This and that

Today it was actually quite mild and sunny – at times anyway and I spent most of the day in the garden , still ‘redding up’ (tidying up) weeding and cutting back the dead bits. In fact after the brutal cold weather and snow we had a fortnight ago there are now quite a few fatalities. My rosemary bushes had gone all through the winter fairly happily, but the Easter weather was just too much for them and they’ve had to be chopped right back, I hope they re-grow. It was only today that I realised that my lovely ceanothus (Californian lilac) now has brown leaves instead of the lovely glossy dark green leaves it has had all through the winter. More chopping back required, I find it painful. A few roses have succumbed to the cold weather, but I’m hopeful that they might survive – eventually. Strangely the lavender bushes are all very happy looking, so much for them being tender Mediterranean plants, but my Alpine edelweiss plant looks like it has had it. I’ll leave it in though just in case there’s life in the roots yet.

Over the weekend we were up north in Inverness on a football related jaunt. Friday was freezing and grey, a disappointment as the weather forecast said it would be nice up there. But the sun arrived on Saturday – and there was warmth with it, amazing! When I say warmth it was probably just in double figures celsius, but not long ago it was -5 so I was happy. Can you believe I actually had to put the car window down? Inverness was heaving with people, there were so many tourists, and it being a Friday night we couldn’t get into any of the restaurants that we tried as we hadn’t booked. There was one restaurant that had only four people in it, not a good sign considering how jam packed everywhere else was, but we had no alternative so we gave it a go. It was a Mediterranean eatery (allegedly). It was expensive and it was possibly the worst meal I’ve ever had in a restaurant – AND I came out feeling hungrier than I had been when I went in! Why oh why didn’t I check out the Tripadvisor reviews first?!

The book pile has grown by seven books, I bought some in the Pitlochry bookshops on the way up to Inverness. Then some more in a Dingwall bookshop. Dingwall actually has two secondhand bookshops, amazing. I think maybe the long dark winters in the Scottish Highlands lead to a lot of people picking up books to take themselves to pastures new, for a wee while anyway.

One of the books that I bought was by Rose Tremain. I’ve never read anything by her, but I enjoyed reading this Guardian article last week. Have you read any of her books?

I didn’t take any photos of Inverness itself, but you can see some images here.

I was away – now I’m back!

I scheduled four posts just before leaving for a short break at the end of last week. We were in fact driving down to Oswestry which is very close to the Welsh border, at one point we had to drive into Wales and then out of it again to reach Oswestry which is a place neither of us had been before.

So what was the reason for our jaunt? Well, it was a football match because Jack is a very loyal supporter of Dumbarton Football Club (soccer). They’re what other supporters would probably call a ‘diddy’ team as they’re part-timers, all of them having ‘proper’ jobs, but this year they’ve done amazingly well in the Scottish Challenge Cup (officially known as the Irn Bru Cup because of its sponsors) and because they won the match at Oswestry they have now reached the final which thankfully will be played in Scotland.

I didn’t go to see the match, I stayed in the hotel and got on with reading Anna Karenina, a much more sensible thing to do, especially on a cold February night. I didn’t go online at all while we were away so I’m just catching up with replying to comments and reading blogs.

I plan to do another RRS Discovery post this week and also to tell you about the books that I bought on our travels – a worrying amount of them, but I just couldn’t say no!

Automation = exploitation

Be warned – this is a bit of a moanfest – but I’m annoyed!

I have to admit that I’m a bit of a Luddite, especially when it comes to things like supermarkets and banks. I’d much rather deal with a human being when I’m carrying out any transactions, and I think that if lots of us had eschewed online banking then the banks wouldn’t have seized the chance to close most of their branches, throwing their employees onto the dole queue and leaving people in more rural areas high and dry.

When the supermarkets started installing self-service tills I decided that I was never going to use them. I’m not absolutely ancient but I do just remember the days when we used to go to the shops with our basket and string bags and actually be served by a human being who gathered all your items from the shelves themselves and rang everything up on the till. I couldn’t help thinking back to those days when I went to an ASDA supermarket on Monday, it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the store is a really big one and it was full of shoppers.

I didn’t intend to buy an awful lot, I just wanted some fruit so I took a hand-basket and when I made my way to the check-outs I was shocked to discover that although they have around 23 check-outs only two of them had actual human beings working at them, the rest were all empty, the alternative was for me to serve myself and use an automated check-out. The two ‘womanned’ check-outs were queued up with people who had large trollies full of food, so I just had to abandon my basket and leave. My fruitless supermarket visit was just a waste of time.

I was/am more than a wee bit annoyed, when you consider the massive profits that the supermarkets make it seems ridiculous that they are now employing as few people as they can get away with employing. There used to be a time when employers felt an obligation to the community that supplied them with customers – and employees, but now the only important thing is profit. Costs have been pared back to the bone and the people who provide the businesses with money – the customers – are expected to do the work that was once done by paid employees. For some people a short chat with a shop worker is the only point of contact they have with another human, modern life with family scattered far and wide can be a lonely place, especially for the elderly.

There’s no doubt that in many ways society is going backwards. I’m quite cheesed off about it all. I would probably be regarded as a bit of a red by some people but I really think that if companies are making enormous profits – as supermarkets and banks do – then they shouldn’t be allowed to lay workers off and replace them with machines which exploit their customers for labour.

North East Scotland

Well, that was a weekend with a difference. On Friday morning we began the long journey from Fife up to Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, the north-east of Scotland. It was snowing heavily by the time we got the car loaded up for the journey, so I decided that it would be a good idea to be ready for all eventualities – such as getting stuck in snow, so I added a duvet, blanket, lots to eat and flasks of coffee. Jack went out to the shed and got a spade, just in case we had to dig ourselves out of a snowdrift. The forecast further north was for no snow at all though so we knew if we got out of Fife safely we would be fine.

Neither of us had ever been to Peterhead before and as the football team that Jack supports (Dumbarton) was playing Peterhead FC it seemed like a good time to go up there. He has visited almost all of the football grounds in Scotland, but not Peterhead. He was keen to tick that one off too but sadly the match was called off! It would seem mainly because the police had said that nobody should travel in the west of Scotland if it wasn’t absolutely necessary and Dumbarton is in the west of Scotland. So annoying as they would have got there fine I’m sure.

Anyway – every cloud and all that, we were staying overnight in Peterhead so we had plenty of time to explore the area and visit places we had never been before such as Laurencekirk, Ellon, Fraserburgh, Cruden Bay and also Slains Castle. To be honest I wasn’t too enamoured of any of the towns, but at least now I know what they look like. Being that far north is just too far from Glasgow and Edinburgh for my liking.

Slains Castle was the most interesting place we visited. It’s a ruin now as the owner had the roof removed in 1925 to avoid tax, but when it was still habitable the author Bram Stoker had been a guest in the castle and apparently it inspired him to use the castle location as Count Dracula’s castle. We took a lot of photos, but I’ll keep them for another blogpost. Meanwhile have a look here if you’re interested.

Happy New Year!

Like many people I’m fairly glad to see the back of 2017, but given the MAYhem that has been unleashed on us in the UK – I’m trepidatious about 2018.

But heigh-ho – onwards and upwards. I hope that 2018 will be a good one for us all, so Happy New Year to anyone who drops in on me at Pining.

Every year there’s a torchlight procession down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on the 30th of December. I think we might take part in it next year – I’m told it’s good fun.

Christmas Update

A fine time was had by us all, both for J’s birthday and Christmas, but after stuffing our faces for two days running we were glad to get out of the house and stretch our legs on Cellardyke beach this afternoon. We took part in their beach clean up- a first for both of us.

Compared to lots of beaches I’ve seen it looked fairly clean to me but when we got in amongst the rocks we found lots of plastic bottles, plastic bags, polystyrene, insulation foam, rope and netting from fishing boats, broken creels, casing from electrical equipment, hub caps …. the list went on and on.

Luckily it was a gorgeous blue sky and sun shiny day and we were warm enough while we were actually picking litter, despite the fact that the rock pools were covered with ice, surprising as it’s obviously sea water.

As it got towards 3 o’clock the sun disappeared and the chill came down on us and hot pies provided by a local shopkeeper were very welcome at the end of it all. I’d definitely take part in any other beach clean ups, it’s a good way of getting to know people – and their dogs.

Sadly there’s no photographic evidence though – I was too busy!

But you can see some images of the beach here although we were at the far end of it where it’s much rockier.

Merry Christmas

Christmas

Merry Christmas!

A certain person in our family (not me) has his birthday on Christmas Eve, so that’s always a very busy day for me, cooking for everyone for that celebration. Thankfully I have today off from the kitchen as others in our extended family are doing the honours!

Have a lovely time – whatever you’re doing.

Christmas

Wintry Walk in Fife

Come on – how about coming with me on a wintry walk in Fife, it’ll help blow the cobwebs away! One afternoon a couple of weeks ago during a really cold snap we went for a walk in nearby woodland.

Balbirnie Estate trees

And then we left the woodland, crossed the road and set out for the open farmland surrounding the woods.

Estate Trees

Farm Track

It was the middle of November but the trees were still holding onto leaves and looking quite colourful, I think some of them are beeches.

Trees

In the summer these fields will have crops of wheat, oats or barley in them.

winter Trees

The fields had been boggy after all the rain we’d had earlier in the year but where there were tractor tracks the puddles in them had been frozen over. We kept to the farm track, in the photo below you can just see a small bridge that goes over a railway line, there’s a concrete and brick structure above and beside the track which looks like a World War 2 pillbox.

Railway  Bridge and pillbox

Presumably the pillbox was built to defend the track in the event of attack.

Pillbox

Below is the track going north.
Railway  track

And below the track is going south to Edinburgh.
Railway  track, Fife

We disturbed some pheasants in one of the fields and they flew off in that awkward way they have that makes me think that anyone who shoots them for ‘sport’ is akin to a murderer as it seems they can’t fly away very well, having said that they were too fast for me to get a photo of them.

Trees in Fife

By then we were frozen to the bone so we turned for home, it was coffee and cake time! I’m sorry I couldn’t share that with you, but I hope you enjoyed your rural stroll with me in Fife.
Road

The land around here isn’t that far from Falkland Palace and I imagine that when Mary of Guise, Mary Stuart and King James lived there this area would have been part of their riding and hunting ground as Falkland was built as a hunting palace. It would have been much more heavily wooded in those days. The Palace is mentioned in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles

Rochdale Town Hall, Lancashire

We stayed in Rochdale for a few days last month, visiting friends who live there. I knew very little about the place, apart from knowing that like many towns it has a very grand town hall built in the Victorian Gothic Revival style. We had just missed a tour of the building and they only have a couple of them a week, but we were being treated to afternoon tea in the tearoom there so we were at least able to see some of the interior. I can highly recommend the afternoon tea – delicious.

Rochdale Town Hall

Rochdale Town Hall

Rochdale Town Hall Interior 1

Rochdale Town Hall fireplace

It’s a good setting for a wedding if you live in that area.
Rochdale Town Hall interior

Sue and I made a trip to the loos and we were held up a bit because there was an old lady in front of us, obviously not able to walk very quickly – and leaning on a man’s arm. Luckily they veered off in a different direction and Sue said to me “Did you realise who that was?” No I didn’t. It was the actress Julie Goodyear, better known as Bet Lynch of Coronation Street fame! And – blow me down – she had been wearing her trademark leopard print too, just in case people failed to recognise her I think. We all saw her from the front later on so Jack and I feel we got the authentic north of England experience of seeing a ‘soap’ actor around town. With Emmerdale also being filmed nearby actors can apparently be seen around and about quite often.

If you have no idea who Bet Lynch was you might like to see the clip of her below, when she was in her heyday. This is probably from around when I gave up watching Corrie as they went from two episodes a week to just about every day of the week. Too much.

It was obviously too much for Julie Goodyear as she seems to have retired from acting to concentrate on breeding horses. Martin and Sue pointed her property out to us, on the outskirts of Rochdale, she has a good view anyway.

Rochdale has come in for a lot of flak in recent years but I was quite impressed by it.

Penny Lane, Liverpool, and more

I still have lots of Norway photos to share with you, but I thought I would relive our recent visit to Liverpool, we were staying with our good friends Martin and Sue in the north of England and they had arranged a Beatles open top bus tour. Close to the bus stop there are statues of The Beatles, they’re larger than lifesize, about seven and a half feet tall I believe. This actually looks better in the photo than it does in real life I think. My favourite – George, second from the left is particularly anonymous looking.

Four Liverpool Lads

Penny Lane sign

The first stop was Penny Lane. I don’t know what I had expected but I didn’t expect a quiet leafy road. Obviously the original road sign was nicked years ago, and I suspect they still are stolen because this one is just a modern plastic thing.

Penny Lane

Most of us piled out of the bus to take some photos anyway. Apart from being given Beatles information from the tour guide Damien, he was also quite handy with a guitar, so we had a sing-a-long too. There is still a barber there and a bank.

The other end of Penny Lane is residential although some of the buildings have been turned into workplaces. A few computer bound upper office workers are happy to wave back at you, maybe it brightens up their day to have a tour bus pass them every now and again.

Penny Lane

Strawberry Fields Forever – but not THE gate apparently. Yoko Ono took the original after John Lennon was murdered. I believe she put them somehere in the US. These replica gates were made, but I don’t think they should have allowed her to remove the originals. Strawberry Fields was of course the name of a Salvation Army children’s home and it had a lot of ground around it, the local kids used to play in there, it was their bit of paradise. It seems that fans have come from all over the world to scrawl messages on the gatepost.

Strawberry Fields

Meanwhile back; onto the bus and the street in the photo below is where Paul McCartney grew up. Apparently he still goes back there now and again, to show people where he grew up.

McCartney's Road

Then on to Aunt Mimi’s house below. This is where John Lennon grew up, staying with his Aunt Mimi when his parents lost custody of him, both being deemed unfit parents. He was lucky to have his aunt and uncle who stepped in to bring him up here. The people who own this house now must be really fed up with constant tour bus stops, they have the bedroom window curtains drawn and I don’t blame them.

Aunt Mimi's house

You can see the front porch has been fairly recently refurbished, but that is where John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to practice their guitar playing when they were kids. I think it was supposed to be less annoying for the neighbours if they were out there.

Aunt Mimi's house

If you are a Beatles fan then the trip is well worthwhile – even worth getting soaked as happened to us up the back of the open-topped bus.

I was a bit too young for the Beatles in their heyday but my sister was a teenager then so I grew up with their music. She was a fan and had George Harrison framed on her dressing table.

Meanwhile back to Penny Lane.