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Masterchef – 8 December 2017

Today was Scamp’s annual Witches Christmas Dinner so it was get up, get out of bed and put your pinny on.

Scamp was first in the kitchen getting her pudding sorted. I’d taken loaf’s worth of dough out of the freezer last night and left it to defrost, then rise in the kitchen overnight. It didn’t look as if it had done much rising, but I left it on the radiator to warm up and hopefully do the business. It did rise a bit, but not as much as I’d hoped. When Scamp was finished, I turned up the oven and when it got up to temperature, I bunged it in. I still wasn’t convinced, so I made another batch of fresh dough, just in case. As it turned out, the bread was fine, so that was another load of dough in the freezer for another day. Bread done, what’s next. I started to prep the veg for the starter while Scamp sorted the table. I’d already carted the iMac upstairs away from the sticky fingers of the Witches. Prep done, there was nothing for it but to make the filo pastry nests for the quiches. It is the most fiddly stuff to work with, filo. If you so much as look at it the wrong way, it becomes desiccated and falls to pieces. However, I got the four nests made and then filled with the veg before being filled with the egg mixture. Stick it in the oven for 15 mins at the equivalent of 160ºc. They came out anaemic and liquid. Bung them in for another 5 minutes. Still not set, so turn it up a bit and bung them in again. Finally they looked ok. Had to go to Tesco for more provisions, but then it was time to make tracks before the Witches arrived.

Tried to park in the usual place in Auchinstarry, but there was a giant artic with the logo Scottish National Theatre on the side. In Auchinstarry? Surely not. Well, it was and there were luvvies everywhere as well as roadies setting up temporary shelters and there were also lockers spread all along one of the paths. Oh oh, this looked like serious theatre nonsense. Lots of money being flung at an outdoor contemporary dance and movement piece of pish. Council sponsored no doubt for the fourteen inhabitants of Auchinstarry. Just the thing you want to go to when the temperature is sub-zero and the wind is from the north. The mind boggles.

I parked at the Boathouse and left them to it then walked along the canal as far as the lone seat half way to Twechar. I didn’t sit down for fear of freezing to it, I just turned and walked across the plantation and on to the railway path, then back to the car.

Drove out to The Fort to waste some time and had a coffee and a panini there before driving back. My head still buzzing with Wizzard singing about how the Wished it could be Christmas every day. That seemed to be the only Christmas (or should that be ‘Xmas’?) song they had on the Fort’s iPod. The Party was winding down when I went in, but luckily I’d taken the iMac upstairs, so I could retire to the relative quiet of my room, process PoD which was the view along the canal with the sun streaming through the trees, and listen to some real music courtesy of Spotify.

Was told later that the quiches (remember the quiches?) hadn’t been set properly and Scamp had to rescue them by giving them a further 5 minutes. Basically the temperature in the recipe is wrong for our oven.

It was really cold today.  I don’t think the temperature rose much above zero.  When I got back to the house in the late afternoon, the rain that was frozen on the rear light cluster of the car when I went out was still frozen.

Tomorrow? Don’t know. It depends on the weather I fear.

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A longer walk – 28 November 2017

Scamp was on a mission today.

First she loaded up her car with the bottles for the bottle bank and junk for the skip and off she drove to the dump to get rid of the stuff. On the way home she drove to Tesco and loaded up with more stuff, mainly food this time. She told me that although it looked cold outside, it wasn’t all that bad. I took her at her word and drove to Auchinstarry to walk the canal. I had a bit more daylight today and the light was good, so I walked out to Dumbreck marshes. Along the way I met some swans on the ice in the canal.  The water under the trees and out of the sun was frozen right across the canal.  I also got a view back to the houses beside the water which I quite liked, but the swan got PoD. Walked over the plantation and on to Dumbreck. Walked through the marshes to the edge of the wildlife reserve. Out there I saw some long tailed tits doing a bit of acrobatics in one of the trees. That’s a picture of one doing a ‘cannonball’ above. As the sun went away, it got a bit colder so I made my way back to the car. On the way I stopped for a panorama of the pond between the two paths. The red berries are deadly poison.  That’s why the birds leave them alone.  I think that about covers all the photos.

Not a bad walk. Easily covered my 10,000 steps, but sat down with a cup of coffee and a roll and that wee bugger on my wrist wanted to ‘go for a stroll’. I’m afraid I said some bad words.

While I was out, Scamp had ‘done a bit of tidying up’. She only does this when I’m out, because I just hold her back. I know that. Then she did a bit of gardening. After my late lunch I helped(?) her with a bit of DTP in MS Publisher. Not the most sophisticated DTP program, but it covers the bases, or at least it did. I couldn’t believe the amount of things I’d forgotten how to do. It used to be so simple, three years ago! Between us we got it done, but I suspect she’ll go back to her old way of doing it in MS Word in future.

Jamie phoned tonight and entertained us with a tale of the visiting Finnish group at his work who were introduced to the Epicurean delights of fish suppers. I really wonder what they thought of eating out of a piece of paper! Still, it’s a delicacy, and it’s the fare of the country, so perhaps it was the right thing to do. When in Rome …  We had stir-fry tonight, eaten from a plate, with cutlery!

Tomorrow we’ll probably end up at beginners class for Salsa. It will give us some exercise, if nothing else. Other than that, no plans.

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A Gaggle of Goosanders – 23 November 2017

Busy day. Lots of baking and cooking and clearing up and laying tables, because Isobel was coming for dinner.

Since Isobel is , I had to ignore my usual bread recipe and make bread with gluten-free flour, lots of water, lots of oil and two egg whites. I’ve made the bread before and it turned out, much to my surprise, perfectly edible. Today, I was a bit more confident than I was last time, and possibly it’s true that familiarity breeds contempt. Made the dough, or more correctly, white slurry and poured it into a cake tin to rise. I reckoned I had an hour or so free, since Scamp would be out herding Gems into Abronhill for the afternoon, so I drove down to Auchinstarry to walk the canal, the plantation and the railway.

Walking along the canal I came across a flock? Crowd? I eventually settled on Gaggle of Goosanders, sailing merrily up and down the canal. Chasing one another and diving for fish. I don’t think I’ve seen so many. Too many to count and because they were crossing paths and almost crashing into one another, a pointless task to count them. I only see them on the canal in the winter. Do they overwinter here? Must check.

Dogs. Why are there so many dogs and doggy owners in the world? They all seemed to be congregating at Auchinstarry. It seemed that everywhere I looked there were dogs or folk looking for dogs. There was one exception, apart from me. One dog seemed to be following me and also seemed to be looking for an owner. My “Sorry mate. I’m not the owner you’re looking for” didn’t faze it at all. In fact it ran ahead of me and then waited until it was sure I was catching up before running on. Did it want me to follow it, or does that only happen in Lassie (or, if you’re Scottish, Black Bob)? But then it got distracted. A cyclist came down the path going in the opposite direction and it immediately chose him as its lost owner. The last I saw of it was the black blur tailing the cyclist for all it was worth, far down the path. I hope it got home safely.

Crossed into the plantation and came upon a woman delightedly ‘training’ her Staffie to ‘SIT’ and ‘STAY’. I don’t know who was having the most fun, the dog or her. A few bends later I noticed the buzzard sitting majestically in a tree and grabbed a few shots, before being investigated by what looked like two Dobermans with half their legs cut off. Maybe they were miniature Dobermans OR, as they both had sparkly rhinestone collars, maybe they were miniature Doberwomans. I’d have asked the owner what variety of dog they were, but she swept imperiously past without a word. Thankfully the rest of the walk was dog-free as was the trip to Tesco afterwards.

Got home to find that the bread had risen quite well, too well in fact and was oozing down the sides of the cake tin and over the worktop. Oops. Time to put the oven on I think. Spent the remainder of the afternoon making Pesto and Marinara sauce to cover the Italian Chicken. Thanks again Neil D’ for that recipe. The bread baked fine and was deemed a success by Isobel and Scamp. The chicken was partly successful as we hadn’t known that Isobel didn’t eat tomatoes, but she did manage to scrape the marinara off and all in all it was a good night. Lots of entertaining stories and just good conversation.

PoD was not the Goosander or the Buzzard, but the pretty white things growing over the canal. There’s no accounting for my taste!

Tomorrow I need to remove the door to the living room and the handles from the front door as the two seater is booked to make its exit to the charity shop. Seating will be at a premium then until Monday. Scamp has suggested that we utilize the sun loungers. It seems sensible because they were hardly ever used in the garden this summer!

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Walking in the sunshine – 5 November 2017

Another cold night last night. Temperature this morning was around 2ºc. It did rise to almost comfortable numbers, as long as you were well wrapped up.

It took quite a while for the temperature to rise and that’s my excuse for not getting the bike out of the storage room. I could say cold storage, but that might be a pun too far. I didn’t take the bike. I wish I had now, because in the sun it felt warm and there was no wind.

Just after midday I decided that it would be more sensible to go for a walk in the bright sunshine and get some pictures than to drag the bike out, pump up the tyres (if I could find the pump), get dressed for cycling and head out. For some reason, Auchinstarry is becoming very popular at weekends. I think it must be a place to park the car, then take the bike along the railway path or the canal towpath. I was doing the canal towpath then the railway path.

There wasn’t all that much wildlife to see along the route, but I stopped when I was crossing the Plantation to listen and look. The sky was clear, so you could see for miles. Far enough to see a tiny wee dot that gradually circled near enough to resolve itself into a high flying buzzard. What could it see from that viewpoint? Listening, at first there was only silence. Then gradually the noises of the countyside came in, mainly rustling of the leaves in the giant copper beech beside the path. As I was beginning to hear this, a breeze blew and the leaves flew across the path. Then traffic sounds came in and a passenger plane crossed the sky heading for Glasgow and the rustling of the leaves was gone as was the buzzard. Possibly just over a minute of natural sights and sounds in a 21st century day. Worth watching and listening to if you get the chance.

Walked back to the car and joined the real world again. Drove home and processed the photos for today. Today’s PoD is the macro shot of the moss. Usually I shoot the fruiting bodies, but the red spikes made a change. I also liked the single leaf. Yes, yes, I know. NO PICTURES OF AUTUMN LEAVES. I made the rule, so I can break it. I could say it wasn’t the colours that drew me in, but it was. That and the fact that I was shooting into the light. In fact, in both cases I was shooting into the light, contre jour. I like that lighting. It can give more intense colour in the subject and less colour in the background.

Not a bad day for a walk then. Just a pity I didn’t take the bike, like everyone else at Auchinstarry.

Tomorrow I might go in to Glasgow to get a couple of cheap sketchbooks. Maybe toned ones for a change.

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Ophelia & Vodafone. Double Trouble – 17 October 2017

Ophelia arrived early in the morning. I woke just after 4am with the wind howling around the roof. After I had a plate of cereal I went back to bed and slept until my alarm woke me at 8.30. It was however a fitful sleep.

I think, because I’d broken my sleep, it was a long time before I woke properly. Once I was fully compos mentis I phoned customer support at Vodafone to find out what had happened to my new phone. Hmm, that’s an hour of my life I won’t get back. What a total waste of time. The first guy I spoke too at least sounded apologetic and passed me on to the customer care team. That’s where the help ended. Lots of ‘sorrys’, but no shift on the script that there are no iPhone SEs anywhere. Apple don’t even have them, she said. I asked to speak to a supervisor. She said ok and put me on hold while she went for a fag. Then she came back, did some more ‘sorrys’. Again I asked to speak to a supervisor. Again she put me on hold for a while then came back and said the supervisor had agreed with her that there were no iPhone SEs anywhere in any of the shops. “None at all in the whole of the UK”, I asked. “Yes” she said. I asked her why Tesco had them in stock. Her reply shocked me. She said “Where?” She did have an Indian accent. Did that mean she was working in a far east call centre? I thought everyone in the UK knew where Tesco was. I tried a third time to get to speak to a supervisor and she said that all the supervisors were in a meeting and couldn’t be contacted. It’s not until you go start writing this down you notice things. If the supervisors were in a meeting, how did she manage to speak to one? I hate being lied to. I especially hate being lied to badly. I gave up.

When I came off the phone, I phoned the Apple shop, just to see if there was a smidgin of truth in her lies. “Did the Apple store have Iphone SEs.” “Yes.” came the answer “Both sizes and all colours.” Maybe they are keeping them because Vodafone haven’t paid their last bill.

After lunch I phoned a different Vodafone line. Have you heard the expression “A dog with a bone”? In Scotland we have our own version “A dug wi’ a burst ba’.” That’s me. This time I told the automated system that I wanted to leave the Vodies and almost laughed at the sad automated voice. All this bloke wanted to do was repeatedly try to convince me that an iPhone 6 was a better deal. Thanks to Hazy, I was forewarned and I cut the call short.

I went out for a walk to clear my head and get a few shots to make a PoD. I liked two of the images and that’s what is on the top of the page. The mono shot became PoD.

Back home I had one final phone call to make and it wasn’t to Vodafone it was to Trading Standards. I told them the sorry tale of my missing iPhoneSE and the woeful customer service at Vodafone. They gave me concise instructions on how to complain and who to complain to. If the phone is not in my hands this week I will type out that letter and post it Registered Post. After my Indian experience today, even if I have the phone in my hot little hand, I may send the letter anyway.

Dinner tonight was Simple Fish Stew. Thankfully Tesco (you have heard of Tesco haven’t you) had some simple fish!

Too frazzled for a sketch tonight, anyway I need to make up my sleep-time Ophelia stole away during the night.

Tomorrow? Weather permitting we may go out for a spin somewhere nice.

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One in, One out – 3 October 2017

Today started with Scamp driving the Juke to Tesco with me in the co-pilot’s seat. I searched all morning, but I couldn’t find my Zaphod Beeblebrox glasses. You know, the ones that go completely dark when danger threatens! It wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. Apart from the seat being too close to the steering wheel (wooden blocks for the pedals I think) and the mirrors being in the wrong place it went fine. No hissy fits from either of us, and we came home without any scratches (on us or the car).

After Scamp brought the car back home. I changed cars and drove her car down to the Village to get new tyres. Yes, they had tyres to fit it, but were too busy and would be for a while. Could I come back around 3pm. No problem, I could go back and then take the Juke to Stirling to sort out the lights problem, so drove home and picked up Scamp and drove the Juke to Stirling.

The salesman was a bit bemused and told me that Yes, I had been using the correct lights and Yes, the dipped headlight was working properly. He then took it into the garage so the ‘Techies’ could have a look at it. He came back and told us that everything was fine and the Techies couldn’t find anything wrong. However, the lights looked brighter to us now. I thought I had a winner when I remembered the dash cam had been on all the time so I had a record of what had happened. Then when I checked, I couldn’t see much of what had happened because by the time we got home, the camera had overwritten part of the recording, mainly because it had filled the ‘Protected’ folder of the camera with pointless videos, each one protected so it couldn’t be overwritten. Also, I couldn’t hear anything that was being said behind our backs because Christine and The Queens was playing at full blast. Ok, problem not explained, but probably solved. Drove home.

Dropped the Duke off and drove the Micra down to the tyre place. It was empty. Bloke asked me what I wanted done and when I told him two new front tyres, he said he only had one. Could I bring it back tomorrow. Oh well, what’s one more day, one more journey.

Drove home. You can guess the rest. Yes, dropped off the Micra and picked up my camera and took the Duke down to Auchinstarry which is where I got all of today’s pics and a sketch as well.  Bathtime for the Ducks got PoD.

Tomorrow I’ll take the Micra for new tyres. Hopefully they will have tyres and staff to fit them. Oh yes, tried the lights tonight and they are much brighter than yesterday. I still wonder what they did in the garage!

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Slipped the leash – 21 September 2017

Scamp was off to have lunch with one of her friends. I had the day to myself!

In the morning we had a Skype with Hazy. Unfortunately it was interrupted in the middle when Skype decided it was going to do an upgrade. Now I don’t mind upgrades for most bits of software (Windows excepted), but why does a communication program break into your conversation without even a by-your-leave? The answer is because it’s owned by Microsoft. The same company that decides you need the latest upgrade to Windows 10 so badly, it installs it on your computer whether you want it or not. Thought it was your computer? Nope, it belongs to Mickysoft. Unless, of course, you took the sensible route and installed Linux.

After our on-line chat, Scamp got ready and headed off. I set too to practise some ‘painting people’ after I’d filled the washing machine and part completed today’s Sudoku and made lunch. The washing machine was a timer. I had the forty minutes it takes to do a wash to do my painting, then I’d have to hang out the washing because it looked like a good drying day with a light breeze and some splashes of sun. After that it was time to go get some photos. Walked along the canal for a bit and then cut across the plantation. It was there I met today’s PoD, the dragonfly. I think it’s a female Black Darter. Quite small, only about 30mm long. It sat on the handrail of a bridge for ages. I thought at first it was sizing up a little fly for lunch, but then decided it was just sunning itself. Probably it had been listening to the weather forecast and knew the next two days wouldn’t allow for much sun bathing.

Walked back to the car and drove to Tesco to get the makings of dinner which turned out to be a truly awful curry. The best thing about it was the flatbreads. They were excellent as usual.

By the time I got home from my walk, Scamp was back home and my day ’off the leash’ was over. I think I may have a beer tonight to commiserate with myself for making such a poor curry. Must do better.

Tomorrow centres around John Carrigan’s Birthday Bash. Should be good fun.

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Deadly in all but name – 12 September 2017

Drove in to Glasgow in the morning for Scamp’s appointment at the ‘Royal’. She was hardly in when she was back out again, but at least that means there was little to comment on, which is good.

Continued in to Glasgow and got my hair cut. Chose a conservative Nº 4 because the temperature is dropping away these days. This morning the temp was 11.3ºc when I got up, just after eight. Got a book I’d been considering ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ in Waterstones. Cup of coffee in Nero and we were on our way back down Sausage Roll Street for the run home and a sausage roll for lunch. Before lunch however, we had to go and buy lots of things in Tesco, just to make sure their shares don’t plummet.

I went out in the afternoon for a walk, to grab some photos and to hopefully forage some brambles. Had the walk, got the photos and scraped up some brambles, but not many. Maybe it’s my lack of head insulation, but it did feel a bit cooler today, almost cold in the breeze. Came home and made Pasta Genovese for dinner. Always a good filling meal. Fiddly to make the pesto, but we can use it again tomorrow.

That’s about it. Today’s PoD is the Solanum Dulcamara or woody nightshade. The little bright red, deadly berries. Even the birds won’t eat them, that’s a good indication.

Tomorrow I am attempting to clear out the last drawer in the chest of drawers while Scamp goes out for coffee with Annette. What fun filled lives we lead.

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Look for the Juke – 29 August 2017

Went to Stirling today hoping for a test drive in a Juke, just to clear the air and get the car out of my system. They didn’t have one.

Well, that’s not completely true. They had lots of cars, even lots of Jukes, just none that we could take for a test drive today. We did get to sit in one and the nice lady took our details and hopefully we’ll get that test drive on Friday.

Since we were in Stirling and PC World was just down the road, we went there looking for a printer to replace the one that’s languishing in the boot of the car at present. They didn’t have one.

Well, that’s not completely true. (Does this sound like groundhog day?) They had a few printers. Most of them were for Home or Office and only two were marked Photo. One, a Canon and one an Epson. Not an Epsom as the Head of Computing at the school insisted on calling them. I’d have liked a printer that was designed to print photos, but both the PC World offerings were printer/scanners. I don’t need a scanner, I’ve got a really good one. Why would I want to pay for a scanner I didn’t need? Both the alleged ‘photo’ printers used four photo inks and one text printing black cartridge. Proper photo printers have five photo inks, sometimes with a black text cartridge. I wasn’t impressed. Nobody came near me to offer a test drive either. It would be good if you could do a test print on the printer you’re interested in buying. Nobody would think of buying a laptop without first checking how fast apps load and how clear the screen is, but you have to trust the hyperbolic manufacturer’s claims for printers. Once you get it home and find it print pictures that look like something out of Minecraft, you can’t take it back and complain. Well, you could, but nobody at PC World would listen to you. Maybe I’ll just keep the old printer and try to coax it back from the dead.

The day started earlier with me attempting with a fair degree of success to tidy up the back room. I did find the sofa that was hidden under holiday stuff. It took some time and effort, but now it has reappeared, it gives me the impetus to clean up the rest of the room. It should only take another three or four days. Ok, a week tops.

The day finished with a walk along the canal. A place to unwind and do some tidying up of my head. As you can see from the confusing jumping back and forward in the blog, I need more of this ‘head time’. Today’s PoD is a Red Admiral that I managed to grab a few photos of at Dumbreck Marshes. Then it was home for fish pie! A nice end to a day in the sun. Some things done, some things in the pipeline.

Tomorrow is to be much like today apparently and as today was warm and sunny, I’ll take that and say thank you very much.

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Painting again – 17 August 2017

It was a lovely warm sunny morning, but rather than go out walking, for some cantankerous reason, I decided to stay in to sand and paint the upstairs window ledges.

I think it was because the sun was warm and that would help the varnish to dry quicker. I got all three rooms finished in about an hour or so. Looks so much better now. They will probably need another coat, but no great rush.

After lunch I went out for a walk along the canal and out to Dumbreck Marshes. Got some more shots of the caterpillars, as you can see. After some investigation tonight, I discovered they were Buff-tip moth caterpillars. The key was that inverted ‘V’ on the head. Glad that’s sorted. There weren’t so many of them today. Maybe the gusty winds have blown the rest away. Weather was fine going out, but torrential rain showers on the way back to the car.

I was on dinner duty today and the Curried Chicken and New Potato Traybake didn’t exactly hit the spot. Chicken breast was too dry although the legs were fine. Potatoes took too long, so maybe parboil them next time. Other than that, it was fine and easy to make.

Heavy rain and high winds forecast for tomorrow. More painting maybe.