Posted in Photography, Postage stamp, Scotland

Postage stamps no.1

Whenever I visit a post office for any product or service, I feel compelled to enquire if there are any special stamps available, even if I have absolutely no need of them.

My purse has a small zipped section in which I keep a little plastic packet filled with postage stamps. Most of the stamps contained therein are special issues I have been unable to resist.

I tend to buy several of each design, and am happy to make use of most of them as soon as I need to, but I often find it hard to part with the very last one. As a result of this, I have a growing collection of single, slightly ragged, stamps sitting in my purse that will doubtless continue to sit there for some time to come.

The stamp shown below is a particular favourite that I once had many copies of. This is my last copy, and I have often taken it out and had another look at it before returning it to the plastic packet. I wonder if I will ever be able to bring myself to stick it to an envelope and send it off on its travels.

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Cutty Sark postage stamp: a firm favourite.

This stamp was produced in 2013 as one of a collection brought out to celebrate the trading fleet of Britain’s Merchant Navy.

The ship was designed by Scottish surveyor and shipbuilder, Hercules Linton, and built on the River Clyde in 1869. The name, ‘Cutty Sark’, seems an odd name for a ship, coming as it does from the Scottish term for a short nightdress, as worn by a witch called Nannie in the poem Tam O’Shanter by Robert Burns.

Rather splendidly, the ship is still in existence, having been carefully preserved by the Cutty Sark Trust and turned into a museum based in Greenwich, London.

In memory of Hercules Linton, at the north end of his home town of Inverbervie there is a full scale replica of the Cutty Sark’s figurehead, featuring Nannie gripping a horse’s tail as described in Tam O’Shanter.

Posted in Perth, Photography, Scotland

Curious carvings in Perth

While strolling along the River Tay in Perth a few days ago, I came across some stone carvings I hadn’t noticed before. Along the west bank of the river, set into the flood prevention wall, was a curious array of artworks apparently relating in some way to the city of Perth.

Perth flood defence wall
Wall along the west bank of the River Tay at Perth. The carvings, invisible in this picture, were on the sides of the pillars dotted along the wall.

The first one I saw depicted bees and the name ‘Gibralter’.

Gibralter

Other carvings represented cities twinned with Perth, such as Perth, Ontario and Bydgoszcz in Poland, while a few of them were a little more esoteric.

Bydgoszczthe earthEcce tiber

Despite the dreichness of the day, I wasn’t the only one wandering along the riverside trying to make sense of it all.

tourist
A puzzled visitor to the River Tay inspecting the wall with wonderment.

Beneath the bridge, the locals were getting on with their business, unperturbed by goings on above.

swan

Across the river, surrounded by trees on the east bank, sat the attractive Kinnoull Parish Church, a building I’ve never been inside but often admired from outside.

Kinnoull Parish Church
Kinnoull Parish Church on the east bank of the River Tay.

Perth is not one of the UK’s better known cities, indeed it only gained city status in 2012. With a population of around 45,000, it’s about a tenth of the size of Edinburgh and its size and layout make it a pleasant place to explore on foot.

On another topic entirely, as the sole entrant for last week’s competition, I’m delighted to announce that Darlene will be receiving a copy of “The Servant Queen”. Well done, Darlene, and thank you for your interest.

Posted in Book review, Christianity, Photography

Giveaway to celebrate the Queen at 90

This year, on 21 April, Queen Elizabeth II turned 90.

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Queen Elizabeth II

To mark this milestone birthday a number of celebrations have been taking place this year, culminating in three days of events across the UK and the Commonwealth this weekend.

This afternoon an al fresco picnic lunch is being held along The Mall (the long, wide London street leading from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square). Trestle tables have been set up for 10,000 guests, many of whom represent the 600 charities of which the Queen is Patron.

A lunch on this scale requires a great deal of organisation and planning. Here are a few facts connected with today’s event:

  • More than 5000 metres of bunting has been put up along The Mall
  • 12,500 waterproof ponchos have been made available in case of rain
  • 33,000 cups of tea will be poured
  • 40,000 sandwiches have been prepared

Each luncheon guest will receive a wicker picnic hamper packed with exciting goodies from Marks and Spencer showcasing British produce. A full rundown of what’s inside each hamper can be found here.

Earlier this year a book called “The Servant Queen” was brought out to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday. It was produced by three Christian organisations and emphasises the role Christianity has played in her life and work. The foreword has been written by the Queen herself, and she is quoted throughout the main text. The book is 64 pages long, and has been beautifully produced with lots of photographs. I think it’s very well written and provides a fascinating insight into the Queen’s faith.

I have a copy of this book to give away. If you would like to be in with a chance to win it, please leave a comment below. Entrants are welcome from anywhere in the world and the winner will be announced a week from today, on Sunday 18 June.

Posted in Book review, Photography, Scotland, Writing

Book review: “The dream shall never die”

“The dream shall never die” by Alex Salmond (2015), non fiction

This book was purchased while mooching around the bookshops of Wigtown in Galloway. My parents and I had been enjoying afternoon refreshments in the cafe of Beltie Books and were on our way out of the shop when a pile of books attracted my dad’s attention. He picked one up and splashed out the required £12.99. It’s a signed copy, which is a nice little bonus.

"The dream shall never die" by Alex Salmond
“The dream shall never die” by Alex Salmond

For several days after our holiday my dad was often to be found sitting quietly on a sofa deep in the pages of this book. At mealtimes he regaled us with amusing snippets from it. When he’d finished it he urged me to read it myself, and I gladly accepted the offer.

After a brief prologue and an introduction of around 30 pages, the meat of the book begins. It was as I started reading this part of the book that I discovered how engaging Alex Salmond’s writing could be.

On 18 September 2014, the people of Scotland went to the polls to vote on the issue of Scottish independence. The question we had to answer was: Should Scotland be an independent country? The only possible answers were ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

In the run up to the referendum Alex Salmond, as First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP (Scottish National Party), was campaigning enthusiastically on behalf of what was known as ‘Yes Scotland’, the main organisation in favour of independence. The opposition group, campaigning for Scotland to remain a part of the UK, was known as ‘Better Together’.

‘The dream shall never die’ is written as a kind of diary of events covering Yes Scotland’s 100 day campaign to persuade Scots to vote for independence. During this period there was a great deal of campaign coverage in the media, and constant speculation about which side was ahead in the polls and who was doing a better job of persuading voters.

One of the things about the run up to the referendum that stands out in my memory is how positive the Yes Scotland campaigners were compared with the Better Together lot. As Alex Salmond points out in the book, it’s far easier to be upbeat when campaigning for a positive outcome than when backing a negative.

This book benefits not only from the unique perspective gained by one of the campaign’s leaders, but from the entertaining way in which that perspective is conveyed. Alex Salmond’s sense of humour is evident throughout the diary-type entries. Far from being a dry and plodding read, as has been the case with some political observations I’ve read, I found it surprisingly fresh and engaging.

In the end, the people of Scotland voted against independence (the result was 55% against and 45% in favour of independence), and Alex Salmond took the decision to resign as First Minister for Scotland. The final sentence of his resignation speech was: “For me as leader my time is nearly over. But for Scotland the campaign continues and the dream shall never die.” A rousing note to end on and an optimistic title for his subsequent book.

Earlier this year the SNP won a third term in government, now under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon. Next month the whole of the UK will vote in another referendum, this time on whether to remain in the European Union (EU) or leave. The question is worded so that there isn’t a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option. Instead, we’ll be asked: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

A recent opinion poll, published in The Scotsman newspaper yesterday, indicates that more people in Scotland want to remain in the EU than leave. This does not seem to be the case in England. If the UK votes to leave the EU, but Scotland wants to stay in, a second Scottish independence referendum will surely be inevitable. If that happens, Alex Salmond’s dream might well come true in his lifetime.

Posted in Book review, Humour, Photography

Book review: “Bone idle”

“Bone idle” by Suzette A Hill (2009), fiction

The recommendations on the back of this book are as follows: “An intriguingly quirky read” (Leslie Phillips), and “E F Benson crossed with Jerome K Jerome” (The Times).

Bone idle by Suzette A Hill
“Bone idle” by Suzette A Hill

I picked up this book in a second-hand bookshop on holiday in Wigtown a couple of weeks ago, when I was looking for something light and entertaining as bedtime reading.

The protagonist is a likeable English vicar who has murdered one of his parishioners but has, thus far, escaped justice. On the first page, reference is made to a previous novel (“A load of old bones”) which apparently tells the tale of this murder. The fact that I hadn’t read the previous novel didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this one, although now that I’ve read this one I’d like to read the first one.

The Reverend Francis Oughterard is Canon at St Boltoph’s in Surrey, and the book has a definite English flavour to it. The tale is told in the first person, mainly by Oughterard under chapters headed ‘The Vicar’s Version’, but also occasionally from the point of view of his cat, Maurice (chapters headed ‘The Cat’s Memoir’), and his dog, Bouncer (‘The Dog’s Diary’). Each of the voices is distinctive and I enjoyed the unusual touch of having the vicar’s pets give their angle on the story.

There was no specific mention of the decade in which the novel is set, but since the vicar has a car and a telephone and listens to the wireless rather than watching television, my guess is the 1950s.

Oughterard has a gift for getting embroiled in dodgy dealings and trouble of all sorts, but gives the impression that he would much rather lead a quiet, uneventful life. I got slightly confused between some of the female characters from the parish, but the main characters were, I thought, well described and convincingly written.

I enjoyed the setting, pace and style of this book and I’ll be looking out for more by the same author. I was interested to read on her website that despite being an English graduate who spent her working life teaching English Literature, she didn’t write any fiction of her own until well in to her sixties.

It was only when I was sixty-four and well retired, that out of idle curiosity I thought I might try my hand at a short story – just to see what writing fiction felt like. I found out: and to my ongoing surprise the Bones series is the result!

The first of the series, A Load Of Old Bones, was rejected by everybody – agents and publishers alike – and feeling that at my age time was running out, I felt forced to self-publish.

Being idle and having no business experience, this was a terrifying prospect but somehow it worked and the paperback sold well. And a year later, with the sequel Bones In The Belfry finished, I was much relieved to be offered a contract by the publishers Constable & Robinson. Jubilation all round

This information is of particular interest to me, given my current situation, and has given me some food for thought.

I would recommend “Bone idle” to anyone looking for a light, humorous novel. As indicated by The Times review, if you like Jerome K Jerome or E F Benson I think there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this.

 

Posted in Photography, Scotland

Cairndoon Steading and the transit of Mercury

Last week, following my Mum’s recent 80th birthday, the parents and I hot-footed it down to Galloway in the south-west of Scotland.

As a birthday gift to his dear spouse, my dad had booked a week’s self-catering holiday in a converted milking shed called Cairndoon Steading, near the village of Monreith.

Cairndoon Steading
Cairndoon Steading, near Monreith in Galloway, south-west Scotland.

Much to my delight, our arrival was greeted with a box of freshly baked fruit scones, kindly provided by the owners of the house.

fruit scones
Freshly baked fruit scones with butter and jam – the perfect welcome, from my point of view. Note: five scones in box. There were six but one of them disappeared as soon as I set eyes on it.

The house was nicely decorated inside, and the view from my bedroom window was extremely pleasant.

my bedroom at Cairndoon
My bedroom at Cairndoon Steading.
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The view from my window across fields of sheep and cows.

Inside the house there were flyers advertising a forthcoming public viewing at the nearby Galloway Astronomy Centre. On 9 May, between 12:07 and 19:34, the planet Mercury was due to tootle across the face of the sun, the first time this had occurred since 2003. My dad was quite keen to take a shufti at it, so we made our way along the road that afternoon to see what was what.

Galloway Astronomy Centre
Galloway Astronomy Centre, advertising the big event.
Transit sign
Sign reassuring us we were heading in the right direction.
path to Mercury
Path leading to the transit viewing area, with lone telescope to the left beyond washing lines.
telescoe
Lone telescope set up in the garden of the Galloway Astronomy Centre.

Beyond the first telescope, there was another one set up with a small group of hatted people sitting near it drinking tea in the sunshine.

As we made our way towards them, we were greeted warmly and invited to have a squiz through the telescope.

path to transit
My dad striding out towards the hatted astronomers. Telescope on concrete to his right.

I don’t have pictorial evidence of what we saw, but I will attempt to describe it. The lens was focussed on what looked like a round orange disc (the sun). Inside the orange disc, near the top right, was a tiny black dot (Mercury). What I thought was a dirty smudge on the lens a little further down inside the orange blob was apparently a sun spot.

If I hadn’t had it on good authority that I was looking at the sun, the planet Mercury and a sun spot, I might well have thought it was just a picture of a round orange shape with a couple of black dots on it.

Although looking at a couple of black dots on an orange disc wasn’t the most exciting experience I’ve ever had, the people were friendly and enthusiastic. I suppose, for an astronomer, it wasn’t too bad a way of spending the daylight hours: sitting outside on a warm day drinking tea, popping up now and then to check the progress of one heavenly body across another.

For me, there were more interesting shapes to be surveyed closer to home. One of the things I particularly appreciated about Cairndoon Steading was the daily viewing of local animal life. I do like to see a few nice cows when I’m on my holidays.

cows outside Cairndoon
Nice cows outside Cairndoon Steading.
Posted in Photography, Socks

One twisted sock

I don’t know why this happens, but very often when I’m wearing a pair of socks the one on my right foot gradually twists round so that the heel works its way up the inside of my foot. It sometimes happens on the left foot, too, but is more often confined to the right.

I can’t be entirely sure about this, but I think I’m right in saying that the twisting always works in a clockwise manner, regardless of which foot is involved. On the right foot the heel of the sock comes up the inside of the foot and on the left the heel comes up the outside.

It was particularly noticeable this morning because I’m wearing socks with silver threaded stripes that are restricted to the top of the socks, as can be seen in the photograph below.

one twisted sock
Sock on right foot twisting itself over so that the heel comes up the inside of the foot.

I have two questions about this:

  1. Why do socks twist themselves round like this?
  2. Why, in my case, does this often only occur with the right foot?

If you have any ideas/answers to this conundrum I would be most grateful if you left them in the comments box.

Posted in Cake, Photography, Scotland

Lunch, culture and medicine

Three days ago, my mum had a routine hospital appointment in Perth in the middle of afternoon.

We decided to make a day of it and tootled off for lunch at one of our favourite eateries, the Macmillan Coffee Shop at Quarrymill, on the outskirts of Perth.

Quarrymill menu

It’s been exceptionally cold across Scotland for the past few days, and we were very glad to see a fine selection of soups on offer. My mum and I chose country vegetable while my dad opted for carrot and sweet potato.

Nicely warmed by the soup, we turned our attention to the next course. Rather than indulging in a sweet treat, my dad fancied a brie and cranberry toastie on brown bread. As usual, I couldn’t see past the date and cinnamon scones and my mum was deliciously tempted by a large slice of warm apple pie with cream.

Very happily filled and with plenty of time to spare before the hospital appointment, we ambled off to Perth Museum and Art Gallery for a spot of cultural mooching. We were fortunate to find a parking space nearby, but even the short walk from car to museum was strikingly chilly. It was a case of woolly hats on and hoods up.

tiny parents huddling in against the cold

Inside, the museum was a sheltered haven of peace and calm, and we almost had the place to ourselves.

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I was particularly interested in an exhibition entitled ‘Life in Miniature’, which contained a curious mixture of small items from the Museum’s permanent collection. Among the artefacts were several Ancient Egyptian pieces, including the little Ushabti figure below, whose date was given as ‘circa 2600BC – 30BC’.

Ushabti figure

Ushabti were carved figures, popped into Egyptian tombs and thought to magically come alive in the hereafter. They acted as servants, carrying out any manual labour required of the deceased, primarily working in the fields of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife. For that reason, Ushabti often feature agricultural tools. The one above had its arms crossed and a farm implement in each hand. It’s impossible to tell from the photograph how small it was, but I don’t think it can have been much more than 2 inches tall.

Noting that our parking time was nearly up, I coaxed the parents out of The Story of Perth and Kinross exhibition and led them back to the car.

tiny parents in museum

We had parked next to North Inch, the big sister of South Inch, and Perth’s largest public park.

Whereas South Inch is especially attractive to families with young children (containing, as it does, an excellent children’s playground and a duck pond as mentioned in this previous post), North Inch has a particular appeal for certain sports enthusiasts. As well as housing an 18-hole golf course, the park contains rugby and football pitches. Goal posts can be seen in the picture below.

North Inch with pitches

North Inch is one of the world’s oldest golfing locations, the game having been played on this land for more than 500 years. In 1833, one year before the more famous Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews was given its regal title, Perth Royal Golfing Society became the world’s first royal golf club.

For many people, however, North Inch simply provides a nice green space to stroll around on a sunny day. On this particular day we didn’t have time for strolling, or indeed the inclination given the ferociously icy wind, but it was pleasant to gaze upon the grassy terrain as we made our way back to the car.

path around North Inch

By the time we’d been into and come out of the hospital, the sky was growing dark and threatening across the city. It started to hail as we walked to the car, and it’s been hailing and snowing on and off in this part of the world ever since.

storm approaching pri
Storm clouds rolling in across the city towards Perth Royal Infirmary.

Tomorrow is the 1st of May, and the forecasters tell us the weather is expected to warm up a touch (a most welcome change, in my opinion).

In the meantime, we have a birthday to celebrate (my dad is 87 today) and some cake to eat up.

coconut birthday cake with raspberry jam
Coconut birthday cake with raspberry jam (the number ’87’ was spelled out in raisins on top).

 

 

 

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Scotland

Sunny South Inch

The Scottish city of Perth has two main parks, the North Inch and the South Inch (‘inch’ comes from the Gaelic word innis meaning ‘meadow’).

Both are large, low-lying areas within easy walking distance of the city centre.

North edge of South Inch
The northern edge of South Inch with the square tower and crown spire of St Leonard’s-in-the-fields Church over the road on the left and Kinnoull Hill in the background.

The South Inch is particularly well used by parents and young children who enjoy visiting its rather splendid playground and duck pond.

Each spring the South Inch has a wonderful display of daffodils. They’re mostly past their best now, but there were still some looking beautiful in the sunshine yesterday.

South Inch daffs

As I walked past the duck pond I observed not only ducks in attendance, but a pair of swans on a nest. I wasn’t able to take a picture of them but you can perhaps imagine them skulking in the pale patch of tall reeds by the path to the left of the pond in the picture below.

duck pond with reeds

It was the warmest day of the year so far in parts of Wales yesterday, with the temperature reaching 20°C. I don’t know how warm it was in Perth but it was certainly a wonderful treat to feel the warmth of the sun beaming down from a blue sky.

Posted in Baking, Cake, coffee, Edinburgh, Photography, Scotland, tea

Akva and Mimi’s

Earlier this week my dad and I popped down to Edinburgh and met my brother Donald for lunch. Donald had suggested a Swedish cafe bar called Akva as our lunch spot, a place I hadn’t been to before.

The cafe had two levels and we chose to sit upstairs where it was considerably quieter. The area was surprisingly spacious and the furniture interestingly mismatched. Some of the dining tables had sofas by them as well as upright chairs. A large projector screen hung from the ceiling above the stairs.

Upstairs in Akva

After perusing the menu and placing my order I scooted off to the loos where I was delighted by some unusual taps. They were broad and flat and jutted out over trough-like sinks.

Akva taps

Watching the water pour out gave me considerable pleasure.

Akva tap flowing

Back in the cafe our meals were delivered to the table by a cheerful waitress.

Donald had smoked salmon rostis with a dill mayonnaise.

smoked salmon rostis

My dad and I both chose the ‘Akva brunch’, which consisted of scrambled egg and spinach on a large slice of granary toast with a grilled tomato in two halves on top of a flat mushroom.

Akva brunch

It was all very satisfactory and we slooshed our food down with tea and coffee.

a table for three in Akva
My dad and my brother tucking into their meals. The windows behind the table had a lovely view out onto the Union canal.

The teacups were a teal colour which seemed comfortingly familiar. I’m not entirely sure why, but I associate this colour with the 1970s and the happy carefree days of my youth.

teal teacup

While my dad and I were still working our way slowly through our brunches Donald ordered a cardamom bun served with Greek yoghurt and honey. I foolishly forgot to photograph it but I did have a little taste and it was a most interesting delicacy.

After saying toodleoo to my brother, we headed off to the car and wondered what we might do next. We had felt too full for sweet treats in Akva, but reckoned a little drive across the city might well inspire our appetites.

We decided on Leith as our destination, partly because it offered free parking and an excellent tearoom, but also to get away from the busyness of the city centre. These days my aging parents find Edinburgh a little too hectic for comfort, and I sympathise because I feel a bit the same way myself.

We found a parking spot right outside a flat I used to live in many moons ago and dashed through the rain to the magnificent Mimi’s Bakehouse which I’ve written about in the past on another blog (here and here, if you’re interested).

In common with Akva, Mimi’s had a choice of seating options, including sofas and armchairs. After selecting tasty treats from the cake display, my dad quickly settled himself in an armchair with a newspaper to await their arrival.

Dad in armchair with newspaper at Mimi's

Choosing what to have had been quite an effort because of the wealth of delicious-looking snackerels on offer, but in the end we plumped for a raspberry and white chocolate meringue slice and a fruit scone with butter and jam, washed down with cappuccinos (I had decaf, which came with chocolate on only half of it to distinguish it from the regular one).

Two cappuccinos, a scone and a raspberry white chocolate meringue slice

I’ve had the good fortune to feast at Mimi’s Bakehouse on a number of occasions and, although the choice of sweet treats can seem bewildering and confusing, in my experience you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose.

The raspberry and white chocolate meringue slice was substantial and satisfying: biscuity and melty on the bottom, with a thick layer of white chocolate above scattered with tiny pieces of zingy dried raspberry, all topped off with generous chunks of sweet, light, crunchy meringue. Delicious.

raspberry white chocolate meringue slice

The scone was utterly superb – large, fluffy and extremely easy to swallow. We cut the two treats into little bits and shared them out between us. I buttered half of the scone and buttered and jammed the other half.

The prices were a bit higher than you might expect in an average Scottish cafe, but the quality was evident. I was impressed with the French butter that came with the scone.

Well filled with excellent fare, we trotted back to the car to head for home.

In the past, when I lived near where Mimi’s is now (it wasn’t there in my day), my favoured local haunt was The Vaults, headquarters of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), just along the road. My parents used to come down to Edinburgh and have lunch with me there in the rather splendid surroundings of the members’ lounge, a large, high-ceilinged room with a log fire and leather sofas. Having let my membership lapse we no longer have access to those hallowed surroundings, but Mimi’s offers a highly satisfactory alternative (and cakes, the like of which I never encountered in the SMWS).

Mimi's chandelier
Decorative ceiling moulding and a pink chandelier in Mimi’s Bakehouse.