Big Boots To Fill – 30 July 2018

I wanted to take my bike out today, but off-road, not on-road.

I’d seen a bloke down at Auchinstarry with a Juke, casually sliding his mountain bike into the car once the back seats had been folded down. I knew the car had a good big boot, but the secret to the ease with which he could carry his bike is that once the seats are folded down, the raised boot deck provides a flat surface from the rear of the car to the back of the front seats. If he could do it, so could I. I forgot that he had a mountain bike and I have a hybrid. His wheels are just that bit smaller than mine. That meant I had to remove my front wheel to make the bike fit, but fit it did. I also had to cover the folded down back seats with a sheet of heavy duty polythene that I found up in the loft. The main thing is it worked.

Cycled along the railway path almost to Twechar, then took a right turn and cycled along a rough track through some fairly recently planted trees out almost to Queenzieburn and from there back to Twechar. From there I went along the canal to the steps to Shiva Pend which is a tunnel under the Forth & Clyde canal to allow a burn to run down to join the River Kelvin. It’s a strange wee place which was built apparently in the 18th century. Wandered around there watching tiny wee trout trying to catch flies while I was trying to take some photos. Climbed back up to the canal and realised that it was beginning to rain. Down at the pend the overhanging trees had given some shelter, so I hadn’t noticed the rain. I decided that would do for today and headed back to Auchinstarry along the canal and passed four blokes in two canoes. Crossed over at the Plantation where I got today’s PoD which is a Painted Lady butterfly sunning itself on the warm stones. I thought I’d avoided the rain, but then it came on with a vengeance and I got back to the car just before I got completely soaked. Bike dismantled and back in the car then up the road.

Scamp made dinner tonight while I got ready to go to salsa. Salsa was all twists and turns and awkward moves which didn’t do my poor wee knee any good, but I survived and it feels a bit better tonight. Tonight’s move was called Venezuela. Jaime would approve.

Tomorrow we have no plans, but the weather looks wetter than today.

Lazers and Needles – 11 July 2018

Physio today.

Up and out early to meet the torturer. Actually he’s a very gentle torturer who tentatively prods and pushes then presses on a spot a bit harder and, as I twist, says with a smile “It hurts there then!” Oh yes, it did! He swiftly diagnosed a damaged medial ligament. Caused by not listening to Michael properly when he was demonstrating the reverse turn. Then it was on to 15 minutes of laser treatment before he started with the needles. I’ve had acupuncture before, but it’s a while since I saw them going in. Oh, they are long! It’s a strange feeling seeing them sink deeper and deeper into my leg. He finished up by giving me two exercises to give a bit more flexibility to my core. I didn’t know I had a core, but apparently I do have quite a stiff core which is also part of my problem. These are exactly the kind of exercises that JIC warns that you do a couple the days before you go back to see the physio, but you tell him you’ve been doing religiously all week and you both know you’re lying! I’m starting out with good intentions.

Got home and it was just a few minutes after 9. Had a coffee, checked my mail, checked Flickr and the inevitable FB then went out to the garden and did a bit of light pruning. Chopped the seed heads off the aquilegia.

Came in to find Scamp washing half a dozen bone handled knives. Old ones. Probably older than me. Probably a wedding present to my mum and dad. Definitely so much better than modern stainless steel ones. The handles weren’t even bone, they were that modern plastic! The only down side is that you can’t put them in the dishwasher. When they were made a dishwasher was called a scullery maid.

While Scamp went off to buy some more flowers for the garden, I grabbed my cameras and drove down to Auchinstarry for a walk along the railway out to Dumbreck Marshes, then back along the canal, still hoping to see that blue flash of the kingfisher. It wasn’t there. It must be on its holidays. What I did see was a little yellow and black striped caterpillar. I knew I’d seen it before and I reckoned it was a moth caterpillar. Tried to review the last photo and got the message “NO CARD”. Luckily I’d only taken a few shots, but the SD card was indeed missing. Still in the slot in the computer, no doubt. Swapped a card out from the Teazer that was in my pocket and I was back in business. A few steps further on I saw another couple of stripy caterpillars and got the shot. When I was checking them back home on the computer, they weren’t all that sharp. The ones I missed would have been pin sharp and full of detail. They were indeed moth caterpillars, that would grow up to be cinnabar moths in a few weeks time.

They didn’t make PoD, the view along the canal did. I liked all the tones and hues of green in the shot.

Dinner tonight was Chicken Rogan Josh from the Spice Tailor series. Easily the best and simplest curry kits in the world. Coupled with basmati rice and flatbreads it made a delicious dinner.

Went to salsa because the physio said that was ok. Danced half the first class and then all the second amid cheers from the Scottish supporters in The Schoolhouse pub magically turned into AWPE (Anyone Who’s Playing England) supporters when Croatia equalised. Probably half of them didn’t know, or care, where Croatia was, just that they had beaten ‘the auld enemy’. I didn’t hear the final cheer, but then the music was quite loud. Doing La Confusion where men become women and followers become leaders. Probably the best named move we’ve ever learned, although some of the technicalities still evade me.  I was really glad of the fans tonight, nothing to do with football, but everything to do with staying cool.  It may be getting close to the end of the heatwave, and rain may soon be on  the horizon, but the temperature is still in the mid twenties and when you’re dancing in an airless atrium of an old school you need the fans to create a circulation of air.

Home with a smile on my face tonight. It was a good day.

Tomorrow? Maybe Dunfermline on the bus.

Preparation Day – 6 July 2018

A day of bad coffee, pizzas and surprise visitors

A trip to Tesco in the morning bought almost all the ingredients for tomorrows dinner with Crawford & Nancy and June & Ian. Scamp set to to build the dessert while I sat around and solved today’s Sudoku. We all have skills, we just have to utilise them the way we see best. After the prep was done, we went out for what Scamp called “a Light Lunch”. After ticking off the likely venues on our fingers, we plumped for Craigend Nursery. It’s a plant nursery, but their big claim to fame is their restaurant/cafe. We used to go there a lot, but now not so much. I know why. Burnt water pretending it’s coffee and a panini you could hammer in nails with was not what Scamp meant by “a Light Lunch”. Having said that, her Fish Finger Sandwich which was three sandwiches of hefty sliced bread filled with deep fried fish was lovely. Three slice was too much for her, so I helped her clear her plate. The attention to detail and desire to satisfy customers was evident when the girl making up the bill asked “Was everything alright?” and Scamp replied “No, not the best”. The girl’s reply was “Sorry”. No desire to ask what was wrong or even to pass it up the chain if she felt she couldn’t help us, just “Sorry”. We’re sorry too. This used to be a good place for a lunch, light or otherwise. Now it’s a victim of its own success.

Back home and there was cleaning to be done. There were also photos to be taken and I know which of these tasks was on my to-do list. Grabbed my cameras and drove down to Auchinstarry to look for the elusive kingfisher. Didn’t find it, but I did find Mrs Swan out with the weans. That became PoD. Most interesting shot was a green caterpillar on a mission to cross my path as quickly as possible. Maybe it was going to a meeting or something. Used the new macro lens at ground level to get a more interesting point of view. Oh it was hot. The day had started just over 16ºc but it must have been well above twenty now.

Walked back and made some bread dough to try out Scamp’s idea of bread rolls pinched from Epicurean, then sat in the garden for a while with Scamp, but without a drink as I was nominated driver for tonight, taking Scamp and Moira to a witches evening in Bonnybridge. It was after I got back and was halfway through dividing up the dough into the individual rolls, while heating my pizza dinner that our surprise visitors arrived. Crawford & Nancy stood on the doorstep thinking I was joking when I said it was tomorrow night they should be coming. I don’t know who was more embarrassed, them or me. I invited them in, but told them that Scamp was out for the night, but they refused. Hope they come back tomorrow!

I had intended getting a pizza from Domino’s, but after asking for an anchovy and olive pizza and being taken through the script:

“Did you say it was a pizza you wanted?” YES.
“What size pizza?” MEDIUM
“What would you like on it?” Anchovy and Olive
“Did you say Olive?” YES, and Anchovy
“We don’t have anchovies.” FORGET IT

Poor wee soul, he seemed surprised. Why didn’t I want his pizza. He could have told me at the start that they didn’t do anchovies, but that would have taken him off-script into the dangerous territory where you have to think and that just won’t do!

So, tomorrow. Should be making starter in the morning then Scamp will be assembling dessert and maybe we’ll go for lunch somewhere, but not Craigend.

Barking Mad – 7 June 2018

It started out a bit cloudy today, but the sun soon burned that away.

We had nothing particular to do today and nowhere significant to go. Some days are like that, you can just relax. However, with a garden there’s little time to relax and soon we were shifting flower pots around and then we went to buy more. It seems that flower pots are like shoes, you can never have enough of them. I also suggested to Scamp that it might be a good idea to put a layer of chipped bark on the earth, especially in the pots. It acts as a deterrent to snails, discourages weed growth and helps retain moisture. So we came back with another pot and a bag of chipped bark. While Scamp did the re-potting, I helped out with the layer of bark. It certainly gives a good universal appearance to the pots and looks as if it will fulfil the other tasks too. Only time will tell.

After lunch I was encouraged to start the frame for the pea netting, so off I went to B&Q to get some wood. I used to have a regular supply of it, but alas and alack, I am no longer employed in that side of things 😉 so I had to buy some. I asked if I could borrow a saw to cut the timber to more manageable lengths but was told that service was no longer available because of H&S regulations. I suppose that’s true. Pity the trolley that kept giving me shocks in B&M this morning hadn’t been GS23’d or run past H&S. Scamp says it’s me that’s generating my own electricity and that it’s me that’s creating the sparks. Some folk say I’m a bright spark, but they’re lying.

Anyway, the 2.4m of timber fitted easily into the Juke and I dropped it off at home before going for a walk along the canal under a hot sun. Saw today’s PoD there and couldn’t resist it. It took a bit of processing in Lightroom then ON1 to get it the way I wanted it, after the camera overexposed it, but I liked the result.

Came home via Lidl to try out their supposedly excellent gin. It is excellent and to our taste test, better than the watery Aldi alternative. Maybe it’s just the different tonic.

Halfway through dinner (Paella) the rain came on, so we had to rush out to save the washing from drowning, or at least getting wet. It didn’t last long, it was really just a shower, but it did mean we didn’t have to water the garden tonight!

Tomorrow looks not as hot as today. I think it’s all going to get a bit tricky from here on in. I think I’m constructing a pea frame, so a bit cooler day will be good.

Cliché Time – 29 May 2018

It had to happen. You simply can’t avoid it every year.

Off to dull, cloudy Falkirk this morning to get some ‘messages’. It wasn’t much of an improvement from dull, cloudy Cumbersheugh. Came home (with the ‘messages’) and had lunch. Still no sunshine and still less than comfortable temperatures. Hmm.

It was much later in the day before the cloud started to lighten and we went for a walk along the canal. The pessimist as always, I took my rainy coat because it did look as if rain might stop play. It didn’t and halfway along to Twechar I was forced to take may rainy coat off and tie it round my waist. The sun had now burned away the cloud and was shining from a big blue sky. We walked on to Twechar and then crossed over to the railway walk to take us back via the Plantation to the car. It was on the Plantation I got today’s PoD. Taken with the 30mm Panasonic macro. It was the only one of the seven shots I took that was reasonably sharp, actually very sharp. It’s a cliché, the dandelion clock or the little ‘parachutes’ that fly off from it. Every photog takes the pictures every year. We just can’t avoid it. It’s almost like it’s hard wired into our psyche that we must take that photo. Usually once we’ve taken it, we can relax until the next year. Sometimes we continue on and on taking dandelion pictures for ages until we’re sated and have to go on a dandelion diet until the next May.

I think the dull afternoon must have put a lot of people off, because we were only passed by a few runners and cyclists on our walk. Usually the canal towpath is a busy thoroughfare in mid May. Also today we only saw two dogs. That in itself is amazing. Maybe the dogs looked out at the milky white sky and said “Naw mate, no’ gaun oot today” and went back to sleep.

Dinner tonight was crab spaghetti. It should have been Linguini, but Scamp doesn’t care for the thicker pasta, so spaghetti it was. The crab was lovely and there was just enough chilli in it to brighten it up. Splash of white wine, a finely chopped bit of garlic, olive oil (good stuff-EVOO) and a handful of parsley with the Skye crab and you have a very tasty meal. I commend it to you.

Tomorrow I have an appointment with the nurse who will draw some blood for my annual check-up, but joy of joys, it’s NOT a fasting blood test. At last we are being dragged into the 21st century. Hallelujah!

The Man in the Mirror – 21 May 2018

I had homework to do for the Wednesday’s Portraiture class. Today was my first attempt.

Scamp was out with Isobel in the morning and I got started sketching my reflection in the mirror in the back bedroom. It’s been ages since I’ve attempted a self portrait. This was different because it was planned and better structured using the Andrew Loomis method. I’d even made an Autodesk Inventor model of the basic shape of a head to give me a basic understanding of the shape. We’ve still to learn the basic bits that make up a face, like Nose, Mouth, Eyes and Ears. They are important, but the basic shape of the skull is even more important. I’m beginning to understand that now. With a bit of time to myself, I had my first try at an SP.

It was rough and ready, so I set it aside and made lunch which was yesterday’s Aloo Saag bolstered with some more spinach and a few more spices. It was agreed that it was an improvement on yesterday’s. Still needs some fine tuning, and the kitchen cabinets needed a bit of fine cleaning after my attempt at liquidising the second bag of spinach. It looked like the attack of the Jolly Green Giant. Most of it was cleaned up before Scamp came home.

I wasn’t happy with my first portrait attempt, so, after lunch when Scamp and the Gems were going through their repertoire, I started the second version. One of the eyes wasn’t right and that was when I found that I hadn’t a putty rubber, essential when you’re sketching in charcoal, like I was. That gave me the impetus to go out. I bought a putty rubber and then went looking for photos. Drove to Auchinstarry and did the canal, plantation and railway walk under glorious blue skies. That built up my step count for the day and provided my PoD which is a Bum Bee’s Bum. Actually, it’s a hoverfly’s bum, but that doesn’t sound as good, does it?

Back home and I didn’t really need any dinner after a very hearty lunch, so it was tea and toast before we drove in to Glasgow for our Monday dose of Salsa. Two good classes, but so few men. Tonight’s moves for the 6.30 class were Candado Complicado, El Chullo and La Chulla. For the 7.30 class it El Cien. All doable with a bit of practise.  Step count for today is just over 15,800.  Not bad at all!

Tomorrow we have a telephone meeting with Andrew from ARD at 9.30 and the rest of the day is ours!

Doon The Canal – 14 May 2018

I thought yesterday would be the end of the good weather, but I was wrong. Thankfully.

This morning was all about tidying up the loose ends of the blog and Flickr. After that was finished, it was almost time for Gems, so I made my lunch and made myself scarce. It was a beautiful warm spring day and it seemed a shame not to take advantage of it.

I drove down to Auchinstarry and walked along the railway, then across the plantation. From there I walked back along the canal. I got some photos along the canal, but the PoD was one of the first I’d taken along the side of the railway walk. I hadn’t realised that the name for the unfurling fern stems was a ‘Crozier’, presumably that’s where the bishop’s crook got its name, or maybe it was the other way round. Who knows.

Came home via Lidl to get some stuff for dinner. We could have had our normal Monday Pasta, but I thought a salad would be better and got some crayfish tails and an avocado which would work well with tomatoes, beetroot and mixed leaves as a salad dinner. If we were hungry after salsa, we could always have the pasta then.

Salsa on a Monday is becoming boring for me. I quite enjoy the first advanced class, but it seems like Jamie thinks he needs to have at least two new moves every week and some of them, in fact, most of them are over-complicated and difficult to dance socially. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe we need a break from salsa for a while. I know that I’ll be missing from the Wednesday class for a while because I’m intending joining a portraiture art class this week, so that may create a natural break. However, tonight the moves were more interesting and not as complicated as some he’s been teaching.

I’d bought a couple of bottles of beer at Lidl and had the forethought to put one of them in the fridge before we went out. Two glasses of shandy went down a treat when we got home.

Tomorrow looks a bit less sunny and warm, but I’m sure it won’t be a great hinderance. I’m sure we’ll find something to do.

The bird that evolution passed by – 16 April 2018

Today started off a bit cloudy, then the sun shone.

It didn’t stay for long though. The day soon degenerated to the usual cloudy with the threat of some rain and very short sunny spells. However, the temperature was high enough to convince me to go out for a walk while Gems were practising.

Drove down to Auchinstarry, parked and walked along the canal in sunshine. Grabbed some photos of some Tufted ducks. Then walked across the plantation and on to Dumbreck Marshes where I found today’s PoD. The brightly coloured pheasant is one of the stupidest of Scotland’s birds. I really do not know why they are not extinct. This one must have seen me wearing a bright blue anorak, but did it fly away? No it did not. It ran away in front of me then went back to feeding turning away from me all the time. I think they must be related to ostriches because the do the equivalent of sticking their head in the sand. They just turn away from you because, as everyone knows, if they can’t see you, you’re not there. Eventually it did fly for about fifty yards before crashing back down again. Maybe their brains are so small they can’t work out how to make the transition from walking to flying. That’s the problem with having a single core brain. Even if it had a dual core it could make the leap from running to flying. The bird that evolution passed by. Maybe more dodo than ostrich. Nice colours though.

Came back and made pesto pasta for dinner. Then it was time for dancing.

Managed a few minutes in an empty room at the STUC for some ballroom practise. I think I’ve finally got the idea of the walking backward part of the waltz. Hopefully it will be good enough for Michael on Wednesday.

Advanced 1 was quite interesting and the class were doing well with Niagra. Advanced 2 did Setenta e Jani (pronounce ‘yani’). I’m not sure I’ve actually mastered this one yet. Time will tell. After that it was Enchufe Moderno which I’ve totally forgotten and something called ‘The New One’. Good fun though.

Just found out that I picked up a tick today. First one this year, in fact, first one for a long time. Little bugger was sitting under my watch strap. A common place to find them.

Tomorrow I’m meeting Fred for coffee. Nobody else is available.

Walking, Dancing and Backups – 19 February 2018

I’d fully intended going to the gym today, but although there was a smir of rain in the air this morning, I decided that to avoid Gems, I’d go for a walk instead. It was the right decision.

<Technospeak Alert>
In the morning I finally got my wee 2-in-1 tablet computer sorted out by using an old memory stick to boot into Windows PE and from there run a backup program to restore a backup I’d made way back in 2016. I thought it might be a bit basic, but all the apps I need are on it and I’ve even worked out how to use Microsoft Gallery to import my RAW pics. I got truly fed up with having to manipulate the EXIF data on the photos to allow Lightroom 5 to work with the RAW files from the Teazer (Panasonic TZ 70) so now I’m going to use the free and very good RawTherapee to do the heavy lifting of the RAW processing. I’ll see how it goes in the next few weeks. Right JIC you can come back in again.
</Technospeak Alert>

After successfully got rid of the baggage that Win10 leaves behind, and after lunch too, I went for a walk down by the canal.  The weather had cleared up nicely and the air was much warmer than I’d anticipated.  It actually felt like spring was in the air.  I know, there another cold snap due in a few days, but it’s Scotland.  There’s always another cold snap due in a couple of days, even in June … Especially in June!!  I even saw a hairy caterpillar, but it wasn’t caterpillaring around, it was just sitting there.  Maybe it was sunbathing, yes, that’s it.  It was sunbathing in its fur coat.  I took its photo anyway, just for the record.  Caterpillars in February!  Who knew?!  The photo at the top was my favourite of the lot I took, so that’s why it made PoD.

We went dancing at night and just for fun I asked Alexa what the travel time was to the STUC just before we left the house.  She (it?) said 25 minutes.  Twenty five minutes later I was walking along Woodlands Road looking for a parking meter that actually worked.  Glasgow council, you do realise that it’s not enough to plonk new parking meters by the side of the road?  You know you have to maintain them too, and occasionally empty the coins we commuters cram into them every time we need to park?  Duh!  So Alexa translated my speech into text, sent the text to somewhere in California accessed a database from there, checked my commute and returned the data which was turned back into speech and spoken to me in a very human sounding voice, and got it spot on right!  All of that within about five seconds.  Brilliant waste of technology, but still Glasgow council doesn’t seem to know how to operate its parking meters.  If it was up to them, high speed internet connections would be done with two shiny tin cans and a piece of coloured string.
Dancing was ‘interesting’.  We did one rueda move that didn’t have a name and seemed to confuse everyone.  Tonight’s move was ‘Stormtrooper’  Great name.  I hated it.  Then as I saw how it was working, I began to like it and later  in the night when I’d almost perfected it, I thought it was great too, just like its name.  That’s what a good teacher can achieve.

Just my glasses

Tonight’s sketch was just a 15minute shot.  A placemarker of a pencil sketch.  It’s a bit rough, but I don’t have a lot of time on a Monday.

Tomorrow, hopefully, we’re off to Embra, to Leith in fact to go for a fancy lunch.

Oh no! Mair snow! – 6 February 2018

Woke up to a suspiciously white light coming through the curtains. It might have been sunshine, but it was more likely sunlight reflecting from lots of snow.

A cursory glance out the window confirmed that the snow lorry had indeed parked outside our house and deposited its load of snow. Went back and read for a while. Read the disappointing end to the Peter May book. It almost felt like he had got fed up writing the story and decided to tie everything up in the last five pages. Don’t you just hate books like that. I do.

A cup of coffee after my shower cheered me up and gave me the strength to face the day. I had intended to go to the gym today, but instead, decided to get my sketch done early. Today’s drawing, and it was going to be a drawing today, no paint was going to be spilt, was of Scamp’s poinsettia which she has been carefully tending for over a month now and although it’s a bit spidery now, it’s still holding some of its leaves. The secret appears to be to feed it warm water daily in a dish that the plant pot stands in. I presume that creates a moist atmosphere around the leaves and that’s what the plant needs. With the open, almost skeletal frame of a plant like this, a negative space technique seemed right. That is, instead of drawing the plant, you draw the open spaces it occupies; the spaces between the leaves and the spaces between the stems. After that’s done you can decide what part goes in front of or behind other parts. It seemed to work. It’s amazing how absorbing this technique is. I suppose it’s what makes adult colouring books so interesting, although I can’t really see that myself.

Poinsettia

While I was working on this a parcel dropped through the letterbox. A slim cardboard rectangle contained a book ‘True Story” by Jo Levy, a friend we met at salsa class, many years ago. Scamp had ordered it as an anniversary present for me. It’s a lovely wee thing. 31 drawings done by Jo, one a day, during the month of May 2017. She’s agreed to sign it, that will make it even better. Brilliant idea Jo and even more brilliant idea for a present, Scamp. I will treasure it.

After I completed the drawing which, although technically correct, wasn’t a patch on Jo’s cartoon drawings, I drove down to Auchinstarry and went for a walk along the canal and back along the railway. Cold and icy in places, but very enjoyable. Some days, like yesterday, you get one or maybe photos. Today I took 48, whittled them down to 18 and further reduced that to 6 of which only three were posted. This is part of the new plan. Yellow spots for ones worth considering and green spots for ‘record shots’. The some of the yellow spots become red spots because they’re going on Flickr. Once on Flickr, some more are lost because they look good on full screen, but don’t look so good as smaller resolution files on Flickr. Only one of the final selection becomes PoD and today’s shot that wins the acolade is the snow on the cow parsley heads.

Tomorrow it’s dancing, dancing and dancing again, hopefully.