E3231962- blog

To Darkest Larky – 16 March 2018

Tonight we were going to Darkest Larky to take June and Ian to meet Crawford & Nancy.

It was a dull, dismal, cold day. We decided to go out for lunch, a light lunch as we would be well fed tonight. We finally settled on The Smiddy out near Doune. Got a table easily enough and Scamp ordered Tomato soup. I fancied the Parmesan, Pancetta and Olive Quiche. Unfortunately, after taking the order, the waitress returned to say that the last piece of that quiche had just gone. Would I like the Highland Blue, Spinach and Tomato Quiche? I felt like saying “No, I’d like the Parmesan …”, but I foolishly agreed to the replacement. When it came it was a disappointingly mass-produced looking version that sat on the plate amid the mixed lettuce leaves and the sun dried tomatoes. The sun dried tomatoes were good. The rest was just as disappointing as it looked. I think The Smiddy is becoming the victim of their success. Scamp said her soup had a slightly ‘meaty’ taste to it, almost like there was marmite or something in it. We may give The Smiddy a rest for a while.

June and Ian arrived at night and we headed of for Larky. Crawford and Nancy proudly showed off their new kitchen and sun-room. It really, and I mean really made us both green with envy. Such a lovely space, and so spacious too. I know Crawford put a lot of work into it and it showed. June and Ian were so wrapped up in each other, I don’t think they took much notice.

Food and drink was just as good as it usually is except for the driver who had to make do with a Coke, thankfully a Full-Fat one. Conversation and jokes rattled about among us and it was good to see that Ian gave as good as he got. The only thing missing was a big black labrador that used to come and plonk itself down at June’s feet. Unfortunately it had gone the way of all flesh. It was a docile big soul.

Never really noticed the time until Scamp said we should be going. It was 11.45.

By the time we’d dropped everyone off it was 12.30am when we found a parking space right outside the door and came home. That’s why this blog was written on Saturday.

PoD was a grab shot of croci in the garden.

E3231962- blog

Finally the bike is out – 25 February 2018

It took a lot of promises, but finally today the bike came down stairs.

When I got up this morning, it was still below zero outside. That used to be the norm in February in Scotland, but we have grown used to the milder winters of late and now if the mercury or its digital equivalent goes below that line everyone starts stockpiling food, turns the heating up full, keeps looking at the sky for the first telltale snowflake. No chance of snowflakes today with almost wall to wall blue skies, but the TV and radio news have been bombarding us with threats of ‘The Beast From The East’. Come on people, its going to get cold this week and we’re probably going to have some snow. That’s what happens in winter. Remember my warning:

Stop watching the news
Because the news contrives to frighten you.

You have been warned.

So, what has this to do with bikes. Well, nothing really, but it sets the scene. It was cold. It was cold, but the sun was doing its level best to warm the place up. I decided there and then, while I was getting the breakfast that today I’d do the bike thing.

Prevaricated for a while doing this and that. Going finding things I’d need, not least the bike itself. I knew where it was, I just had to find a way of getting it out of the room and down the stairs. Tyres weren’t totally flat and didn’t take long to pump up. So after lunch I was good to go. Oh dear, need to put my dinner in the slow cooker. It was to be shin of beef that had been marinading in the fridge overnight and now needed frying to brown it, the put in the slow cooker for about four hours. Oh yes, Scamp wanted some bread baked, so I defrosted some dough and set it to prove. Nothing else to do? Ok, best get on with it and get dressed in many layers to cut out the cold. Finally got on the bike at almost exactly 2pm. It wasn’t too cold … to start with, however once I was out of the shelter of the houses and into the open, the icy blast hit me. I wished I’d been sensible and put on my Buff™ to keep my ears warm. Too late now, I’d just have to soldier on. I’d mapped out my short, 3 mile, route and stuck to it although I realised it meant I’d have a headwind coming home. Cycled to the old disused refuse dump, now landscaped and walked around looking for something to photograph. That was after I saw that the Three Amigos, three beech trees I’ve photographed spring, summer, autumn and winter had been reduced to two. I was shocked. Those trees had stood together for years, probably they were older than me. I suppose it must have succumbed to one of the winter storms, and when I checked with the photo in the living room much later, I noticed that even then its crown was much sparser than the other two. It really was like losing an old friend. Such a shame. To kind of make up for it or to form a link of sorts, today’s PoD is of some beech leaves.

Cycled home braving the east wind that was getting stronger, but thankfully it was more a north east wind, which meant I got a bit of a push up the hill at the start of the run home.

Loch Ard

After a shower and with dinner simmering away in the slow cooker, I painted today’s 28DL offering. It’s not really all that good, but unlike some folk, I don’t admit that on the 28DL page! That was about it for the day. The shin of beef? I’d like to say it was wonderful, but I have to be honest and admit that it was dull, tasteless and chewy. The bread? It was worse. Heavy an doughy. I’ll chuck it out for the magpies, crows and pigeons tomorrow with a warning to the smaller, lighter birds not to attempt it or like their corvine relations, they will have difficulty achieving liftoff. On that topic, Hazy, I finished Sourdough and really, really enjoyed it. On the subject of books, JIC, the books from Amazon arrived this morning. Keeping the James Oswald book for hols, but will read the start of Paint Daily tonight. I’d recommend Natural Causes by James Oswald, book 1 in the series if you fancy some Scottish crime noir set in Edinburgh with a hint of the supernatural in it. Thank you to both of you for increasing my reading library.

Tomorrow? Panic buying at the supermarket and fitting hatches that can be battened down securely. Then if there’s time, a trip to the gym, because I think my legs will be sore.

E3231962- blog

Fog – 11 January 2018

We had considered two options for today. Go to Perth or go to lunch. Lunch won.

It was foggy when I woke around 5.15 this morning. I went back to bed and when I finally broke the bounds of sleep the fog had gone. However, about half an hour later it started to sneak back around us again. We decided to go to lunch and defer the Perth trip until the weekend.

We went to the Cotton House in Longcroft and saw almost no fog, in fact there was blue sky up there. The Cotton House a Chinese and Thai restaurant and we always have the same main: Chicken Chow Mein. It’s only our starters that change.

After lunch we drove in to Dunipace and then up the Carron Valley road then over on to the Tak Ma Doon road and just had to stop because although there had been no fog all the way on the climb to the hilltop, there in front of us was a sea of fog stretching right across the valley. It was thickest over Glasgow to the right (west) and thinned out over to Grangemouth and the Forth Bridges on the left (east). This had to be PoD. I got about twenty shots of the scene before we drove down the other side and into that sea of fog. The view from the top of the hill reminded me of the fog we saw from the top of Box Hill when we were visiting H&N away back in 2007!!! Can it really be that long ago? The EXIF data rarely lies.

When I started to process the shots, that’s when the work really started. Contrast was very low and it took me quite some time to tease out the details in the images without increasing the digital noise too much. You can see the three best images above. Final decision was that bottom left was PoD.

One last thing before I close and it’s for you JIC. Have a look at this shot I saw on Flickr tonight (I don’t think it will mean much to you Hazy):

Outside Newton Stewart

If you click on it you can read the description and my comment and it will all become clear. That should take you back about forty years! It did for me.

Tomorrow it’s coffee with Val, Fred and Colin. Looking forward to it.

E3231962- blog

The highlight of the day – 4 January 2018

The highlight of today was taking the cardboard boxes and the bottles to the recycling centre. Yes, it was that sort of day.

In the morning I made that drive to the recycling centre. It would have been easier if we had been supplied with a green bin (for glass) back in October when we were promised it, but we weren’t, so we had to load the car up and drive there. Everyone else was there too, but I had a smashing time dropping bottles into the big containers and listening to the crashing sounds they made.

After that, and after deciding what we’d have for dinner, we had lunch. Then we went to Tesco. Scamp drove and we filled the car with all the stuff we needed for the next few days, mainly food. When we got back I found some stew in the freezer and set it to defrost while I grabbed a last hour of daylight in St Mo’s. That’s where I got today’s PoD which is an ultra wide-angle view of the pond and the boardwalk. It’s just an ordinary pond, but the ultra-wide makes it look like something special I think.

All the time we’d been checking on H&N’s second leg of their journey home. They were leaving the relative calm of the midlands and heading for the stormy zone around London, but we soon got the message that they were home and the cats had been collected and they too were home.

Dinner for me was stewed steak with potatoes, turnip and carrots. Substitute haggis for stewed steak and you have Scamp’s dinner. My thanks to Scamp for the clear and concise instruction on how to cook the stew without burning but with added flavour. Next time I’ll try to fly solo.

So, the highlight of the day really was smashing the bottles in the recycling bin. A close second was finding that the stew was beautifully tender and tasty. It was also good to know that H&N arrived home safely.

Tomorrow we may go to the gym or to the pool for a swim. Also, the other pair leave Tobago and the sun to face the long flight home. Glad you got a few dry, windy, sunny days after all that rain.

E3231962- blog

All Good Things – 3 January 2018

Today H&N were off on the road back home.

We saw them off in the morning and then we drove in the opposite direction, out to Stirling to take our minds off their departure. The rain started almost as soon as we left the house and got gradually worse.

All I wanted in Stirling was a new Sudoku calendar and I got one half price in Waterstones. It was round about then my phone chirped and I found a list of WhatsApp messages between H&N and Neil ‘D’s family. It was a brilliant idea to set that up Hazy. Set our mind at rest knowing where you were at any time and also knowing that the weather hadn’t been as bad as we had feared.

We didn’t linger long in Stirling. Went for a bite to eat and a coffee in Nero and came home via Waitrose, of course and that’s where I got the PoD. Scamp was the model. The rain had come and gone all afternoon, never completely leaving but getting quite heavy at times. Thankfully the winds were not as bad as those down south.

One look at today’s photos convinced me that colour was not an option and I simply cropped the best one and did a fairly simple levels adjustment and then converted to mono. I read a comment on Flickr last night by one of my contacts, Seaton Carew (Not his real name). He said :

”you only look at a colour picture, you read a black&white image”

I think that’s true

Tonight’s dinner was Potatoes, Cabbage and Bacon. An old favourite.

Hopefully we’ll go out again tomorrow. Hopefully it won’t rain all day. Hopefully H&N will continue their journey in better weather. You’ve always got to be hopeful. The Sudoku was hard!

E3231962- blog

Day Two – 2 January 2018

A day when it was raining as we woke up and it’s still raining now at just after 11pm.

Hazy texted in the morning to say they were off to Dundee to meet one her friends. That left us with the rest of the day to ourselves. We were also at a loose end as we had planned to go out somewhere, but as the weather wasn’t suitable for going for a spin, we stayed in. Scamp did a bit more tidying and I finished off the calendars. Messed around with a couple of bits of software in the hopes that I could change the front page, but eventually gave up. We had lunch.

In the afternoon, the sun shone and there was blue sky with fluffy white clouds. My hopes did rise a bit at the prospect of a decent hour or so of dry weather, but it was just a passing hole in the clouds and it was letting even more rain fall through to wet us and the already saturated ground more than it had before. I could have read another chapter in The Book of Dust, but the hero is battling through a flooded town at present, so that wouldn’t take my mind off the incessant rain. I chose instead to take today’s PoD which has as a backdrop an old preparatory sketch of mine for an oil painting. It turned out that I liked the sketch better than the resulting painting. I liked the photo, but decided to add to it with some paint daubs from Pixelmator™. I think they added something to the shot and didn’t stand out too much as adulteration.

Dinner tonight was Pasta Carbonara. It was good to get back to plain ordinary food again. While we were eating dinner Hazy phoned to invite us to dinner with them. We explained that we were actually in the middle of ours, but would join them for coffee. Actually, we had a drink (non-alcoholic for me) and then pudding and coffee later. It was in the Red Deer and the puddings were lovely, although the coffee was a bit weak for me. The puddings were Apple Pie – Scamp and Neil D and Coconut Ice Cream for Hazy while I had Melba Mallow Mess (a lovely alliterative plateful). After that we said our goodnights and headed back to our respective places. Unfortunately they leave tomorrow, but it was good to have them here for a while and we had, as Canute said, ‘Precious days’ with them.

Tomorrow we will be in the grip of Storm Eleanor makes its way across the country. H&N will be driving south through the remnants, but I don’t think we’ll be going far.

E3231962- blog

The first day of 2018 – 1 January 2018

How do you make yogurt ice cream without yogurt?

You go out for a walk on New Year’s Day when Tesco is closed and try to find a shop that’s open and also, one that stocks plain, natural yogurt. The first show I tried wasn’t open, no surprise. The second didn’t stock yogurt. That meant a much longer walk to the service station that I was sure was open and might, just might have yogurt. It was and it did. Success! The yogurt ice cream would be made after all.

With that task completed, I decided I’d go out and get an outside photo for the first one of the new year, because the sun was shining. I wandered around St Mo’s looking for a likely candidate before I remembered the little ladybird I’d seen away back at the beginning of December. It was still there. What’s more, it was moving. So it didn’t hibernate after all. It had chosen the east facing side of the tree which would be in the lee of the prevailing west wind. It had also chosen a spot with a bit of cover from the rain. Since I’d last seen it, it had survived 40mph winds and temperatures of -7ºc for three or four days in succession. Tough little cookies are ladybirds and that was the PoD.

Spoke to a bloke who was walking a friendly looking dog. The bloke told me it was a flat coated retriever. It certainly seemed well looked after and he said it would be even more friendly if I had some chicken, beef or liver with me. I told him it would be lucky, all I had was some stale bread for the ducks and swans. I know you’re not supposed to feed bread to ducks, but they don’t seem to have got that email yet. We said cheerio and went our different ways.

H&N arrived early just as I was beginning to clear the table. Scamp was busy and this time she had excelled herself with Salmon En Croute with roast potatoes, carrots and sugarsnap peas. Pudding was Pears in Red Wine, served with the Yogurt Ice Cream. Best she’s made, but that was only because I went the extra mile to get the yogurt!

After dinner we played Bears V Babies. A not very serious game with the most complicated rules ever. Still a good laugh and if not taken too seriously.

Resolutions for 2018
All the resolutions from 2017 plus:

  • Visit the gym or the pool at least once a week – and mean it this time!
  • Sketch at least one drawing a week. It can be in any medium, but it must be done on time.
  • Post the blog on the day it refers to unless some technical issue prevents it.
  • Get up for breakfast one day a week.

Let’s see how long they last.

Tomorrow? Don’t know. It depends on the weather and what H&N are doing.

E3231962- blog

Hogmanay – 31 December 2017

The last day of 2017.

I suppose I should do a review of our year, but there have been so many ups and downs and they have all been recorded in these pages along with some photos to give a bit of perspective and also some colour to the day. Some dull days have contributed very little to the overall and some have produces a surprising amount. I’ve tried to write up these notes on the actual day, but sometimes I’ve left it to the next day to do the writing. Often I’ve gone just over the midnight cut-off and had to fake the publishing day. That’s as much review as I’m going to write.

Today was windy to start with. Storm Dylan visited us overnight and was on its way out when we woke, but was still gusting around until midday. After lunch of not one, but two rolls ’n’ sausage, flat sausage, I did think about going out for a walk, but then H&N arrived and the walk had to be put on hold. Next it was time to pick up Auntie June and bring her over to meet them. I managed a few minutes then to make a PoD which I’d been considering anyway. It’s the flower from the Christmas cactus. It just missed Christmas, but I don’t mind. I’ll forgive it this time because it’s had a tough year, as have we all.

June stayed for dinner tonight which was Broccoli Soup, Chicken and Mushroom pie and Lavender Panna Cotta. Various coffees followed Decaf and Caf and also one flavoured with Amaretto for June. We sat and talked for a while after that to allow the dinner to slide down, then I took June home and H&N left soon after.

It was good to have everyone round on Hogmanay. Plenty of good humoured talk and laughing a plenty. That’s what an old fashioned Hogmanay was all about.

While Scamp and I sat and watched the Christmas Lectures, I did a wee sketch. The last one of Ink ’17. Number 52. 52 sketches in 52 weeks.

Tomorrow? Tomorrow will be a new year with new challenges and new photos to take. Maybe even more sketches to draw, definitely more sketches to draw and improve on.

E3231962- blog

The day that the rains came – 30 December 2017

It was with a great deal of pleasure that we noted it was raining this morning. Snow is nice for a while. Ice can be pretty too, but there comes a time when I’ve had enough of it and a return to the dull colours of winter are more relaxing than the pure white of snow or the shine of ice.

We went out for a wee run in the afternoon. Hazy was resting and Neil was off on an urban safari through darkest Glasgow. Dangerous territory for the uninitiated, but he survived it and even claimed to enjoy the experience. We, on the other hand just drove to Robroyston and searched ASDA for any food leftover by the ravening hoards. There was some, but not the exact food we were looking for, so we left empty handed. We did have a coffee and a toastie in Costa, but that was the extent of our travels.

Today’s PoD was taken tonight sitting on the sofa trying to arrange the new Weemen so that they had the Christmas tree lights behind them and out of focus. This was the best shot.

Tomorrow, it’s lunch with Hazel, Neil and Auntie June. I may try to get some photos in the morning if Storm Dylan has left anything in its wake.

E3231962- blog

Visitors – 29 December 2017

Today was the second, and final leg of H&N’s journey north, and it was snowing.

The snow lasted all morning before finally petering out around lunchtime. Scamp had been a bit on edge until it actually stopped then she settled down, knowing that the worst of the weather was past. Even so, she was still determined to dust, Dyson™ (that’s like hoovering but posher), clean and polish the house at least three times until she was sure it was fit for visitors.

After lunch I went out for a walk in the snow around St Mo’s. That’s where I got today’s PoD of the coot on a mission. It was also the first time I used Picktorial in earnest. That’s right, I bought it last night, just before my demo time ran out. It really does work a lot faster and with a lot more variables than Lightroom. The only thing it doesn’t do is Asset Management, or Cataloguing as we used to call it. In fact it proudly proclaims that it is Catalog Free. Which is a fancy way of saying that it would cost too much to add in that feature and then nobody would buy it. So it looks like I’ll be using Lightroom to import my photos and do the heavy lifting in the post-processing, then use Picktorial to do the fancy stuff. You know what I mean. The little bits of pixel adjustment that nobody will ever know existed except me. Every photog does it … I think. Or maybe it is just me!

Not long after I came home and dumped the photos in Lightroom, we got the text to say the happy couple had arrived at the hotel and were going to rest from their journey, but would eat with us later. Scamp could finally breathe a sigh of relief, sit down and relax until it was time to start the prep for dinner. On tonight’s menu was Venison Stew or Panfried Sea Bass Fillets followed by Pineapple Snow with Lime and Chilli sauce. Both visitors opted for the venison. A very good choice said the Sous Chef who had spent yesterday afternoon preparing it.

H&N arrived in the middle of a surprise snow shower and we had a great evening opening presents and generally catching up with stories from the far south. They wanted to get back to the hotel and rest, so left fairly early. Tomorrow is a rest day for both of them, and probably for us too.

Tomorrow for us consists of a shopping expedition and little else. It’s nice to have a fairly full house again and all sit round the table.