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Archive for August, 2012

On Saturday morning I’m trotting off for a week’s holiday in Galloway, Scotland.

The delightful assistants have rented a house, one of the lovely Culmore Bridge Cottages, for two weeks, and I’m sneaking into the spare room during their first week, while my brother joins them later on.

In preparation for my holiday, I bought a new camera via Amazon. Sadly, the camera appears to have a fault and I don’t have time to replace it, so alas I will be without my own camera for the trip.

On the up side, delightful assistant no.1 has generously offered me the use of hers, and I do have my mobile phone camera.

On another up side I have a new gadget that works, and that I’m very pleased with. It’s a voice recorder and I have a feeling it’s going to be a great boon. No more switching on the light in the middle of the night to write down things that enter my head just as I’m dropping off to sleep, no more scribbling quickly in cafes when I’m trying to record the amusing things people say, no more sending myself texts when I’m on the hoof and think of something I don’t want to forget.

I also have 3 ‘new’ books (3 for £2 in a charity shop), which will keep me occupied if the weather encourages staying indoors:

In my opinion, one of the best things about going somewhere else is the opportunity to partake of small treats in different tearooms. One of my favourite tearooms in the whole world is located in Galloway, although I believe it may now be up for sale. I hope I get to sample it one more time in its present state:

The cakes at this tearoom have very tempting names, e.g. Vicar’s Vice, Naughty Nell, Luscious Lucy, Sophie’s Sin and, the one I opted for on my last visit, Femme Fatale (coffee and chocolate cake filled with espresso cream):

I am also hoping to revisit a small group of donkeys I took a shine to when I was down that way in April:

They took quite a shine to delightful assistant no.2, but I suspect it was a case of ‘cupboard love’, i.e. they were lured by the grass he was offering them, rather than by his considerable personal charms:

I’ve noticed a definite change in the weather here recently, a coolness that signals the start of autumn. I like a nice autumn day when you can wrap up warmly and have a brisk walk without overheating. The only season I don’t particularly care for in the UK is winter, but hopefully that’s still some way off.

The hedgerows are beginning to sprout blackberries here now, and I suspect there will be some blackberry harvesting during this little holiday. Bags of berries will be brought home and frozen, ready to add to apple crumbles over the winter. I suppose if there’s one thing I do like about winter it’s the chance to enjoy stodgy comfort food in a warm house while the cold winds blow outside.

However, in the meantime I plan to enjoy the late summer/early autumn and make the most of a little change of scene. One place I’m particularly looking forward to is Glenwhan, a spectacular privately owned garden near Stranraer that’s open to the public. Every time I visit there’s something new to see, and it’s a real haven of peace and calm:

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There is a small town on the Fife coast that has, for years, been home to award winning fish and chips. Despite having visited this little place on a number of occasions, up until recently I had completely failed to sample the famous food.

I am delighted to say I have now rectified the situation. True vegetarians or vegans look away now:

It was amongst the best fish I’ve ever tasted, very fresh and cooked to perfection:

The town that supplied this fish is called Anstruther, and it was originally a fishing village. It’s home to another award winning business, also connected with fish – the Scottish Fisheries Museum:

On my next trip to Anstruther I would very much like to visit the museum and, as if an extra lure were needed, it boasts a tearoom.

The fish and chips above appeared on a glorious summer’s day a few weeks ago, when my delightful assistant and I were moseying around the Fife coast lapping up a bit of holiday atmosphere. If you want to feel in the thick of things on a sunny afternoon in Fife, Anstruther is the place to be. It always seems to be buzzing with life and the queues for fish suppers (aka fish and chips, I don’t know if this is a Scottish or British expression) never seem to dwindle.

Part of the reason I hadn’t partaken of this excellent fish before was due to offputting queues on previous visits. I suppose there must be a saturation point and some quiet periods, but going by what I’ve observed it would seem that the punters just can’t get enough fish suppers in Anstruther at any time of day, on any day of the week. Providing fish suppers to the people of Fife is, quite obviously, a thriving and profitable business.

As well as excellent fish, Anstruther has a harbour full of lovely boats, including this beautiful lady:

The elegant 70ft long Reaper is what’s known as a herring drifter. She was built in 1902 and spent many years at sea, mainly around the Shetland Islands, picking up herring. She also did a bit of work for the Admiralty in the south of England during the war years, and in 1979 she was purchased by the Scottish Fisheries Museum. She’s been featured in films and on TV, and if you fancy calling her your home for a few hours, you can rent her out for events.

Curving around the harbour are some pretty buildings, many featuring the distinctive red pantiles associated with much of the Fife coast:

It was an unusually warm day for Scotland, with a cloudless blue sky (not all that common on Scotland’s east coast). At least I could remove my outer layers, unlike this fluffy fellow taking respite in a shady spot:

When Anstruther got too much for us with its busyness and bustle, we popped into the car and drove off to a quiet hillside for a little amble. If you’ve seen my Capture the Colour post, you might recognise the subject of this next picture:

The foxgloves on top of the little hill we climbed had a fine view over fields to the sea. I was unreasonably proud of myself for managing to snap some without being stampeded by savage equine beasts (my apologies to any horse fanciers, my terror-induced language belies my admiration of the fine creatures):

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A few weeks ago I took my delightful assistant to the pretty village of Culross (pronounced Coo-ross) in Fife.

To my mind, there is such a thing as taking too many photographs, and it’s something I suffer from quite a bit. The problem for me is that when I get home and download them, if I’ve taken too many I feel overwhelmed, and if I want to write a post I just don’t know where to begin and which pictures to choose.

Since the visit to Culross my camera has given up the ghost and I can’t say I blame it. The place is so ridiculously picturesque that it’s impossible not to snap a new view with every step. Since we spent several hours there, I came home with literally hundreds of pictures. You’ll be relieved to hear that I’m not going to post them all, and will attempt to limit myself to a reasonable number.

One of the big attractions of the village is Culross Palace, which dates from 1597. It’s in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, which means that the delightful assistant and I got in for free (we’re both members). This is the entrance to the palace:

It’s one of these attractions where you just wander around at your own pace, reading information sheets about each area, and there are guides in several of the rooms who can answer any questions you might have. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for me, in this instance) you’re not allowed to take photos inside. Most of it was quite dark with small windows letting in little light even on a sunny day.

There are several unusual features of Culross Palace, but I think chief amongst these are the tiered garden at the back of the buildings, and the fact that both palace and garden are situated in a village that seems to be frozen in time.

The garden slopes upwards at quite a steep angle and is laid out on a number of terraces. Here are some of the steps leading between terraces:

Part of the garden is occupied by chickens, which delighted me. In fact, afterwards when we were discussing our favourite things about the day I chose the chickens as one of my highlights. I don’t know why it is, but I’m always very taken with chickens on a day out.

We spent a long time in the garden, enjoying the chickens and some beautifully scented stripy roses:

Of course, before all this we had to bolster our energies with refreshments. I’m doing this the wrong way round (you see, I’m all confused by the number of pictures, and too distracted to do anything about it in this post), but here’s where we took them:

I think it was the first time I’d ever seen teacups hanging in windows on strings. I think it was also the first time I’d seen Iron Goddess of Mercy tea on the menu.

The tea was an oolong from Taiwan, and with a name like that I felt unable to resist. The glamorous assistant opted for coffee and we both had fruit scones with jam and butter. My tea came in one of those nice heavy black Japanese teapots:

Those sheets of paper at the left of the teacup comprise the impressive tea menu. There were some exotic varieties with interesting information about each one and it was tricky to choose. I will obviously need to return and try some of the others in due course.

Nextdoor to the tearoom was a pottery and gift shop with some interesting tea things:

Beyond the confines of the tearoom, pottery and palace, Culross has much to offer the visitor. Just wandering through the little streets, some of them cobbled, offers a variety of beautiful buildings and a sense of the history of the place.

So many householders seemed to be taking pride in the appearance of their houses, with flowers galore, in baskets, tubs and gardens:

Even those with apparently nowhere to display flowers had tied flowerpots to the walls:

In addition to all these privately owned flowers, there was botanical abundance to be found in the Culross Old School Yard Community Garden which, with considerable dedication and hard work, had gone from being a wasteland to this:

With a wildflower meadow and a seat to enjoy it from:

On our way back to the car, via more delightful little winding streets:

we passed this 17th century house that had been made into an electricity substation, with a vintage motor parked outside it to please the tourists. This was a shot I considered entering as my ‘white’ photo in the recent Capture the Colour competition:

Two last photos, if you haven’t already wandered off (my apologies for the length of this post and the number of photos in it), the first showing a series of crow-stepped gables with pantiled roofs (pantiles were imported into Scotland from the Netherlands centuries ago as ballast in ships and traded for other goods):

and one last flowery picture of a yellow foxglove from the Culross Palace garden. Flowers were a big part of our visit, and I’d like my next visit to be at a different time of year, to discover what other treats Culross has up its sleeve and along its winding streets:

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For as long as I can remember I’ve needed engaging challenges to make me do stuff.

Having previously promised on this blog not to drone on about my laziness, I will simply say that I often find it hard to motivate myself to do things, even when I actually want to do them, and I sometimes wonder why this is.

I read an article recently by Robert of the Embrace Possibility blog that offered a suggestion. In his words: “The reason we struggle with being disciplined is because we lose sight of what we really want and take action for a lesser want instead.”

That’s certainly true for me. I want to get on with writing, but I mess about on Twitter and check Facebook updates instead. Once I’ve had my fill of social media I remind myself that I want to write, so I go and clean the bathroom.

My usual attitude is not so much this:

Usain Bolt getting on with the job – image courtest of digitaltrackandfield.com

As this:

Messing about on Twitter – image courtesy of sandierpastures.com

However, I have also noticed that if I set myself specific challenges that grab me enough and need to be completed in a set timescale I can actually achieve them.

Right now, at the end of the London Olympics, there are athletes the world over already setting their sights on Rio de Janeiro in 2016. They’re arranging their training regimes and planning a number of targets over the next four years, with the big aim of taking part in the next Olympic Games. To me, who finds it challenging to plan the next 4 days, that is quite a staggering thought, and their inspiring attitudes have made me decide to make my own personal plan for the next 4 years of my life.

I’ve been asking myself recently what I can do that would bring me a sense of real satisfaction. I know that I can do something difficult if I put my mind to it and want it enough, but in order for me to have any hope of achieving it I have to have those two elements: determination and desire. Part of me wants to challenge myself to do something I feel is almost too big a struggle for me, and another part of me wants to find something easier, but I think I can satisfy both types of challenge by making the one big difficult thing my main aim and several smaller, easier, goals my stepping stones to getting there.

One thing that has plagued me for years is the desire to write a novel. I’m overflowing with admiration for someone like Terry Pratchett, who can not only create an entire alternative universe complete with realistic characters, but can churn out a book or more every year for years on end with astonishing dedication and skill (and it’s all the more remarkable since he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007).

Given my years of frustrating procrastination, writing a novel is going to be my big goal for 2016, and I need to devise a series of steps that will take me from where I am now (nothing written at all) to the end result. What I want to achieve by 2016 is not only to have written the book, but also (no doubt after many rejections) to have found a publisher and got it published. I believe it takes about 18 months to get a novel published in the UK after it’s been accepted, and publishers can take 3 months or more to reply to submissions, so my aim is to finish the book in 2014, two years from now.

On the face of it, two years seems like a long time to write a novel, but I honestly think I might struggle to do it in that time. However, I am determined to give it my best shot.

Above my desk, along with my motivational card:

image courtest of ncdadogeball.com

oops, wrong one, I do of course mean this one:

image of poster by Karen Tribett, courtesy of allposters.co.uk

I have stuck up a selection of photos chopped out of newspapers of Olympic athletes from this year’s Games.  The people’s favourite, Usain Bolt, is naturally up there, along with the marvellous Mo Farah, and many others. Not all of those at this year’s Games will be heading for Rio, but many of them will, along with others I haven’t even heard of yet.

My thinking behind giving myself this 4 year plan is that as I trudge along, often questioning myself and wondering if I can really achieve my ambitions, I’ll be doing it in excellent company. When I struggle to get out of bed in the morning and feel as if my brain is running backwards all day, the same could well be happening to some of these athletes. There is going to be, I hope, some sort of fellow feeling that I can draw encouragement from.

I don’t know if anyone else might think this a worthwhile pursuit, but perhaps there’s a goal you’d like to achieve, and if so maybe you could use the next Olympic Games as your deadline, too. This year’s Olympics has inspired me more than any other, but perhaps the next one will be the best so far, if I can celebrate the realisation of my own dreams along with those of 2016′s Olympians.

Incidentally, if you feel that having a little mascot to carry around with you might help you to stay inspired after the Olympics, you might like to knit your own Usain Bolt. The Radio Times has published details of how to do it here (utterly perplexing to a non-knitter like myself, but no doubt perfectly clear to knitting gurus):

image courtesy of olympixx.wordpress.com

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I live almost bang in the middle of Scotland, which is very handy for exploring different parts of the country. When considering a little foray beyond this area, I ask myself what I want to gain from an excursion.

I’m Edinburgh born and bred (Edinburgh is in southern Scotland, but north of the Borders region), and for me the north offers adventure, slight discomfort perhaps, and something a bit alien to my southern character. I often choose to drive north in order to experience this slightly unsettling feeling, but there are times when I feel in the mood to go somewhere more restful to me, where I feel more at home.

I felt like this a few days ago when I whisked my delightful assistant off to the Scottish Borders (she’s happy to go anywhere on any occasion, one really couldn’t ask for a more amenable or willing companion).

It was a 3 hour drive to the bit of the Borders I was interested in, and so sustenance en route was required. Luckily, one of my favourite pit-stops when travelling south was open and ready for business when we passed by.

I commonly choose a scone for my morning snackette, and excellent scones can be obtained at this place, but for some reason my thoughts were more on their fruit loaf that day, and so that’s what I had, while my assistant went for a scone.

Here is the tasty, moist and delicious fruit loaf I had, before and after the application of butter:

I suppose my buttering could be described as paltry. I like it thinly spread without great lumps clustering on the surface of the item beneath. The same could not be said for my delightful assistant’s buttering. Here is her apple and cinnamon scone (apparently excellent in taste and texture) before and after buttering:

Feeling adequately filled, we set off again on our journey, arriving in the Borders at lunchtime.

Lunch was taken in the village of St Boswells, near Jedburgh, in a splendid independent bookshop with cafe:

I had carrot, orange and ginger soup with some truly outstanding bread:

While my assistant opted for a roasted vegetables salad with feta cheese:

After lunch we had a scooch around the bookshop, where, in my postprandial state, I was very drawn to this aptly designed Penguin classic deck chair:

Resisting the urge to snooze, we instead drove on a short distance until we saw a signpost intimating a viewpoint off the road, next to an impressive viaduct (it took me a full 5 mintues to remember that word while writing this post, not an unusual occurrence these days, is this early-onset dementia?):

Thanks to Wikipedia, I find that this is the Leaderfoot railway viaduct (no longer used for trains, sadly), which was opened in 1863. It’s in excellent nick thanks to Historic Scotland, who renovated it in the early 1990s.

Parking near the viaduct, we walked along a pleasant road that is no longer used for vehicular traffic. It had luxuriant hedgerows on either side with lots of small birds flitting in and out:

At the viewpoint there was a bench seat supported by a couple of curious creatures. I thought at first they were sheep but then I decided they were winged lions.

Our little walk was refreshing in the afternoon sunshine, but we were still quite a way from home and so another snack stop was required.

We found what we needed in the Royal Burgh of Lauder, a bit southeast of Edinburgh. The cafe was just along the road from the town hall, which sits in the middle of the village:

To my delight there was Lady Grey tea on offer, which came in a strange teapot with a very Scottish mug (the wording roughly translates as ‘don’t worry, stay calm’):

My assistant had Assam tea and chose an excellent apple pie to go with it, which was accompanied by a small jug of cream:

I had been wondering about this myself, but it seemed a bit on the large side, so I went for a chocolate krispie cake instead:

To one side of the tearoom was an art gallery displaying the works of several local artists, and on another side was an enticing looking archway leading through to a gift shop. I narrowly avoided parting with cash for a little wooden boat with a moveable seagull attached to it.

After that it was back on the journey north, via Edinburgh to enjoy the rush hour traffic on the city bypass (the number of times I’ve hit this traffic recently and been surprised, despite previous experience and knowledge of the time, backs up my suspicion of mental deterioration).

That little visit to Border towns has fairly put me in the mood for another trip there soon. As far as I know, none of my ancestors hailed from that bit of the country, and yet I feel a definite pull towards the area, even the bits I’m not familiar with. My sister feels a similar pull to the northwest of Scotland, so perhaps it’s just to do with personal taste.

On a completely different topic, tomorrow sees the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games. I suspect I’ll miss watching all these inspiring athletes, but the inspirational performances will live on for some time to come, and I’m already looking forward to Rio in 2016.

I believe London 2012 will be going out on a musical note with a tribute to British music. In four years’ time, no doubt our present and future Olympians will be welcomed with the samba sounds of Brazil – I can’t wait!

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The delightful Meg of Meg Travels has provided me with a little challenge, via the website Travel Supermarket.

Travel Supermarket have launched a competition and are offering prizes to bloggers who share photos that ‘Capture the Colour’. In their own words “We’re looking for bloggers to publish a blog post with a photo that captures the following 5 colours – Blue, Green, Yellow, White and Red.”

To enter the challenge you ideally publish 5 photographs (you can publish fewer and not be entered for the top prize), one for each colour category, and then nominate 5 bloggers who might like to take part themselves. You are also encouraged to state where the picture was taken and add any other information that might add something of interest, including links to any posts you might have done about the places featured.

Up first is the colour blue and I’ve chosen rather a fine fellow whose blue feathers dazzled me earlier this year in Galloway, Scotland:

A splendid resident of Glenwhan Gardens keeping a beady eye on the punters, Dumfries and Galloway, April 2012

For green I’ve picked what more than one person I’ve shown it to thought was grass. It is, in fact, water seen a long way down from a very tall building in Dubai:

A lake of pea soup in amongst Dubai’s newly built skyscrapers, as viewed from the city’s second tallest building in July 2010

My yellow picture was taken last month in the astonishingly well preserved old village of Culross in Fife, Scotland.  This building is part of Culross Palace, originally built in the late 16th-early 17th century, which makes this wall about 400 years old. The paint’s looking pretty fresh but I suspect it’s been touched up a few times over the centuries.

Three little windows in a very old and very yellow wall of Culross Palace, Fife, in July 2012

I risked life and limb for the white photo and I chose to feature it, not because there’s all that much white in it but because the white stands out so much against the background. I greatly admire, but am also allergic to, and terrified of, horses so it was with some trepidation that I got this close to one without a fence between me and it. However, it was kind enough not to maim or kill me, both of which I was worried it might well do, and in grateful thanks to it and in celebration of my survival I am posting this picture:

Giant white beast considering whether or not to bite me or trample me to death, eventually deciding not to bother with either, near Anstruther, Fife, August 2012

My final picture is the red one, a photo I published once before in a post called Auchtermuchty. Auchtermuchty is a village in Fife (I’m surprised by how many of these photos originate in Fife, it seems to be a most colourful place) that has several claims to fame. I won’t bore you with them here, but if you’re at all interested you can click on the link above and read all about it.

Cross-eyed lion door knocker in Auchtermuchty, Fife, February 2012, possibly given this disturbringly insane look to make travelling salesmen/Jehovah’s Witnesses think twice about bothering the inhabitants.

The 5 blogs I’m nominating for this challenge are:

Cauldrons and Cupcakes

Writing from Scotland

Girl in a food frenzy

Rigmover

Moments Clicked

If you’d like to find out more about the challenge, and perhaps even take part, please visit travelsupermarket.com.

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It’s a while since I’ve written a post about tearooms, and that’s partly because I’ve hardly been at home recently to do it, but also because I was becoming a little tired of churning out the same sort of thing. I was beginning to think I was not only boring myself to death, but probably also my dear readers.

However, is this genuine boredom on my part, or laziness, or just my usual lack of dedication to something long-term?

Watching the Olympics, I’ve been struck by the dedication of the athletes involved. They spend years of their lives training for this one occasion. Although they attend other competitions as well, for most of them the Olympics is their main goal, the one thing they keep their eye on that inspires them to keep going when they’re getting bored, feeling lazy or just sick of dedicating their entire lives to exercise.

While writing a blog is by no means as arduous as training to become an Olympic athlete, many bloggers use it as a way of disciplining themselves to write regularly, practising a skill they would like to become better at. I don’t know what the percentage is, but a lot of bloggers, myself included, have a desire to become published authors, and even if we are writing other things at the same time, blogging can provide a useful bit of training that contributes to that goal.

I watched a documentary a while ago about Usain Bolt, currently the fastest man in the world (and tonight we’ll find out if he still is). He is obviously very talented at what he does, but he didn’t get where he is today without putting in considerable effort. What appeals to me about him, however, is that he’s not one of these athletes who genuinely enjoys all the training for its own sake, he struggles to discipline himself to do it when he’s not in the mood, and his coach has said that despite his success he’s not a natural when it comes to training.

Usain Bolt hanging off a London Bus – courtesy of The Guardian

In a recent newspaper interview, Bolt had this to say: “The key thing to remember is that hard work does pay off. If you put the work in, it will definitely pay off in the long run”. I’m sure this is something he has to repeatedly tell himself, to remind himself why he’s putting in all this work when he would rather be relaxing with his chums in the Caribbean sunshine and being the laid-back Jamaican that he naturally is.

A good friend of mine recently sent me a card, which arrived on the very day I needed it. I had been sitting at my desk thinking that I needed some sort of motivational text to inspire me, when this card popped through the letterbox. It’s now sitting next to my laptop and reads: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars…”

I’m sure I had seen the quote before and it hadn’t made a particular impact, but when I saw it that day it hit home and provided the encouragement I needed to keep going. It also relieved me of the pressure I had been putting myself under, the ridiculous notion that in order to be a successful author I needed to become the next J K Rowling. It’s good to be inspired by other people who’ve trodden the path before you, but important to remember that we are all individuals, with different talents and different routes to success, and – most importantly – different definitions of success.

I initially thought that success for me would mean publishing my own book, which I did a few weeks ago. It was a good achievement, but now it feels to me like a stepping stone to other things. I’m glad I did it, and prior to publication I did work quite hard to get it done, but almost as soon as I had it in my hands I wanted to forget about it and move onto the next thing. This is very typical of me, the constant desire to do something else and the inability to stick at one thing for long. I find this aspect of my character immensely irritating, but having had 40 years of getting to know myself, I realise that this is just the way I am.

We all have to make the best of what we’ve got and, as much as I admire Usain Bolt and all the other Olympic athletes competing in this year’s Games, I am never going to be among them in sporting terms. But I have already learned a lot from observing their dedication and will power, and can apply something of that spirit to my own situation.

I’ll be watching the result of tonight’s men’s 100m with great interest, as will many millions of other people. Whether or not Usain Bolt successfully defends his title, he has already inspired countless people, and I hope that makes him feel he’s still a winner, whatever the outcome.

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