ ⇌ ⇌ ⇌ ⇌ ⇌ ⇌ ⇌ ⇌

* Prof. Higgs shared the 2013 Nobel Prize for Physics after the discovery of the particle he predicted mathematically. Dennis Canavan [Scottish politcal figure], graduated in mathematical physics from Edinburgh University in 1967.

Friday, 13 October 2017


Lots of leaves these days...
A good way to keep Harriet and Ellie amused is to get out the broom, deck brush from the boat and the buckets.  They both love to be busy, busy, busy.

Iain built a woodshed which is just the business.  He chopped the various bits of wood we get from people felling trees.  He seasons it first; now it is stacked for the winter.  Happiness for me is a neatly stacked woodpile!

One pathetic sunflower! My Canada Goose wind-sock looks equally bedraggled.

An example of Scottish sunflowers.  The French must laugh their heads off at this... they who enjoy fields of waving yellow heads!

Table flowers from the James Watt Annual Dinner which are managing to stay upright on our front door entry area.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017


Catch up time! 

We enjoy having visitors and no more so when former students of Iain's turn up.  What started out to be a Sunday dinner this week with one gentleman from Syria joining us ended up being a table full of folk from all the airts and pairts. 

We enjoyed seeing Nabil again and hearing about his life in Aleppo. He now has a grown up family. It was good to talk about his time in Glasgow 30 years ago.

John and Debbie from Calgary are visiting Scotland just now so it was good to have them join everyone for dinner.  John has taken many photos of us or our family over the years. (More of this in future posts.)  Here is one he took on Sunday.   I have just been pulled out of the kitchen so am appearing a bit florid!

John took this photo of Mairi and the gang.  Over the years John and Debbie have often hosted us, or Mairi, when we pass through Calgary. (Ellie, 2; Ishie, 10; Me, Harriet, 4; Mairi; Alastair, 8.

Rogue's Gallery Update: 
Ishbel and Alastair come to us early every Tuesday before school.  We are now into a routine: Ishbel cooks bacon, Alastair times the boiled eggs ... Yes, Typical Boy... here is he timing the eggs!

This is Ishbel's last year in primary school.  She starts secondary school next year. As Alastair goes into his last year at the primary school Harriet will start.

 Ellie, otherwise known as Miss Personality Plus.

Harriet.  John took this photo ... if you can catch her when she is not looking at the camera she is a great subject.  A natural beauty!

This is Indy (6) about a week ago on a California beach.   He has started school and Alastair (to whom we speak on Skype every week) says he has a very good teacher; he is coming on well!  They now live in Los Angeles.

Thursday, 31 August 2017


The new Queensfery Bridge opened today. It joins the south side of the Firth of Forth (Edinburgh side) to the  north side providing a trunck route to the north-east of Scotland.

BBC photo

BBC photo

Iain showed me this article which is about an Edinburgh man who came up with a design 200 years ago.  The bridge is uncannily similar however it was never built.
Times Article August 30, 2017

It has been described as a “feat of modern engineering” but the Queesferry Crossing was first imagined by a little-known engineer whose 19th century plans have been found ion a vault at Edinburgh University (Gurpreet Narwn writes).
The designs drawn up by James Anderson in 1818 look remarkably similar to the crossing, which opens to the public today after almost ten years of planning and six years of construction.
Mr Anderson, the son of a textile worker in Edinburgh, envisaged “A Gridge of Chains proposed to be thrown over the Frith [sic] of Forth.”

The blueprints were discovered in the university’s archive by Bruce Bittings, a researcher.

The plans for a roadway linking North and South Queensferry were proposed 72 years before the completion of Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker’s Forth Bridge, which still carries the railways across the famous waterway.

Anderson’s design and the new Queensferry Crossing are both suspension road bridges, with their supports extending as straight lines from the towers.  Anderson’s scheme has the roadway supported by chain cables, forged from iron bars.

He drew inspiration from Thomas Telford’s bridge across the Menai Strait in north Wales and proudly suggested his timber-decked crossing would “facilitate the communication between the southern and northern divisions of Scotland.”

The project would have cost between £200,00 at the time, which equates to about £840 million today - substantially cheaper than the £1.4 billion Queensferry Crossing.

Whilst his ambitious plans were beyond the capabilities of early 19th century bridge engineers, he has been credited for his visionary design.

A civil engineering biographical dictionary said he “deserves credit for visualising what the suspension=bridge principle would eventually achieve, and for incorporating in his designs some provision against oscillation of the deck.”

Anderson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1836 and died at his home in the city in 1861.

Monday, 28 August 2017


I have just finished reading a remarkable book. Details below * and **
The title comes from a Japanese saying which relates to persistence.

It is a translation of a story written by a Japanese lad, Naoki Higashida. This is him. Photo from the Guardian article here: 

 Photograph: Jun Murozono

As the reviewer Charlotte Moore states: "Naoki Higashida is a 24-year-old man with severe, largely non-verbal autism. Though he cannot hold a conversation, he uses an alphabet grid to build up sentences, which are taken down by a transcriber. By this method he produced his first book, The Reason I Jump, when he was only 13. It quickly became an autism classic."
I have not read the first book (stated above) in which he describes his non-verbal autistic childhood. In this one he is speaking as a young adult; for me  it was an eye-opener. 
The translator, David Mitchell uses the term 'neuro-atypical' for people like Naoki and 'neurotypical', i.e. we might call 'normal' people.

The book contains a collection of Naoki's observations, inner thoughts and suggestions for helping to deal with people like himself.

"The word for 'autism' in Japanese is jiheisho and conveys an image of poeple locking themselves up inside themselves. This is misleading."  He describes life  without being able to get a word or words out.  Where he eventually began to start getting a few words to come out after many years, he describes the mental process to get there and the effort it involved.  He also gives lots of example of things that really throw him e.g. change of plan in, say, a journey.
He says that trying to change behaviour that is causing distress is like asking someone to stop vomiting.  
I realize now that I used to baby-sit for a family whose middle child was like this...but as far as I can remember the word 'autistic' was never in use.
* Details:

Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man's Voice from the Silence of Autism is a book written in 2015 by Japanese author Naoki Higashida when he was between the ages of 18 and 22. [Wikipedia] 
Author: Naoki Higashida
Page count: 240
Publisher: Random House

Preceded by: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
Published in English: 2017

** This book is published 2017 in UK by Sceptre


Saturday, 26 August 2017


Edinburgh Festival time....

Marc-André  Hamelin

[Photo: Rob McAlear at English Wikipedia]

Last week I went through to Edinburgh to a concert in the large Usher Hall where Marc-André Hamelin, Montreal born pianist, was playing with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The conductor was Jukka-Pekka Saraste.

It was a good concert.  Yes, he played beautifully but he did look pale and tired.  It finished at 9:30 pm which gave me comfortable time to walk to catch the Glasgow train at Haymarket Station.  That was the good news.  The bad news is that some of Glasgow's finest were also on their way home and were definitely the worse for having had too long in the wine bar.  A steady stream of foul language shouted throughout the journey until they finally got off ...

... and they were all girls. 

As it happens I had a completely different sort of bad luck last year for a similar concert. I had a ticket (not cheap!) to hear the Chinese pianist Lang-Lang.  Unfortunately he had to cancel because of illness. (Pierre-Laurent Aimard from France filled in at the last minute.)  It was fine but I was really keen to hear Lang-Lang.

Never mind, maybe I should stick to the excellent concerts on TV and YouTube, also on BBC iPlayer where the Proms are now in full swing.  Such high calibre camera work, e.g. zooming right in to the orchestra pit!

Thankfully I am able to forget about tiresome behaviour in public places by
... getting out and smelling the flowers...

or   ....   getting out the baking tins...

I made (another) Spiderman cake for the children.  Couldn't think what to put on top for a 'spider' so opted for a daisy from the garden.

... or having an unexpected visitor!

The other day the doorbell rang and a young lad I know presented me with a box in which there were 2 strawberry tarts!  He is a student who helps my next door neighbour with her garden and we often share a cup of tea or a wee blether over the fence.  For example, he told me about the flight tracker app []  so that I can identify the planes heading for Glasgow airport. 

Well I was really touched!  Iain, of course, doesn't eat such things but I was more than happy to tuck in.  It has been a long wet summer! That plus coming at the end of a long day really boosted my spirits!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


A new book is due out this week:

MacCloud Falls by Alan Jamieson*

The following article by Harry McGrath is in this week's Scottish Review of Books.
The novel is set "in British Columbia [where] he focusses** on the province’s Scottish connections, First Nations’ land rights, illness and Burns." 

The main character is "an antiquarian bookseller from Edinburgh who has taken a Greyhound bus to a small town in interior British Columbia ...." He meets a girl when his flight from Scotland stops over in Calgary.  The above full length article traces how he uses historical people and places to create his narrative.  

Fascinating!  I recognized so much of it! 

The Edinburgh Book Festival is on all month so no doubt the 'Bookshop' tent will have a copy. It's a good job I did not articulate my complaint of that Book Festival!... namely that it is a huge marketing exercise where one can never get a ticket to hear a speaker/meet a writer in the small-audience tents.   Now here I am wanting to get the (very convenient Milngavie to Edinburgh) train simply to make a purchase in their huge-bookstore tent!

It reminds me of Banksy's 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' (which relates to art galleries).  How about 'Enter Through the Book Shop'? Yes, as I recall, it is, indeed, located at the one-entry-point-only entrance of Charlotte Square where the Book Festival is annually held.


*Publisher: Luath Press Ltd   ISBN: 9781912147076  320 pages.

** I would use 'focuses' but never mind!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017


Over the years I have observed creeping Americanization in its many forms, e.g. clothing (baseball caps, T shirts) but language is the one that intrigues me the most.  To be fair I have been using American, i.e. North American, turns of phrase for all of my 50 years living in the UK. I use them without thinking. Indeed, nowadays so many of these phrases are global. 

One particular phrase that has become common now is the greeting "Hiya".  It used to be more used by children and is a good example of this cultural change.

However the other day I confess that I was quite taken aback with a brief encounter locally! I had parked my car in a British Rail car park and had gone into the station to hand in some brochures and was returning to my car.  Next to my parked car was a family getting out of their car preparing to head to the train.  As I approached my car the father and his 2 little boys passed by me.  Then behind them came mother. The wee boys were skipping about and my attention was vaguely on them, I suppose.  I was aware of the mother coming towards me but was not looking very high off the ground. When she was shoulder to shoulder with me I heard this cheery greeting .... "Hiya!"  I looked up to respond and only then noticed that she was veiled, wearing what I see is called a 'niqab'.   I found the whole encounter curiously odd, i.e. the juxtaposition of a throwaway familiar greeting from a person who was totally  'unfamiliar'.


It's been wet for the most part this summer.  For sailors that is not a problem; all they want is a fair wind.  To that end Iain has been away with friends for one week sailing.  

Here they are on their return Saturday when I drove to Kip Marina to collect them using Iain’s big ‘sports car’ *.     The couple are Peter and Dilys Macdoanld who live in Gairloch.

The Good News:   they had reasonable weather and fair winds and visited many remote anchorages full of wildlife, feather, fur and fin.

The Bad News: Nearing the end of their week’s holiday Iain fell in the cabin in rough seas and cracked a rib in his back, right side.  It is similar to incidents before…  oh dear!  :-( 

He is fine, except that he is now grounded in base-camp again and forced to take life very gently.  Fortunately, life is quiet at the moment (except for yet another funeral!) so we are at home and sit in the garden when the sun shines.

 Lovely weather for ducks   Photo by Jan Piecha, Flickr

Two weeks ago I headed to Giffnock to visit some friends. It had been raining with sudden heavy showers.  At a point in the road en route to their house, the road dips and rises again.  I came upon a ‘lake’ where the water had collected in the dip in the road.  Cars coming toward me had stopped to consider this flood; it looked like the water level could be up to the underside of one’s car.  With a line of cars behind me and also beside me, all stopped, thinking “Oh hell!  What is to be done here?!”  I took a decision as if I was in deep, or at least, deepening, snow. I put the car into 1st gear, stepped on the accelerator and headed steadily into the water…. a slight pause midway …. kept my nerve and up … up … up and out the other side.   Phew!   I certainly am my father’s daughter when it comes to handling cars!   When I got home I said to Iain that I was very impressed with that VW Golf!  I checked the brakes afterwards… OK.  A very good little car!

Monday, 17 July 2017


Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie! 

I am truly sorry
The roads department left ye
A trap ... of tar
Melting in the hot sunshine
Sludged in the corner
Of a car park.

You alighted on it
And it was your undoing.

A snow-scapper 
From the back of the car
Helped to extricate one foot
Then the other
So you could flap, flap, flutter
To the nearest bush
To die
Shackled in asphalt.

*** With apologies to Robert Burns 'To a Mouse'!!

Friday, 14 July 2017


July is jam-making time and I simply cannot kick the habit! I couldn't go by tubs of jam berries in the supermarket (which are labelled 'Less Than Perfect' and sell for a reduced price)  without buying a couple of tubs plus a bag of sugar (1 kilo bag = 2.2 pounds).  I buy 3 containers which totals about 2.2 pounds and put everything in the stainless steel pressure cooker pot as in photo below, lower left.  Happiness if putting the cooling jam pan on the garden table and spooning the freshly made 'prize' on to some scones.

Iain recalled me doing a similar exercise on the boat about 20 years ago when I took the berries, the pot and the sugar aboard the boat so as not to miss the jam-making season!

One thing I learned today (as I have made several 2.2 pound batches now): don't add pectin.  Just leave the jam in the pot overnight and look at it in the morning.  I had to do this out of necessity... I didn't have any jars!... and the jam in the morning was absolutely fine.  Yes, a little sloppy but gelatinous enough to pass muster as far as I was concerned.  And, of course, the flavour is wonderful.  Scottish berries are very, very tasty.  None of the big, fleshy tasteless ones that get served on high prices desserts with cream that gets scooshed out of a can.

And on my way back to the car with my basket of berries I spotted the local heron, often seen in this location, through the walkway bars!  He looks like he is missing a few wing feathers.

July is also for roses.  Possibly they are at the height of the season just now ... lots of blooms and very showy.

Thursday, 6 July 2017


The summer days continue with a variation of grey sky and no rain to grey sky with rain.  Occasionally the sun comes out so it is a matter of grabbing 'summer' in snatches.

Everything is growing a lot.  In 'snatches' I manage to keep on top of the jobs - quite satisfying.  I also notice that the soil is improving now that a few years have gone by.  

The roses in particular have been big, blousey and abundant.  They are in a sunny corner and have stood up well so far.

Here is a photo of the orchid that appeared in Anne's garden.  I've made several attempts to photograph it but each time the breeze gets up or the sun goes behind a cloud.  I never realized it was so difficult!

Another summer snatch: the day declared itself - steady rain.  I got out the jars and filled them with beet and apple chutney.  Maggie's recipe.

Having burned my potholder on the gas hob I found this funky oven glove in the Oxfam shop.  Harriet will love it.  She's always keen to make something so this will be one for her on our next baking session. 

 * * * * * * * * *
Another candidate for inclusion in my 'Book of Bad Design'  - DYMO KITCHEN SCALES

These are my kitchen scales.  I had to move over to digital as I couldn't find any old fashioned ones (that were robust) when wishing to replace my old weighing scales.

The scales measure in both metric (grams) and avoirdupois (ounces and pounds).  I regularly use both so am always having to change.  The problem with the design of these scales is that it is almost impossible to see the 'unit of measurement' text  (OZ  or GM)  in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

What I do is take the scales to a strong light and tip it so I can read the OZ  or the GM text in the upper right corner.  To change is easy; punch the kg/lb button which operates as a toggle switch.

Sunday, 2 July 2017


Yesterday, July 1st, was Canada Day which marks the anniversary of the formal coming together of Canada's provinces and territories into a 'nation'.  This all happened 150 years ago.

Fifty years ago was the 'Centennial Year', namely 1967.  Yes, it was a big year but it also reminds me that 6 weeks after finishing university I headed east over the Rockies to Montreal Expo and then flew to London and finally on to Glasgow. (These were the days when flying was a big deal - I recall feeling the need to wear smart clothes.)

Fifty years later and I am still here!

 ... which is why I really could not let the day go past without some sort of 'statement'.

I invited some neighbours in simply to raise a glass (Canada Day means absolutely nothing to Brits) and then tuck into some baking using the seasonal bounty from friends' gardens.

When Iain returned from sailing with John in Skye he brought back zucchini from Roy and Irene's garden in Gairloch and peas from Ilona's polytunnel.  Growing fruit, veg ... anything ... in northwest Scotland requires tenacity so I greatly appreciate what has been brought home hastily stuffed into a sailing bag.

These 'cupcakes' are a variation on carrot cake, i.e. made with zucchini and limes and supposed to have a marscarpone with lime juice icing.  (Note to myself: Stina's recipe)

A neighbour thoughtfully tried to bring a 'national flower of Canada'.  (Is there such a thing?!)  What she had in mind was this:

pasque flower ... which is the provincial flower of Manitoba. Nice... but I had never heard of it!  Not able to locate such a rarity in this part of the world she brought a fuschia which I shall plant in the garden and enjoy seeing from the kitchen window.

 And finally my other neighbour gave me one her gernaiums which was crowding out the bench in her greenhouse.  (Iain hates geraniums ... too many memories of highland homes with front porches lined with pots of geraniums cheek by jowl on the window ledge!)  She knew I liked pink so we can now both doubly enjoy it perched on a low wall in its passionate pink plastic tub.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017


It's mid-summer.  The skies are grey but there is colour if you go looking for it.
Harriet and Ellie help to make a Spiderman chocolate cake ... Smarties being a dominant feature.

Raindrops on roses

 Wedgewood Bizarre Clarice Cliff plaates in local Oxfam shop.

 Wooden spoons in Provand's Lordship, Glasgow.

 Anne's Orchid found in the garden ... Lesser Butterfly Orchid? 

VW at local vintage car show