Thursday, 20 July 2017


I love Chester. I always have. It means a great deal to me. Most years my brother, CJ, and I go there. It's only a half hour drive from his home on The Wirral. This year was no exception. 

Chester is a very old walled city famous for its Rows - first floor level shops and houses.

The Rows and a staircase up to them.
I like people who smile whatever the weather
I can remember when traffic drove through the centre of the city. Now it's all pedestrianised and much the better for it.
This was at the entrance of the Cathedral. No explanation. Totally bizarre.
This colonnade of shops comprisisng St Werburgh Row
And a licensed TukTuk which was not what I was expecting in Chester

Monday, 17 July 2017

The Thinker

I've titled this 'The Thinker'. It was taken at Brunch where CJ and I sometimes have our coffee and a bacon roll. CJ wasn't sleeping. We were having problems with the last crossword clue. We spend a lot of time doing crosswords with our coffee.

I'm home. In fact I've been home since Friday evening. CJ and I arrived after a week's journeying from his home on The Wirral, via his daughter, son-in-law and grand-daughter in Exeter, thence to the Lake District, Anna's in Bishopbriggs (Glasgow) for a couple of nights and a night almost on Skye. 

Since then we've been catching up with some relaxation, coffees and crosswords at The Woodlands and I've nearly filled a wheelie bin with weeds from the garden. 

Before all that I spent some time in Glasgow and then a week with CJ and Jo when we went into Wales and Chester.

Three weeks. Such a long time. Such a short time.

However I'm hoping to be back in Blogland more now that the dust has settled. After all there's certainly plenty to write about as well as catching up with your blogs.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Fisherman's Cot, Devon

Rarely do I blog specifically about a hotel in which I have stayed but this is a very notable exception. I first experienced The Fisherman's Cot in Devon some years ago and would not have thought it exceptional. Now, however, it is exceptional in many ways: the setting, the accommodation, the ambience, the value for money and, above all, the service. It is a long time since I have experienced a place with so many staff and not managed to find even one who did not appear to be happy and who was not exceptionally pleasant and good at his or her job. I would actually come this far south just to stay here again (and I have never said that before!).

The hotel is on the River Exe and for those who are interested there is plenty of wildlife on the river at the hotel including heron, egrets (which I have only seen in France), dippers and otters. 

Apparently a dozen people one morning were watching an otter with lots of rapt oohs and ahs. Then a duck with six chicks came along and left with only five: the otter having breakfasted on the unfortunate one. The otter went from hero to zero instantly. C'est la vie.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Travelling: The Scottish Borders

I have so many things to blog about I don't know where to start. I wish that I was organised like YP or Cro who manage to blog almost every day regardless of distractions. So far, since I left home, I've spent 4 nights near Glasgow, 3 nights in the Scottish Borders and this will be my fourth night on The Wirral before my brother (CJ) and I go to Exeter for three nights. Then we embark on a long journey back to Lewis where we should arrive five days later. 

I have gathered enough material for dozens of blogs but I'll try and get a few posted before I get home.

After a few days with a pal near Glasgow, I spent some time in the Scottish Borders with friends whom I was surprised to realise that I've known for 35 years (where do the years go?).

We set out to walk round the paddock and ended up starting to walk to England (which, I was assured, was just half a mile along the line of the old Waverley railway). Well after a mile and half I decided to check the map on my iPhone. Hmmm. England was still a good distance away so we turned around and walked back. An enjoyable walk it was too (but very cloudy, wet and green).  

Sue striding forth  (Brian and I following but you can't see us!):

Not far now!

I did meet some Blue Grey Cattle. The first I'd ever seen. They have a reputation for being unfriendly. I got that impression just from looking at them looking at me.

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]

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Midge Hell

I am on Skye. It is hot. It is Scotland. There is no wind. There are midges. EVERYWHERE. 

The bedroom I am occupying is not large and last night it was hot and stuffy so I opened the window - for 3 seconds and then shut it again. However I could not shut the ventilator. 

Midges, like mosquitoes, are attracted to carbon monoxide. The room soon filled with my breath and thus contained enough carbon monoxide to attract every midge in Portree. Which I think it did.

Despite having disposed of the duvet when I got into bed I woke at 0322 cooking in my own perspiration being bitten mercilessly by females feeding their young (only female midges bite).

It has not been a good night. Fortunately I do not react badly to midge bites which, given that I must have well over a hundred that I can see and there must be many more that I can't, would have been terrible for some people who react very badly.

Today is going to be interesting. I'm meeting a fellow blogger and her husband who will be visiting Skye. I shall blog about that after the event. However this evening I have to drive to Glasgow. I f I'm too tired I might end up sleeping in the car. It's Bank Holiday weekend and it would seem that every available bed in the West of Scotland is occupied for the next few days.

I've blogged about midges many times but this one entitled 'B****y Midges' at least had some humour in it.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Snails and Slugs

It is probably too dramatic to describe the quantity of snails and slugs in the garden last year and now as of plague proportions but it's been pretty near to that.  After the amount of damage last year and after having resorted to slug pellets (which I really hate using because I don't really like killing anything - apart from wasps) I thought that the weather conditions which led to the large numbers were so different this year that things might have changed. Not at all.

A couple of weeks ago some Redwings popped in on their migratory route and in a few minutes two of them had demolished a lot of slugs in the grass at the back of the house.


However what has really puzzled me is the fact that snails always go upwards when it gets very wet. I recall them being collected in the rain when they crawled up the houses in Italy. So finding this one having a drink in the pond was one thing:

 But following this snail trail and finding one in the stream was quite another:

  Anyway a couple of days ago I decided to have a snail hunt and this was my haul:

Since then it's only been about half a dozen a day. I'm hoping that I can keep them under control this year.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Emotionally Drained

Apart from my times in New Zealand when I posted on my other blog this is, I'm pretty sure, the longest period between posts since i started this blog in 2007. 

I've been very busy helping my son get his house finished. It's nearly there. I've also been working on my own house in my 'spare' time.

Yesterday was the turning point.

I'm in Glasgow for a few days and yesterday was one of the most emotionally charged days I can recall for a long time.

The first thing I did was take my beloved Nighthawk to be sold. As she sat there all valeted and gleaming at the Car Auction I steeled myself to walk away. Writing this (after the rest of the day) I want to go back and bid for her, ask for her forgiveness, and take her back to Lewis for a long and happy retirement. As it is I can only hope that her new owner gets as much enjoyment and is as happy with her and as good to her as I have been.

In the afternoon a couple of friends and I travelled over by train to Edinburgh (an impossible place in which to park a car) to see an exhibition of Joan Eardley's paintings at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern Two). 

Then we went to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre to see Matthew Bourne's ballet company perform his production of The Red Shoes. I love ballet and have done ever since I saw a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake at the Royal Court in Liverpool as part of the Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1965. In New Zealand we used to go to (and I have blogged about) several productions each season at the Napier or Hastings theatres. I've been to far too few productions in the UK. 

Even if one does not like ballet I challenge anyone to go and see yesterday's production and not be moved. For me it was one of the most magnificent, dramatic and emotionally challenging ballet production I have ever seen. The standing ovation was well deserved.

We all arrived back at Anna's in the hour before midnight. Cheese and wine appeared as if by magic and disappeared down grateful throats as we reminisced on a wonderful afternoon and evening.  We eventually made way to our beds and slept....and slept.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

A Sporting Weekend

I really have little interest in watching sport. There are a few exceptions which I do try and watch and enjoy: the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Races (brilliant now that the ladies race is given as much TV time as the men's), the Grand National and The Golf Masters from the stunningly beautiful Augusta National Golf Club. 

Having been born in Liverpool it's inconceivable that I wouldn't have come into contact with the Grand National. Almost everyone used to have a flutter (usually as a member of a workplace sweepstake) and may, so far as I know, still do. My family made a (minor) killing in 1956 when E.S.B. won the race. My maternal uncle's initials were E.S.B. Enough said!

This year I knew one runner: One For Arthur and I knew about him because he was the only Scottish trained horse in the race and the owners, registered as Two Golf Widows, managed to make the Scottish news before the race. 

I decided to have a flutter and then realised that to do so I'd probably have to set up an online betting account so abandoned the idea. It's a shame because my intended £10 would have netted me £140 which would have provided a case of an acceptable red. Hey ho.

Then on Sunday night I stayed up to watch the enthralling final round of The Masters where the last people on the course, Justin Rose (England) and Sergio Garcia (Spain), battled it out and at the end of four rounds and 72 holes were level so went to a sudden death play-off. They are friends and their respective partners (wife and fiancée respectively) were very obviously friendly as well. I would have been very happy for either to win but Sergio in his 74th Major event managed his first Major title. 

There was an added poignancy because it would have been his fellow Spanaird the late Severiano "Seve" Ballesteros's 60th birthday.

I was pleased that he won. However what was really heart-warming in this age of business which is called sport was the wonderful attitude that the defeated Justin Rose displayed.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Where is Adrian When He's Needed?

It's probable that CJ will identify this Diptera but if Adrian had still been in Blogland I'm sure that he or one of his readers would have been on the case tout de suite. My best guess is a Cynomya mortuorum but I could be way out. Diptera are really not my strong point. It was on a Grape Hyacinth in my garden today.  I thought it was rather beautiful.

Monday, 27 March 2017


Every answer to a question by a journalist on television these days seems to start with "So..." Am I the only one who finds that intensely irritating.

And whist I'm on the subject of irritating things can anyone explain the rational behind the practice that seems to have developed in the UK (I have no idea whether other countries/cultures also have the practice) of clapping oneself in a situation where one would usually expect other people to do the clapping.

Friday, 24 March 2017

A Beautiful House

Out for a coffee recently we were walking down St Vincent Crescent in Glasgow's Finnieston

and were deafened by birdsong from this wonderfully cultivated frontage:

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

One For The Weegies

Many of you, my dear readers, will know what a Weegie is but many of you will not. A Weegie is a Glaswegian. The Scottish equivalent of a Liverpool Scouser. The difference being that Weegie has an obvious link with the term Glaswegian and Scouser has no grammatical link to Liverpudlian. (I do like rambling introductions).

There has been a rumour for the last couple of centuries that the folk from Lewis are a dour Presbyterian lot.  Presbyterian many may be. Dourness is, however, fading fast and, even then, I'm not sure a many deserved the accolade.

Some years ago a number of statues began to appear in Stornoway. This is one of them. Recently someone with a sense of humour (and probably with Glasgow connections) has tried to outdo the Weegies as their own game.

So what, you might ask, is the Weegies game? It is adorning the head of the Duke of Wellington statue outside the Museum of Modern Art in Glasgow's Royal Exchange Square with a traffic cone.