The first day of freedom to roam – 16 April 2021

Scamp got the choice of where to got today on our first legal cross border foray.

Anyone who knows Scamp could have predicted the trio of places she’d gladly go to on our first day of freedom. Troon would be high on the list, Cramond would also be up there, but the top destination would always be The Kelpies. So today we drove out of North Lanarkshire and into Falkirk Region which is where the Kelpies live, surfacing from the concrete just between Falkirk and Grangemouth at the end of the Forth & Clyde canal. When left the motorway and headed through Helix Park there were crowds of kids in the park and we thought we wouldn’t be able to get parked. In fact I was racking my brains to decide where else we could go. I needn’t have worried, the canny folk of Falkirk and around didn’t want to pay to see the Kelpies, so the three quid charge for a day’s parking forced them to park about a mile away at the Falkirk football ground where parking is free.

The two enormous horses apparently rearing out of the canal should inspire terror on first sight, but they don’t for us. They have a calming effect. Every time we’ve visited them it’s been this air of calm that has descended and everyone we’ve taken there has felt it too. The place was busy, but there was enough open space for everyone to find a vantage point to photograph or simply take in the view of these statues. We had an ice cream cone and sat and watched the world go by. Then we walked over the outfall of the canal and on to the other side.

The last time we were walking along the towpath of the canal we’d bumped into my ex-boss and mentor with his wife. Today, at exactly the same spot we bumped into Dave and Maureen again. Took a few minutes to catch up and then they headed off to meet their grandkids and we walked along to the next bridge over the canal and back past the giant horses again.

We found a bloke selling pizzas from a portable pizza oven and we agreed that we’d found our lunch. First time we’ve ‘eaten out’ in months and here we were out in a different county, sitting in the sun eating a mushroom pizza that was wafer thin and extremely hot and tasty.

I’d taken a few shots, but as usual I’d failed to capture the essence of the Kelpies. Today’s offering is a view from the towpath of the statues reflected in the canal with a family preparing for a sail up the canal on their boat. We agreed it must be good to just take your boat for a sail any day you wanted to. I doubt if I’ll ever know, unless my lottery numbers come up and I believe you have to buy ticket first before you have any chance of that happening.

We heard a loud spoken bloke who apparently lived on one of the houseboats moored there that the boat is always moving, except one time. If the boat isn’t moving under you, it means it’s frozen solid in the ice. I’d never considered that before. We said goodbye to the Kelpies and drove home.

Back home I took the Sony out for a walk. I wasn’t really looking for any more photos, which was lucky as I didn’t find any. I did find enjoy the walk and talked myself through some things that are changing in my photography. I’m thinking about selling one of my cameras and a load of lenses that I don’t use any more. I’ll still keep a couple of bits of glass because there’s nothing in the Sony range that does what they do. I put a prospective list in to MPB last night and got offered a favourable price. I’m leaving a final decision until after the weekend.

We had a dance practise tonight. I still can’t quite manage the steps for the end of the Tango routine, but the rest of the dances worked quite well.

It’s my turn to choose a destination for tomorrow and I have somewhere in mind. We’ll see what the weather’s like in the morning. Today was an excellent choice, Scamp. A very good day.

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.

The shortest day – 21 December 2020

We don’t get much light at the best of times, but today was dark.

When I started the car this morning to drive up to the town centre, the headlights came on. It was just after 10.30am. Today was the Shortest Day.  The Winter Equinox.  I was going to meet Val for coffee and a wee technology catchup. When we were waiting to be served one of the staff in Costa was a bit too aggressive, shouting at us to step back, step back. He seemed to think that the 2m distance measures on the floor were underestimates. I realise they are under pressure, but they have to realise that their customers are people and treat them appropriately. I didn’t shout at him, why should he shout at me. The rest of the staff were relaxed and treated all the customers with good humour. “One bad apple … “

We spent an interesting hour or so, catching up and discussing Val’s new electronics projects using Arduino kits which remind me of the electronics boards we used in school for a while in Tech Studies. He’s really getting into this area of experimentation which is not surprising with his electronics background and his programming skills learned from the Raspberry Pi.

After I left him I went to look for a pair of walking boots to replace the leaky Merrells. The only place in Cumbersheugh where you can get them is Sports Direct. None of the boots they had on display looked like they would be better than the Merrells, in fact one of them proudly displayed the fact that they weren’t waterproof. Really? What use are walking boots that don’t even claim to be waterproof? Are they only for wearing indoors. I could almost forgive them if they had been fashionable, but they just look like big clumpy brown boots, boots that would melt in the rain, though. I went home.

After lunch we headed back out again, this time to Tesco and got a turkey crown that didn’t cost as much as the Queen’s Crown. It was a bit smaller and didn’t have the bacon wrapping that the M&S offering had, but I’m sure it will be dressed up well once Scamp gets started.

After we got back and stored all the food away, I went for a walk in St Mo’s. It was already growing dark, but I wanted to take a photo outside on the shortest day of the year. I got a few candidates, but PoD went to an almost monochrome shot of reeds reflected in the still waters of the pond. A few ripples too to add some texture. If you look carefully you can see little green leaves showing above the water.

I made tomato soup for dinner and it was so good, Scamp, after finishing her first bowl, immediately refilled it. Having said that, it could have been the croutons that brightened it up. More left for lunch tomorrow.

We missed the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn tonight. It happened around 5pm and apparently would have looked like the Star of Bethlehem, except in the north-west not the east. Perhaps it did look spectacular, but we wouldn’t have been able to see it because it was raining at the time of the conjunction. The rain coming from the big black clouds that covered the whole sky. Gallingly, those clouds rolled away later, once both planets were below the horizon.

Tomorrow Scamp’s car is getting its windscreen repaired. It’s got a crack , down near the dashboard and that crack isn’t going to get any smaller, so she bit the bullet and paid the excess so that person from Autoglass would come to the house and repair it. Other than that, nothing else we need to do, except watch the days lengthen as we head towards Spring.

Lockdown Blues – 20 December 2020

We’re not really there yet, but we know it’s coming.

I suppose I should get the pencils sharpened and the pens refilled for more lockdown sketches, because we are being condemned to at least three weeks of virtual lockdown as Nic puts most of Scotland into level 4 as a precaution. Yes, it makes sense, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

We were entertained by Andrew Marr this morning tearing at the poor health minister Matt Hancock like a demented Jack Russell. The poor man hardly got a chance to answer one question before another two were being fired at him by Marr. I think we both felt just a little bit sorry for him. He managed to parry a few of Marr’s thrusts, but I’m sure he felt punch drunk after doing down for the third time in round two.

It was a dull day weather wise too. A bit wet at times, but mainly just grey. However I got my boots on, grabbed the camera bag and headed off to get some photos. My first stop was the tree where the little ladybird had been hibernating before my too bright light disturbed it. At first I couldn’t see it, then I found it about 50cm further up the trunk. Grabbed a few shots, both with the old Sigma lens and also with the Sony. The Sony won hands down, but now I realise that the anti-shake wasn’t set to the correct focal length for the Nikon which is quite an old lens and doesn’t send all its information to the camera electronically. Still, I got a few shots to remind me of where it was.

The ladybird didn’t make PoD, but another spot in the woods gave me a pretty landscape type shot. It looks so calm, but beyond that fence there is a four lane motorway with all sorts of vehicular transport rumbling along it day and night, summer and winter. There’s hardly a ripple on that wee stream to distort the tree reflections. PoD, even before I processed it. I also grabbed a mono shot of some weeds which completes a full week of monochromatic images.

Spoke to JIC in the evening and found out that both he and his sister are in level 4. That’s the whole family in it! Have we been bad or something? Is it because I called the respective leaders Bumbling Boris and The Littlest Witch? If so, I’m sorry, but they both deserve it. The leaders, not the siblings, that is.

Dinner tonight was Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. What a brilliant brightener for a dull day. Just as long as you don’t ask what was in the haggis. You don’t want to know.

That was about it for today. Hoping to meet Val for coffee and some technological chat tomorrow and then Scamp and I might visit Tesco to look for a turkey, a small one, if such a thing exists.

Season of mists – 9 November 2020

Today dawned a bright day. Too good to stay in.

By 11am we were walking along past what was The Hebo House restaurant until they fixed the sign. Anyway we were walking past it and up on to the towpath of the Forth & Clyde canal. The view along the canal with Barr Hill in the distance covered by low cloud or mist, I’m not sure which was too good to miss, so I grabbed the chance to take a few photos. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of swans flying overhead and waited a second or two to grab one shot of a trio of swans flying over. Just a pity I didn’t get their reflection in the canal.

We walked on down to the old railway line path from Auchinstarry to Twechar. It appears that the work on upgrading the paths is ongoing and will be so until mid December. We crossed over at the plantation and back up onto the canal towpath again from there we walked back to Auchinstarry and the car which was patiently waiting for us. On the way back we noticed someone had formed a wee flower and a heart from copper wire and mounted it on a tree stump. It looked really good sitting there in the sun and I grabbed a shot or two of it. By the time we got home the light was disappearing and the mist was coming down.

Not satisfied with the photos I’d taken, although they looked good on the ‘puter, I went out for a walk in the afternoon to see if St Mo’s had anything to offer. I think I left it too long. The mist and clouds were now obliterating the sun and destroying any decent light, so I was struggling to get anything decent. I did try a few shots of spiders on the whin bushes, but they were too small in the frame and difficult to focus on, so I gave up. The PoD would be the canal with the flypast of the swans, with second prize going to the wee flower sculpture.

We had booked a WhatsApp video call with an agent from Scottish Gas to give us a quote for a new boiler. In these Covid days it seems that visual visits are the way things are being done. When he phoned to confirm he asked if it would be ok to use new software they were trialling instead of WhatsApp and we agreed. After a false start we got connected and he took us through the areas he needed to photograph to get the information to build the quote. About fifteen minutes later he called back with the quote and then emailed the details to us. An interesting and useful exercise. Now we need to get a comparative quote from a local gas fitter.

Watched a Nigella recipe programme tonight where she made a curry whose main constituent parts were cauliflower and chopped up banana skins. I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet.

No plans as yet for tomorrow, although weather looks a bit like today.

Pizza! – 10 September 2020

Today we were heading for Glasgow.

A bit of window shopping in JL but nothing even barely whetted my appetite, so we went for a walk down Bucky Street and then I suggested we see if we could get a table in Paesano. We got there just after it opened, so we could get a table. We had our details taken and our temperature checked and were deemed fit and healthy enough to eat a pizza. We had our favourites. Scamp had her own design No1: (Tomato sugo, oregano, olive oil, no garlic, no cheese, extra rocket.)
I had a No 3: (Tomato sugo, capers, olives, anchovies, mozzarella and olive oil)
They arrive about three minutes after we ordered them. Even after we had finished and paid and were on our way out, the place wasn’t nearly as busy as it used to be. Surely this new-normal can’t stay this way. Things must change.

I had a wander round CassArt and got the Posca white acrylic paint brush I was looking for, a sketchbook of kraft paper and a white marker. Rather a frugal amount. I was being careful. Just a few things I can’t get anywhere else.

Had a coffee in Nero but it felt watery and tasteless, partly because it was filling the entire cardboard cup which must have been a ‘large’ size and the server probably thought that a ‘regular’ in that big cup looked a bit mean. Next time I’ll ask for a ‘regular’ size in a half cup. Maybe I’m spoilt now by my own version of coffee from the De’Longhi, but before Covid, Nero made good coffee. This stuff tasted like Costa. Not impressed.

Grabbed a couple of street shots outside the GOMA in Queen Street, but wasn’t all that impressed with the result. Also tried to get some reflections from the frontage of the new Queen Street Station, but there was too much rubbish lying around, destroying the effect. Once it get’s cleaned up, possibly by the end of the century it might be possible to get better shots. As it was, a digitally altered shot of the GOMA got PoD.

Had the second batch of our potatoes for dinner tonight. Mine with bacon and mixed beans, Scamp chose not to have the bacon and stuck to Potatoes and Beans. Both were very nice, but then again, these were Artisan Potatoes!

That’s about it for today. Tomorrow there is rain forecast and lots of it too. Lovely!

Breaking the rules – 25 March 2020

We walked to the shops today, but I broke the rules by going out for a second walk later! Rebel!

We didn’t need much at the shops, which was just as well really. Like Sim has been complaining, no flour to be had anywhere, and of course, no toilet rolls. Well, not at the new shops anyway. They did have milk and they did have pancakes. They also had salt which has been in short supply too, so we got all three. That was about it. Walked back through very fine rain. That terrible wetting rain that just soaks you without you noticing it. It wasn’t cold though, the weather machine said it was over 12ºc for a while, so I gave my big Bergy jacket a rest and took my rainy coat instead. Much more comfortable and a lot lighter than the Bergy with all my odds and ends in the pockets. While we were at the shops, I saw a VW Campervan with two surf boards on top! I kid you not. Where were they off to I wondered? Maybe Tiree to catch some wild waves, or maybe just driving around looking cool.

I made a sort of pizza for lunch. It was the remains of yesterday’s flat bread dough, with some fresh flour, yeast, salt and water added. I think Scamp was right, I should just have made a proper pizza and been done with it. As it turned out, it wasn’t all that great. A bit doughy in places, but excellent in others. Baked it in the microwave using convection oven setting for about 12minutes at 220ºc. I’ve written that so I will remember it the next time I want to make a pizza in the microwave. I might not remember it, but I’ll know where to look to find it. That’s one thing Google has taught me.

After lunch I got itchy feet again and went out looking for something interesting. Yes, I know you’re only supposed to be out ONCE a day for a walk, run, jog or cycle, but I’m a rebel and I was going to tear up the rule book and put it in the bin. I wasn’t going to throw it away, I’m not that much of a rebel. I found a use for all that rain, it gave me a chance to capture today’s PoD. Just a little grass stem holding all those raindrops on its hairy surface. It would only work with that fine rain we’d been having. Heavy rain would have wetted the surface and prevented the surface tension on the raindrop from forming a shield for the enclosed water.
Then when I was coming back, I spotted a little ladybird, the first I’ve seen this year nestling under the cover of a leaf and spotted with raindrops too. Two good subject in one day.

We did a bit of a dance practise later in the afternoon. Waltz Nº1, Waltz Nº2, Quickstep and Foxtrot. Not all perfect, but adequate, considering that this is the first practise of the Isolation. Possibly Jive tomorrow.

No real plans for tomorrow, so if you’re reading this Boris, I don’t expect to be breaking the rules tomorrow. I’ll be a good little prole and not go for more than one walk.

Lockdown – 16 March 2020

It was a day of narrowing opportunities.

Planned for coffee with the auld guys. First Val called off, with a bad cough (Not Coronavirus he said). Then Colin said he was “Socially integrating with greenhouses, garden and garage”. In other words, too busy. Fred, the final invitee, asked if the coffee shop would even be open. I hadn’t thought of that possibility. That’s when I decided to cancel the whole daft idea.

Gems met and decided that they weren’t taking the risk of catching the virus by singing at Abronhill church. With that being so, Scamp made the decision to cancel practises for the foreseeable future. I know it was a hard decision to take, but when Scamp decides on something, it stays decided. She says she’ll phone the person in charge of the church group tomorrow and explain her decision.

I went to the butchers while Gems were in session. Just for some stew and sausages. I got some Thai Chicken Stir-fry too, that’s for tomorrow’s dinner. Saw nothing worth photographing while I was out. I went up to my parking place at the back of Fannyside and watched the rain float in from the west and gradually swallow up the landscape. Saw a hill catching the sun away to the east and still haven’t quite decided what it is. I thought it might be Berwick Law, but that seems unlikely now. Must take my laptop with me the next time and try to pinpoint it. Just for something to do.

Went dancing at night in Kirsty’s class. Tidied up the original waltz routine and almost go the new waltz routine working, but not quite. To Scamp’s delight we did the Sally Ann Cha-Cha to “Fireball!” I think that might be our last class for a while.

Boris’s doom-laden statement at 5.30pm today was him setting out what life is going to be like for the next 12 weeks and it’s not good. It is, however slightly more flexible than that announced on Sunday with all persons over 70 confined to the four walls of their house for 16 weeks. At least, now, we are allowed out for a walk, as long as we stay a good distance from anyone else. We may take them up on that.

Today’s PoD was captured in the rain as we left the dance class. It’s entitled “Cumbernauld. Where the streets are paved with gold.”

Tomorrow, we may go for a walk.

Two left feet – 30 October 2019

You know those days when everything goes right? I don’t.

Today started well. Scamp was out meeting a friend this morning for coffee. That gave me time to sit and draw today’s prompt which was A Houseplant. I chose one of Scamp’s Geranium cuttings. Although both back and front gardens are full of plants, this is one of the few that are allowed into the house. I believe she has it house-trained and it is careful not to leak on the window ledge it usually sits on, basking in the warm autumn sun. I quite liked the result. The pot isn’t quite right, but the plant was well drawn, I think. The good stuff ended there.

We drove in to Glasgow and in the dance class we thought we danced quite well in the free dance practise at the start of the lesson. After that I had brain-fade. Led with my left when it should have been my right. Stepped inside the lady when I should have stepped outside. Got every element of the new routine wrong. I just couldn’t put a foot right, or was that left? Whichever it was, it wasn’t the correct one. Came away really disheartened.

A coffee and a photo of 110 Queen Street helped lighten my mood, but I wasn’t a happy bunny. The only good thing I can say about today is that next week will be better. Surely it can’t be any worse.

There’s not a lot else I can say other than that I made mini lamb chops and a lamb burger for dinner and it was delicious. Mini lamb chops are made from the individual pieces of a rack of lamb, cut from the rack and pan fried. I don’t know if I’ve invented it or if it’s already a thing, but this is the second time I’ve made them and they work really well.

Got a Tesco sim and stuck it into the now unlocked iPhone SE. Now I have a serviceable phone running on O2 as well as the Samsung on EE. The camera on the Samsung is pretty poor. Not a patch on the iPhone camera, but at least I don’t have to worry about running out of space on the phone. Swings and roundabout, that’s what it’s all about.

Coffee with Val tomorrow morning and then a run to Coatbridge in the afternoon. That’s the way the day should run.

Kelpied – 24 September 2019

Today we were all Kelpied!

Today dawned dry but a bit dreary. However, it soon brightened up and we thought we’d risk a run to the Kelpies. It all went well until we were almost at the M9 then the car seemed to be misfiring, which is strange because it had been running so well since its last service. I hadn’t bought petrol from anywhere other than my usual two petrol stations and I hadn’t run the level down until the red light came on. So that should rule out the possibility of a little bit of dirt getting in to the carburettor or the jets, whatever it is the Juke has. Made the decision to detour via the Nissan garage in Stirling, where the service manager came to see what the problem was. He gave it a fair run through the gears, fierce acceleration and gentle driving, but could not replicate the problem. There was little more the poor man could do, but he took it in to the service bay, put it on the computer and pronounced it clean. No problems listed. Finally he suggested we drive off and if the problem reared its head again, we should book it in for a full day check. Clive and I were puzzled. We couldn’t agree on a possible cause and he knows a lot more about cars than me. It ran perfectly for the rest of the day.

Got to the Kelpies and wandered round them just taking them in. Glad to see that Clive was equally entranced with these beautiful equine sculptures. We both took lots of photos of them from different angles and in different lighting conditions. Scamp was also taking photos, but I think we were the subjects. People are more important than places to her and that’s probably her greatest photographic strength. She captures people very much better than me.

From Grangemouth, we said goodbye to the Kelpies and headed round the outskirts of Falkirk to The Falkirk Wheel. The giant boat lift was one of the things that Clive had wanted to see and we arrived just as it was doing a lift, so he got to see it in action right away. I took the car away to park it and met them in the shadow of the great wheel where we discussed the mechanics of this modern wonder. We waited for another boat to be lifted and after a swift look in the visitor centre, I found the one ticket machine that was working and paid for our parking. For a visitor centre which was meant to show this wonder of engineering design, there were a host of machines with OUT OF ORDER signs on them. Almost nothing of any note was working. Poor show Falkirk. Drove home and arrived just as the rain was starting.

PoD was a view of the Kelpies reflected in the turning pool of the canal.

Tomorrow we may go to Glasgow, but it depends on the weather.