The end of a year – 31 December 2020

A year we won’t forget, although most of us will wish we could.

It was snowing when I was making breakfast and it continued to show well into the afternoon. I finally put on my boots and snow gaiters and went for a walk in a sort of sleety drizzle over to St Mo’s and found my PoD. Not taken with the fancy Sony, but with my old Teazer TZ70 which is clean for now after being hoovered out a year or so ago and left to recover from that shock. It’s now much cleaner than it’s replacement, the the TZ90 that is a dust magnet. Anyway, PoD was a moorhen striding out across the snow on the frozen St Mo’s pond. Almost, but not quite black & white. A couple of circuits of the pond told me that there were no other animals or birds looking to be models for me, so I headed home.

It’s traditional to do a bit of tidying up on Hogmanay and as I said last night, I booked myself in to clean the kitchen cupboards, just the outsides, of course. Heavens, it would take a week to clean the outsides AND the insides. I’d like to say it wasn’t such a terrible task. I’d like to say that, but the truth is it was just as bad as I expected. I think we may have to reduce the amount of frying we do, especially deep fat frying. It’s not until you try to clean a cooker hood that you realise just how sticky everything becomes. However, it’s done now and the kitchen looks better for it.

I think Scamp may be coming down with the cold that I thought I had yesterday. Strangely I feel much better today and now she sounds like I did. Let’s hope she recovers as quickly as I did.

Dinner tonight was paella made in the new pan. It worked, but only just. Not the best pan for cooking a rice dish. All those little rice granules get caught in the same ribs that make steaks or chicken breasts taste great.
Note to self: Horses for Courses.
Paella may have been a miss, but the Viennese Shortbread, Scamp made was melt in the mouth. Lots more in a Lock ’n’ Lock box for tomorrow.

Temperature is a positive 3.7ºc now and the snow is still melting. If it freezes later in the night the roads will be a mess. I’m just glad I’m not having to drive. I couldn’t tell you the last time our respective cars turned a wheel. There’s just been no point, so they’ve been parked up for ages. Must make the effort in the new year, i.e. from tomorrow.

No real plans for tomorrow. We’ll probably stay up for “The Bells” tonight, have a dram or a gin and go to bed.

Looking back is what we do on this day, but this isn’t a year I want to look back on. Restrictions, Lockdowns and disappointments marred a terrible year. We can only hope that next year will be everything this year hasn’t been.

I think that’s my wish for 2021. I hope all my readers have a happy and a healthy New Year. Let’s keep looking forward, not looking back.

Another cold start to the day – 30 December 2020

Temp was -3.7ºc this morning. We were in no rush to go out.

Instead, Scamp started baking a couple of Dundee cakes. They should have had whisky in them, but she doesn’t like the taste if it (why!!?) so she substituted Calvados instead. I gave her a bit of help with the logistics. I held the paper cases open while she spooned the mixture in. I’m useful for some things.

With the cakes in the oven, I was staring out the window and I realised that there was a Long Tailed Tit pecking at the fat block that hangs from the tree. As we watched, it was joined by another four of them. They are very rarely seen near houses, preferring open country. I thought that if I grabbed my camera and went through the manipulations that are necessary to connect it to the adapter and to the long lens, the birds would be long gone. But no. They were still there. I managed two shots, then a blackbird seemed to startle them and they flew off. I guessed that now they’d found the fat blocks, they’d be back and sure enough about five minutes later they were crowding round the food. I managed a few more shots before they flew off again looking for something extra to finish their lunch.

Our own lunch was now calling us and I used the heat from the oven to warm through my slice of mince cake (I’ve got the last bit in the fridge for tomorrow). It was delicious and it disappeared in no time.

I wanted some more ammunition just incase the bird pictures didn’t work out, so I dressed for the just above zero weather and walked round St Mo’s. Scamp isn’t too keen to go walking in this icy weather, so she stayed home to admire her cakes and do some cleaning. I did get a few shots in St Mo’s, but nothing to compare with the birds from this morning. I walked down past the back of the school to the shops, but saw nothing of note. I was hoping for some deer, but they were off somewhere else today.

Back home and after dinner, it was the Long Tailed Tits that made Pod. I also got my first two or three calendars printed. Then the printer started banding a bit, so I think it needs the ink reservoirs refilled. I may do that tomorrow.

Tomorrow being Hogmanay, it’s the day for cleaning before we usher in a new year. I’ve volunteered to wash down the kitchen cabinets which are really badly in need of cleaning. Scamp will no doubt be similarly engaged elsewhere in the house.

Shopping, Snow and White Flamingos – 29 December 2020

It had snowed during the night, not a lot, but a covering. Very crisp, very even, just not deep.

We stayed in during the morning waiting for the snow to melt away, it didn’t, in fact it’s still there just the same as it was this morning. We were having a piece on fried egg for lunch. If you don’t understand this description, imagine a slice of bread, buttered. Lay a fried egg on it and then, carefully, place another slice of buttered bread on top. There you have it, a piece on fried egg! Well, to get back to the story, Scamp took an egg from the egg box and attempted to crack it with a knife. Except, instead of making a nice wee crack in the shell, she sliced the egg in two! Neither of us had ever seen that trick done before. What a mess to clean up.

After lunch we went a walk to the shops. The paths looked treacherous, but weren’t too bad. Scamp had been smart enough to book a slot at M&S. I haven’t managed to master that bit of online trickery yet, so I went for a waltz round Home Bargains instead. Got a couple of things and met her outside. Then we walked home.

I only came home to keep her company and to pick up my lumberjack’s hat and a long lens to take some interesting photos of the birds on the ice at St Mo’s. The swans were practising their Flamingo routine, tucking their head under their wing. That became PoD. I was surprised there was so much ice still because the temperature was rising.

Walked round to the wee pond and the lighting was good, so I got some wide angle shots of it too.

On the way home I saw a powered paraglider off to the east. I was hoping the pilot would fly over the pond, but whoever it was flew away south after circling for a while over the town centre I would presume. It would have been a great view from that thing today as long as you were well wrapped up. The temperature may have been rising, but the sun was dipping down by the time I left St Mo’s and I think the temperature was hovering around zero by that time.

Back home Scamp gave me a run down on how to make a mince pie. Very simple, but simple things are never the easiest to make. I made a fair fist of it, although I think I was a bit too easy on the salt. Must be more generous with it next time, all being well. Watched Zog and the Flying Doctors tonight. Great film, absolutely fascinating to have a film made about me!

No plans for tomorrow. It may be Cod with Prawns and Fennel for dinner.

It was Monday – 28 December 2020

It gets harder to work out what day it is just now.

It was dry this morning, but it was also cold. Because of that we didn’t move much until after lunchtime and judging by the line of frosted cars, most folk were thinking along those lines too. The temperature wasn’t rising very much to encourage anyone to go out, but we eventually decided we’d go out for a walk.

Since we didn’t know what the paths would be like, we limited ourselves to a walk round St Mo’s pond. Even then we had to be careful and constantly watch to see where was ice and where was asphalt. The rough paths under the trees were fine, but the lower lying paths were so treacherous we chose to walk on the grass rather than the asphalt. I’d taken the Tamron long lens with me on the adapter and it worked as well as it could in the low light that marks December. PoD turned out to be a coot picking its way carefully across the ice on the pond. So it’s not just us who are minding our feet! The boardwalk was icy, but walkable with care. The grit that’s bonded to the wooden boards seems to provide a decent grip as long as you’ve got boots on.

Back home I processed today’s pictures and posted them while Scamp read. Dinner was spaghetti, red spaghetti as it’s known in the house. A tomato base with something from the veg selection in the fridge flung in. Today it was a bit of fennel, a couple of shallots, a handful of cherry tomatoes and the same of mushrooms. Apart from the tomatoes which went in whole, everything chopped up fine and sweated down before adding half a tin of tomatoes. It’s a hit or a miss each week whether it’s “great”, “reasonable” or “in the bin and we’ll have a pizza.” Today was “reasonable”.  Scamp’s leftover trifle needed no such evaluation, it won the “Great!” complete with exclamation mark.

Watched Singing in the Rain which we’d recorded yesterday. Absolutely brilliant film with amazing dance routines. Scamp’s just finished watching Strictly’s Top 25 which was a pale version of ‘Singing’!

Looks like more sub-zero temperatures tonight and most of tomorrow. Scamp’s got a slot booked for M&S tomorrow afternoon. If the paths are bad we may drive down. If not, that will be our walk for the day.

We have snow – 27 December 2020

Just a little scraping of snow, but it’s there.

It must have arrived during the night, but thankfully the tanker that brought it must have been almost empty, because there was so little there. We expected more to arrive during the day, but were disappointed, although there were some who rejoiced in the fact that the paths would be clear of the white stuff.

We didn’t do all that much today. I did finally put on my boots and take a camera with a couple of lenses out to St Mo’s in the afternoon. One of the lenses I took was my favourite wide angle Sigma 10-20mm. It works really well with the adapter. It focuses and responds to aperture adjustments. I realise this means nothing to most folk, but I’ve always liked this lens. It’s big and heavy and was expensive when I bought it, but it produces great images. Thanks to a fairly cheap adapter it still produces them. The Sony recognises its firmware and crops the frame to an APS-C size. It’s a pity it doesn’t fill the full frame, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m just delighted it still takes great photos. It was the lens that took PoD which was in the woods behind the pond at St Mo’s. Behind me was a clutter of broken Bucky bottles, beer cans and deodorant cans that allegedly some people sniff for a cheap high that has the benefit of making you a nicely perfumed corpse.

Back home, Scamp was making a trifle with pieces of Pandoro which is Italian Christmas cake. Very light and fluffy and usually dusted with icing sugar. Today it formed the base of a beautiful trifle. It was Turkey Casserole for dinner, but it wasn’t the best turkey in the flock I think. Nothing to do with the cooking, it appears from a few complaints that Tesco wasn’t the best place for turkeys this year. I suppose you could say it WAS the turkey!

Tonight we played Tin Pin Bowls, so called because all the component parts fitted neatly into a small tin. Scamp won, but I think she cheated. After her resounding win we made origami Christmas Trees, and then origami Penguins. Another of her impressive Christmas Prezzies. Great fun was had by both. The penguins actually looked fairly realistic, when viewed at the correct angle … and from a distance!

Tomorrow we may move on to more advanced origami and after a couple of bowling lessons I might manage to get a strike. It’s forecast for more snow.

Rain & Wind – 26 December 2020

Boxing Day, and it rained all day from early in the morning until late at night with gale force winds thrown into the mix. Also, all of mainland Scotland moved into Level 4. Lockdown returns.

I made a loaf using the last of the yeast I bought online during the first lockdown. It’s lasted well and I was smart enough to buy some more from Tesco last month. For once I hand kneaded the dough in preparation for making the bread from JIC and Sim’s present. I must admit that although it took a long time to prove, it tastes very nice indeed.

I’d planned today’s PoD because I knew it would be very unlikely I’d get out to get an outdoors shot, but I changed it a little to add a little bit of interest. Originally I was going to do a monochrome shot of a red pepper that was more wrinkled than I am, but in the end I just couldn’t get enough detail into it. That’s why I co-opted the MiniMen to brighten it up. Smaller than minifigs and mostly men, so they became ‘MiniMen’. They are actually ’00’ gauge figures for model railway dioramas, but they walk and climb and stand in many incongruous situations for my photos. After 20 odd shots I had a winner, or to be more precise, I had something I could make into an acceptable PoD.

Besides baking and photography, I also did a bit of Indian cookery. I made some cauliflower pakora and to go with it, some onion bhajis. I won’t say it was my best effort and it did make the kitchen smell like a chip shop, but they seemed to go down well with Scamp. Also, they became ‘dinner’. We’ll maybe have the turkey tomorrow.

Oh yes, and although I didn’t manage to do the ascending and descending of the stairs, we did go through some dances tonight.  Jive, Salsa, Quickstep, Waltz and Sequence.  Well, we had to do something to begin to work off all that food and drink we’d consumed yesterday and it also helped fix a couple of the sequence dances in my head.

Tomorrow the weather looks to be becoming more wintry with snow and ice forecast. If it means we don’t get today’s rain and wind I’ll be happy. We might even get out for a seasonal walk.

Christmas Day – 25 December 2020

This was always going to be a busy day, but also a happy one.

Opened our prezzies in the morning and as usual, I had more to open than Scamp, but she got a few surprises in her big box with the silver ribbon. It was just the big box her new Kipling bag had come in, but it looked impressive. After the great openings and the even greater packing of the cardboard into the blue recycling bin, the real work of the day started.

We had a Zoom call arranged with JIC & Sim and Hazy & NeilD at 1pm. Before that Scamp had today’s pudding to make in the slow cooker, today’s PoD had to be taken and it’s a family tradition, so it had to be done right. The turkey had to come out of the fridge to warm up and I had to make myself look presentable. We achieved all of that and got the table cleared too just in time for the call.

It was really good to see everyone, even if it was digitally. Zoom is such a clever tool for everyone and is what everyone needs in these awkward times and also at this highly emotional time of year. We were all very careful and everyone got a chance to speak to everyone else. I couldn’t believe just how fast that hour went, but it did. It simply disappeared. We must do it again soon.

Back to the grind, although there was very little for me to do, except finish clearing the table and getting the dishes out of the highest shelf in the cupboard. I also had time to post today’s PoD which is of Fairy Nuff, the fairy who doesn’t sit at the top of the tree. She lives in a display cabinet most of the year, but does get out at Christmas.

I was in charge of the turkey and managed not to burn myself basting the bird. With military precision, Scamp got all the veg cooked perfectly and everything came together at the right time. The pudding too turned out as well as last time. I carved the turkey, something I don’t ever remember doing before. Food was great, just as I’d expect it to be with Scamp in charge. However, for the first time in years, I felt that I overate. Just too much of everything. We had a small bottle of Tokaji sweet dessert wine in addition to half a bottle of red. Too much of a good thing doesn’t always work. That’s why I’m going to have an early night to hopefully sleep off my excesses.

I hope all my readers had a great day today because the unlucky ones can look forward to day one of a 21 day Lockdown from tomorrow.

Tomorrow looks decidedly wet for us. We were hoping to be able to walk off some of today’s overeating, but that may not be possible. It might be a case of climbing the stairs and descending about fifty times plus a half hour dancing practise to achieve the same step count.

Christmas Eve – 24 December 2020

We looked out the window and nobody else had moved from their parking spaces, so why should we?

I’d planned a drive over to the Carron Reservoir for a walk today, but with the prospect of sub zero temperatures all day I changed my mind I didn’t mind driving up the Tak Ma Doon road with its single track sections and the blind 90º bends. But the thought of all the recent rain we’d had freezing made me think “Another day perhaps”. With discretion the better part of valour on this occasion, it was walking boots on and a wander down around Broadwood instead, with the possibility of dropping in at the shops on the way home.

That’s what we did and I did get a chance to try out the Tamron at its 300mm length to grab some waterfowl pictures. Some goosanders and coots posed for me and I gratefully took their offers. However I forgot to check the aperture and good though the Tamron is, it needs to be stopped down a few notches to produce its best work. Although the temperature didn’t rise much above zero, it didn’t feel that cold, although, as Scamp reminded me, that was probably due to the lack of wind.

Back home and it was soup for lunch then, after I’d checked the photos and declared them wanting, I went out again to St Mo’s. I gave in to temptation and carefully placed my Sony A7M2 on the ice of the wee pond, set the timer to 10 seconds and the focus spot on a wee bunch of weeds frozen in the ice, held my breath and pressed the shutter. Over £1000 worth of camera sitting on a thin sheet of ice produced the shot. Was it worth it? Only because the ice held! Don’t try this at home kids. If you like you can check it out on Flickr. PoD was from the same spot, but looking the opposite way. It’s an old hawthorn bush, bent out of shape by the wind howling in from the west. I loved the rim lighting effect from the moss on the trunk and that little hole that allows the sun to shine through. Instant PoD.

Back home for the second time today and a parcel was needing wrapped. I knew I would get in a fankle with sellotape and crinkly Xmas paper. I was right, I did, but the parcel is now wrapped. And wrapped to my satisfaction too.

Sirloin steak for dinner 3 minutes per side in the new pan and then rested for another 3 minutes. Scamp had a nice looking thick slice of lightly smoked salmon. Both accompanied by our favourite potato wedges with Italian rosemary salt. Honestly that was the best steak I’ve had, possibly ever. It came from Lidl. I thought Aldi did the best meat. Lidl are hot on their heels. Nothing to do with the pan this time or the (lack of) skill my cooking brings to the final result. It’s down to the quality of the meat.

That was about it for today. The day before Christmas. In the past it was about trying to keep children occupied and tiring them out before bedtime while one of us was wrapping up bikes and dolls and even a garage that I just managed to finish before midnight. Now it’s a frantic fight with sellotape and wrapping paper followed by a G&T watching a documentary about Central Station. How things change.

Tomorrow is Christmas with all that entails. It’s still fun though!  Hope all my readers have a relaxing day tomorrow.

On the pan – 23 December 2020

My new pan gets its first real test.

In the morning Scamp set to and iced the Christmas cake. It was much smaller than our usual one, but Christmas cakes are a bit like turkeys, in that you feel obliged to keep eating them days and days after they were cut on Christmas Day. We each got a chance to put some items onto, well really Into the finished icing. My choice was the Santa and reindeer and also the little corner house. Scamp chose the children on the sledge and the snowman who now looms over the little house! A tradition returns to the table.

I’d bought an interesting pan for roasting and also for other stuff. It looked like a bargain, but I hadn’t really had a chance to test it out properly, until today. Lunch was black pudding and haggis fried in a ‘normal’ pan and an omelette made in the new pan. The eggs were unused leftovers from this morning’s icing, and it seemed a good way to use them up.. I wasn’t sure if the omelette would work in a griddle, but I’d seen a video online and it looked easy. Surprisingly it was almost that easy and the omelette folded over perfectly, sliced up easily and went down satisfactorily. We have success.

After lunch, Scamp went over to Condorrat to post a card and I fitted the dash cam back on her clean, new windscreen.  I didn’t linger in the car too long because it was pretty cold. When scamp returned I got dressed for the cold and went to St Mo’s to get some photos. The PoD was of the wee pond with ice crusting on its surface. I thought I’d allowed myself more time that I had and the light was fading fast, but the photo looked ok, if a little dark. Lightroom soon made it look a lot better. While I was out walking my two circuits of the big pond, I stopped a while to talk to a bloke I bump into there. He does lots more circuits than I do. I do two and occasionally three, he does up to ten at different speeds. Everyone has their own way of easing the stress of these lockdowns.

Dinner tonight was chicken breasts, red peppers, mushrooms and courgettes, all done in the new pan. They worked fine and there was just enough room for them all. Carbohydrate intake was a baked potato each.

The pan is a Whatever Pan by Jean Patrique ( or John Patrick as he’s know down the Barras). That’s me used it three times and I’ve not broken it yet, so it must be sturdy. It’s cast aluminium and let me tell you that it gets bloody hot!

Tomorrow looks good. Clear skies predicted. We may go for a walk, somewhere quiet. If there is such a place on Christmas Eve!

A walk in the rain – 22 December 2020

Up early to get a new window in the Micra.

Not my Micra, this was Scamp’s. It had a crack on the driver’s side of the windscreen, just above the dashboard that looked as if it would increase in size after the first heavy frost. Today the man was coming from Autoglass to fix it. He phoned about 8.15 to say he was on his way. Scamp’s car was jammed into a fairly small space, so I took the opportunity to steal Scott the taxi driver’s space at the end of the row and give the bloke a fighting chance of getting the screens exchanged. I had to scrape the windscreen first after the first hard frost we’ve had in ages. I was a bit gentle with it, not wanting to make the crack any worse than it needed to be. He arrived on time and it took him almost exactly the 45 minutes he predicted and it looks a nice clean job. He said we should leave it for 30 minutes before driving it, but it was unlikely to move far today.

I’d cleared Scamp’s car’s screen, so I started on mine and drove up to Boots for our meds and Tesco for bread then back home with the air con blowing a gale, a warm gale. We wouldn’t go hungry today. Leftover tomato soup and croutons for lunch, then after letting that settle we got our boots on and went for a walk in St Mo’s.

We’d been in for most of the morning and then we’d waited for a while before we left on our walk. The weather in all that time had been beautiful. Cold but clear and clean. As we walked round St Mo’s pond for the second time we could definitely feel rain. We just continued on, hoping that it was just the edge of a cloud we were catching, but it wasn’t. We were wet by now, so we just walked home. We’d done our two circuits of the pond and on the last one I’d got PoD of the light through the trees with the rain falling.

That was about it. We checked the TV schedules to see if there any decent films to watch, but there were none, at least none that I wanted to watch. We switched to Netflix and were grateful that we did. Thank you Hazy for adding some films to our list. Hopefully that will keep us from watching The Snowman one more time.

Spoke to my cousin Margaret and heard about her troubled year.  Sometimes we forget about other people’s problems, constantly bemoaning our own.  Then you hear from someone who has overcome much more serious troubles and it puts your own life into a clearer perspective.  Thankfully she’s on the mend again and has avoided Covid-19.  As she says, she’s just battling on.

Tomorrow we have no plans. Hoping we won’t have an early rise.