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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

As I’m sure many other people do, I write down quotes that amuse me.

Many of these come from the mouths of the two delightful assistants, aka my mum and dad, and I record them in this book:

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A plain burgundy hardback notebook – it doesn’t look much from the outside but there are treasures within.

It’s quite old, this notebook. In fact, it dates back to the 1960s, when it belonged to my dad.

He had the idea of using it to record the books he’d read and the first 18 pages have a book title on each one.

This is the very first entry, showing a book that was read to him in 1967 (by my eldest brother, he thinks), and then read by him on three more occasions before 1970. He must have really liked it.

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Page one of the burgundy notebook.

I’ve tried to do this sort of thing myself, but I invariably forget to add some books as I finish them and eventually the project dies a natural death.

Much more successful has been my recording of quotes.

Over the years my dear pater has been getting deafer and deafer and some of the quotes that tickle me most are those involving his mishearing of things other people say. The quotes that follow will probably appeal to my immediate family more than anyone else, but you might be able to imagine the amusement caused.

My sister: “I want to see your receipt.”

Dad: “My feet?”

My sister: “RECEIPT!”

Dad: “Oh. I thought you were thinking about getting me slippers for Christmas.”

Mum: “There’s three bags to take to Flora’s.”

Dad: “Did you say something to me about teabags?”

My sister: “I meant to bring slips.”

Dad: “You met Prince Philip?”

Dad: “I think I”ll have a wee sit down.”

Mum: “I think you should have a big sit down.”

Dad: “Yes, I think I will have a biscuit.”

Recently my mum’s started to mishear things occasionally, too, such as the time when there was excavation work being done in the garden and one of the diggers (a JCB) got an oil leak.

Lorna: “Dad gave a hand towel to Derek, the boy with the JCB.”

Mum: “What boy who died of TB?”

Both of the parents can be quite droll.

Lorna: “I know a trick with a cake.”

Mum: “Do you? It’s called the vanishing trick. You vanish with the cake, is that right?”

My brother Fergus: “The Tay and Forth bridges were closed.”

Mum: “Entirely closed?”

Dad: “No, just half way across.”

Mum: “You really are looking slimmer today.”

Dad: “I’m wearing a tight vest.”

Lorna (to Dad): “And what made you change your mind?”

Mum: “Common sense.”

Dad: “Or a nagging wife.”

Mum: “It comes to the same thing.”

If you’ve read this far you’ll be needing a picture by now. Here’s an apple and cranberry scone I had earlier this week at Gloagburn Farm Shop and Tearoom:

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A festive apple and cranberry scone at Gloagburn, surprisingly flavoured with vanilla. Delightful assistant no.1 wasn’t too struck by the vanilla addition but I enjoyed it.

In addition to the book of quotes I’m thinking of collecting together my mum’s wise sayings. These are statements that she comes out with now and then, and in which she appears to believe completely and utterly. For example:

“It’s easier to get a fat person thin than a thin person fat.”

“The hours before midnight are more beneficial than those after.”

When I was at university one of my chums was entertained by the fact that I often wrote down word for word the things our lecturers said. My lecture notes frequently had things scribbled on them in quotation marks, and after seeing me do this she began doing it herself.

Little did I know that she was transferring them into a notebook which she eventually gave me for Christmas, on the front of which she had written “Lorna’s little book”.

I still have that book and some of the quotes inside it are from a rather eccentric chap who taught Behavioural Ecology. He was a bit absent-minded but very sincere and liked to make sure that we understood what he was trying to get across.

“There’s a meeting for those studying biological sciences. That’s biological science students.”

(on describing the behaviour of bee-eaters) “A bird is cleaning out a hole. You could call that hole-cleaning.”

“They move around in groups of one, which isn’t really a group at all, is it?”

Back at Gloagburn, before I ate the scone pictured above I had a very filling and tasty sandwich. If I were to ask you to guess the filling I wonder what you’d say:

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What’s in the sandwich?

The sandwich filling was, in fact, curried banana chutney with cheese.

Lastly, here’s something my dad said to a nurse at the local medical centre recently when he was going for a general health check. I can imagine him speaking in his usual confident manner, and the nurse looking astonished. He says her eyebrows shot up as he was speaking.

Nurse: “How tall are you?”

Dad: “I can’t remember it in metric but I do remember the feet and inches: 8 ft 5. When I went into the army they measured me and said they’d build me up. Do people shrink as they get older? Because I think I’m smaller than I used to be.”

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The delightful assistants: smaller than they’re prepared to admit.

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In 1997 a book was published by an unknown author living in Edinburgh.

It was to become a publishing sensation, but since nobody knew that at the time the first print run consisted of a mere 500 hardback copies, most of which went to libraries.

The book was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”, by J K Rowling.

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Image from boingboing.net

If you want to buy a first edition, first print run, copy of the book today you’ll need to have several thousand pounds to spend on it, and if it’s a signed copy you’ll need several thousand more. The copy above apparently sold for $29,875 in 2011.

Then again, if you just want to read the book you can get the hardback in a new edition for less than £10 and the paperback for about half that on Amazon. If you’re lucky you might even pick one up in a charity/thrift shop for much less.

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A good rummage in a shop like this might just produce a Harry Potter bargain.

When I self-published a little guidebook to tearooms last year I had no idea how many copies to order, but I found out from the printing company I used that the more I ordered the cheaper each book would be.

Taking a complete stab in the dark and lured in by the lower cost price if I had lots made, I plunged in and ordered 2000.

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A small sample of my book stock.

Had I known then what I know now about the sort of quantity I was likely to sell, I would have paid more for each copy and ordered far fewer, but such is the benefit of hindsight.

On the plus side, lots of lovely customers have shelled out for this small tome, for which I am most grateful, and who knows I may even sell a few more before they become completely obsolete.

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New book by local author in the window of The Bookshop, Blairgowrie, last year.

I was chatting to my sister about this today, and telling her that I felt I’d like to do something with some of the remaining copies.

The only idea I’ve come up with is to make them into some sort of art installation, but beyond piling them up, sticking them to a lamp-post, or arranging them in a sculptural manner, I’ve had little inspiration.

She suggested I ought to have a competition for people to propose things I might do with them, and that made me think about writing this blog post.

This reminds me of a situation my dad was in a few years ago, when he was lumbered with boxes of a book that wasn’t selling (he was running a book stall at the time). I remember leaving a copy on a train once, and on a bus, and I think possibly even on a park bench. I hoped that in each case someone might pick the book up and read it, or give it to a second hand shop or something, but I really don’t know what became of them.

I could do the same with my book, except that I am still selling it online and in a few shops, and I don’t want to upset anyone who’s recently purchased a copy.

The longer I have it, however, the more out of date it becomes, and I’d like to work towards putting it to another use.

If you happen to come up with an interesting idea for what I might do with, say, a box of 100 copies, perhaps you could leave a comment below. There might well be a teatowel for the winning suggestion.

Since I haven’t yet broken even on the cost of producing the book, I’d like whatever I do with spare copies to cost nothing. I have given quite a few to libraries, but I don’t want to offload more onto them when the book is getting a bit dated.

I’ll be putting my own thinking cap on again, and if I come up with anything of interest I’ll post about it anon.

Perhaps I’ll try wearing a pancake like this beautiful rabbit, to see if that proves more inspiring.

 

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Have you ever had a migraine?

According to The Migraine Trust, it’s the most common neurological ailment in the western world.

There are more people suffering from migraine than from diabetes, asthma and epilepsy combined, accounting for over 8 million people in the UK alone.

I’ve been getting migraines for the past 16 or so years. I’ve learned to live with them (and luckily don’t get them as badly or as frequently as some people do), and now think of them as part of life.

When I recently visited the Migraine Trust website after a particularly disagreeable migraine, I was very interested to find out about this:

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One of several Travelling Migraine Diaries from The Migraine Trust.

Before, or even after, people are diagnosed with migraine it’s suggested that they keep a migraine diary, to see if there’s any pattern to their occurrence.

Inspired by that idea, and with the aim of encouraging sufferers to share their experiences, the Migraine Trust came up with the idea of a Travelling Diary.

Rather than just using one very large book, they’re sending out a number of blank books all over the UK to people who suffer from migraines, so that each sufferer can contribute their story of how migraines affect them.

I received one of the diaries in the post yesterday and wrote my piece in it this morning:

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My entry in one of the Travelling Migraine Diaries.

After my mum’s added a bit about her experience of migraine, the book will be sent back to the Trust so that they can send it on to the next person on their list.

I enjoyed reading the stories of other people who had written in the diary before me, and eventually all of the stories will be available to view online. The Trust are taking photographs of the entries as they receive them and putting them on Flickr during their Diary Campaign, and you can see them here.

If you live in the UK and have ever suffered from a migraine, you might want to consider adding your bit to one of the diaries. You can do that by clicking on this link to the Migraine Trust’s sign up page.

You can also follow the Migraine Trust on Facebook and Twitter @migrainetrust.

I don’t know if humans are the only species in the animal kingdom to suffer from migraines, but I hope so. I wouldn’t like to think of other animals having to cope with migraines.

Here’s a happy horse I saw the other day wearing a natty red coat and looking comfortably headache-free:

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White horse in a red coat.

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One of my favourite tearooms, the Macmillan Coffee Shop in Perth, is soon to close for the season.

I’ve been popping along there as often as I can recently, to make the most of it while it’s still open. It’ll be a long wait between the end of this month and April 2014 when it reopens for business.

They always have interesting and delicious scones and cakes on offer, and on a recent visit I opted for a slice of chocolate and hazelnut cake.

I was astonished by its similarity to a crocodile:

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Crocodile chocolate and hazelnut cake

I don’t know if it’s easier to see what I mean slightly closer up:

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Can you see the crocodile in this cake?

The whole hazelnuts on top were such a tasty touch that it would have been nice to have had more of them decorating the cake. However, had that been the case, it wouldn’t have looked like a crocodile, which would have been a great pity.

A unique cake and a very happy memory.

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Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of the living.” – Miriam Beard

Some places leave a lasting impression on the visitor and, for me, Iceland is one such place.

Clean fresh air, steam rising out of the ground, subtle colours in the landscape, black rock, ice and barely discernible roads are some of the things that spring to mind when I think of Iceland.

Here’s what I mean:

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Looking down on the coastal town of Seyðisfjörður on Iceland’s east coast. My chum and I arrived by air into the capital, Reykjavik, but left on a ferry from here, bound for the Faroe Islands.

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All over the country you see steam rising out of the ground, and in this case it was coming up out of a river. They get hot water for free in Iceland, thanks to all the geothermal energy, and it left my skin feeling very soft although unfortunately tainted by the stench of rotten eggs.

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Crater lake at Landmannalaugar. The shades of green and brown were striking.

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Curious textures and colours in the rocks at Landmannalaugar.

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Black sand, black rock, there’s a lot of it about in Iceland.

We drove right across the middle of the country, from the south-west to the north coast. This route is closed for about 9 months of the year over the autumn, winter and spring, but even when it’s open it’s not exactly obvious where the roads are:

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Er…which way do we go?

We drove for miles over rough black rock, seeing very few other vehicles or signs of habitation. I found it surprisingly beautiful.

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It’s a good idea to squeeze as much fuel into your tank as possible before setting off across the middle of Iceland; there are no petrol stations on this route.

We had to cross quite a few rivers, which I found both terrifying and exhilarating (I wasn’t doing the driving). The key is to avoid still water, which can be deceptively deep, and aim for the rough looking bits where there are rocks just beneath the surface.

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About to cross…

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Crossing….

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Phew – made it!

Although there was a lot of black rock around, some bits of the country were very green:

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Sunny cemetery with little turf-roofed church.

Perhaps one of the things people expect when they go to Iceland is ice, particularly in the form of glaciers.

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Vatnajökull ice cap – the biggest in Europe, going by volume.

One thing about glaciers is that although they look nice and white when you see them at a distance, close-up they’re really quite dirty.

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Me on a glacier, with grubby rocks stuck inside the ice.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting about glaciers is the way they make eery creaking noises. I noticed this particularly in Norway once where I was in a hollow next to a glacier surrounded by mountains. The creaking noises, along with the sound of tumbling ice, echoed round the valley in a manner that fairly set my senses on edge.

At the foot of the Vatnajökull ice cap was the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, a blue lake of floating bergs that had calved off the glacier:

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Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon with floating ice sculptures.

I believe many of the bergs melt in the lagoon, but I saw some drifting off under the bridge along the coast road out into the North Altlantic Ocean:

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Icebergs off to the seaside for their holidays.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Iceland twice, and on both trips I was helping out as field assistant to a geology chum of mine. Amongst other rock-related activities we went to look at some columnar basalt.

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I felt as if I were standing in Middle-earth looking at this scene. J R R Tolkein apparently drew inspiration for The Lord of the Rings from the Icelandic sagas, and studied Old Icelandic at university, although whether he ever visited Iceland himself I don’t know.

I hope I get the chance to go back to Iceland again, and if you’re thinking you might fancy a trip there yourself I would highly recommend it.

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Clouds over Iceland

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Neighbourhood Watch.

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In global terms, Scotland is a small country. (In terms of size, it’s apparently smaller than Austria, Tasmania and the US state of Maine.)

Although I’ve spent virtually all of my life in Scotland, there are still many parts I haven’t yet visited and a number of long-held ambitions as yet unfulfilled.

I did manage to tick one off recently though, when the delightful assistants and I buzzed up north towards the Moray Coast, to visit the Findhorn Community.

One of the many nice things about the area of Moray is that the council provide cheerfully coloured bins, and these were in evidence in the community’s streets:

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The Findhorn Community is rather an unusual place, and has grown considerably since it began in 1962.

Findhorn Community Centre near the entrance to the community.

In its early days, the founders created a bit of a stir by growing enormous vegetables, herbs and flowers, the girth of which they said had been achieved by communicating with the spirits of the plants.

For example, an average sort of cabbage weighs about 3lbs, but some of the cabbages grown in Findhorn weighed in at a whopping 40lb! That’s about 18kg, or nearly 3 stone (or the weight of an average 4 year old child).

I wish I had a picture of one of these enormous cabbages, but we searched the grounds of the community during our visit and found not one single outsize vegetable.

These days the community is more concerned with hosting environmental and spiritual workshops and promoting environmentally friendly practises in its ecovillage, so perhaps their days of growing gigantic vegetables is past, I don’t know.

As interested as we were in having a wander round the place, luncheon was calling so we headed straight for the community’s Blue Angel Cafe, tucked in amongst burgeoning foliage with seating outside as well as indoors:

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Soup of the Day was green split pea, and delightful assistant no.2 and I both went for that.

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He had his with cheese and onion sandwiches on the side, and I had rice cakes. The soups came dished up in bowls made in the community pottery:

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Delightful assistant no.1 had cheese and tomato sandwiches, which came with a lovely fresh salad, but unfortunately my photo of it is a bit blurred.

When we’d finished our savouries we went for a trot round The Park, the area of the community containing ecohouses, various small enterprises and gardens.

Beneath the signpost at the entrance to The Park there was an encouraging message:

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As we walked around, I must say I didn’t feel in the least bit worried. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and there were lots of interesting things to look at.

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The Findhorn Pottery Shop, a place to purchase a souvenir or two.

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The weaving studio, where you can perhaps buy woven things to take home with you. I didn’t go in, but I did see some colourful woven items hanging in the window.

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The Boutique – a small building with all sorts of things in it. I believe it’s a kind of swap shop where you can bring something you no longer want and swap it for something someone else has left.

In addition to the businesses there were many ecohouses of interesting design, some leading directly off the quiet paths through the village and others popping up from amongst clusters of trees.

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A curious roof emerging from the canopy.

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An unusual little house nestling beneath its curious roof.

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One of several ‘barrel’ houses, made from massive recycled whisky vats. Very fitting, since Moray is home to the world’s only Malt Whisky Trail.

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The Shire: currently for sale, at offers over £159,000. The outside wood is Scottish spruce and internal wall partitions are filled with sheep’s wool, which no doubt keeps it nice and cosy in the winter. If you want to see the full specification, you can find it here: http://www.lightbringers.info/eco-house-sale.asp

Perhaps my favourite building was this one, the Park Maintenance office:

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A smiley whale, brightening up the ecovillage.

In the middle of The Park there was a wooded garden, designed for contemplation.

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In the middle of this wooded glade was something quite magical, a low stone built house with a grass roof and a small garden, where I daresay the forest folk come of an evening to sit and tell stories.

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Little fairy house in a wooded glade.

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The doorway into a magical kingdom.

Just outside the Peace Garden there was another garden, which was fenced off and had a most unusual gateway:

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No outsize vegetables to be seen here.

This garden contained several minibeast hotels (the little wooden boxes attached to posts in the picture below):

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A Mecca for minibeasts

Having exhausted ourselves strolling around in the sunshine, we headed back to the Blue Angel Cafe for a little refreshment.

Most unusually, delightful assistant no.1 didn’t want anything, not even a nice cup of tea, but delightful assistant no.2 had spied a lemon roulade on our previous visit and had been dreaming of it ever since:

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It wasn’t quite as lemony as he’d been hoping for but it seemed to slip down quite well with a cappuccino.

As is often the case, I was lured in by walnuts; on this occasion they came embedded in a toffee walnut tart. It was sweet, sticky and highly acceptable. In company with a cinnamon chai latte it disappeared without any trouble at all:

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All the way round The Park we had noticed little wooden houses a couple of feet off the ground, which I initially thought were mail boxes and then realised were in fact lights. Each one was wired up and had holes at the front with a light bulb inside. I suppose they must double as hidey-holes for wee beasties.

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Unobtrusive street lighting in Findhorn ecovillage.

Before leaving the Findhorn Community we called in at The Phoenix community store:

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I was amazed by the range of goods for sale, particularly in the food area which had the most extensive range of nut butters I think I’ve ever seen, as well as many other interesting goodies of the sort you find in a wholefoods shop.

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They also had a good variety of wines and locally produced real ales, apothecary items, cards, books and gifts. I was prepared for the prices being higher than you’d find in towns and cities, but in fact in some cases the opposite was true. They were even competing with supermarket prices, which I thought very commendable.

Another surprising thing about the Findhorn Community is that it has its own currency, the Eko (1 Eko = £1), although the pound sterling is equally accepted.

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Various Eko notes (courtesy of http://e-info.org.tw/node/70731).

According to an article in The Scotsman last year, several pubs in the Moray area accept the Eko.

In 2012 the Findhorn Community celebrated its 50th anniversary, and I wonder what it’ll be like in another 50 years’ time. Perhaps this sort of community living will have grown in popularity by then and there will be other similar places dotted around the country. I suppose it’s possible that I might just live long enough to find out.

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When you’re trying to write something that’s proving very awkward, blogging can be a great respite.

Today I’ve been attempting to rewrite the synopsis of my first novel, which has been something of a millstone round my neck for the past couple of months. (For anyone not in the know, a synopsis is brief outline of a story.)

Depending on who you speak to, when submitting a novel for publication the synopsis should be anything between 1 and 10 pages long, but the ideal size as far as I can gather is about 2 pages.

The difficulty is that my book is 363 pages long, so in writing the synopsis I have to identify the salient points and condense them into less than 1% of the whole book. It might sound easy to write less rather than more, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be.

It took me 6 months to write the book, and I have a horrible feeling that it could take me the same length of time to write a synopsis I’m happy with.

Writing the actual book was a picnic compared with writing the synopsis.

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A lovely picnic courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk)

Despite not being entirely happy with it, last month I sent out my synopsis to a couple of agents.

On the plus side, I received my first rejection yesterday.

Strange, you might think, to refer to this as a positive result, and prior to receiving it I’d have said the same. I was fully expecting my first rejection to make me feel miserable and dejected. I admit that it did come as a bit of a disappointment, but it also made me feel curiously buoyed up and encouraged.

It made me think about all the other authors who’ve had rejections (and from what I’ve read on the subject, that would appear to be pretty much every author who’s ever submitted a manuscript). I’ve had my novel rejected, ergo I must be a proper author.

Comparing it to receiving an OBE might be stretching things a bit, but I definitely feel as if I’ve joined the ranks of a noble and esteemed group of human beings.

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The library of my dreams: Sir Walter Scott’s study at Abbotsford. If you haven’t visited Abbotsford I can highly recommend it. It’s undergoing renovations at the moment but is due to reopen this summer. http://www.scottabbotsford.co.uk

Admittedly, I’m no closer to publication as a result of this rejection, but most of the books I’ve read were written by people who were, at some point, in the same boat.

On a completely different note, another strangely positive thing happened here today.

Several weeks ago my mum fell and tore some ligaments in her groin. Since then she’s been hobbling about in great pain, impatiently waiting for the injury to mend itself.

Last week, her doctor sent her for an x-ray and today she got the results. The x-ray clearly showed that it wasn’t just ligaments to blame for the discomfort she’d been feeling, she had in fact broken her pelvis.

She was inordinately pleased about this; her first broken bone, aged 77!

In response to her jubilant reaction, we celebrated fittingly with tea and cake.

Tea and cake to celebrate delightful assistant no.1′s first broken bone

I think I put too much lemon curd in the middle because it was determined to escape wherever possible.

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In a previous post about the tasty contents of my Christmas box, I missed out the fruit cake component because I hadn’t yet tried it.

I can now report that the cake has been consumed, and slipped down nicely with some Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea.

Here’s the cake as it was when whole: a round of fruit-filled cakiness decorated with a thick lid of fondant icing and a gold snowflake supporting a white star:

On cutting into it a layer of marzipan was revealed between icing and cake:

This piece of cake might look quite small, which it was, but it was also very rich:

It was stuffed with cherries, sultanas, raisins, apricots, brandy and other delicious ingredients:

As I was writing this post, I felt inspired to bake.

Initially I thought I’d make a fruit cake but, given the inordinately long time it takes to cook, I opted for the quick fix of fruit scones instead:

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A bit beyond the graveyard at Bendochy in Perthshire, there’s an Intriguing Sight parked up on grass just off the road.

At first sight it might not seem all that intriguing. If you’re familiar with the British landscape you might think it was just one of those old – probably defunct – red phoneboxes:

In my youth we didn’t have mobile phones. In order to make calls when out and about, we relied on the Post Office to provide red phoneboxes with public phones in them. You could shove a 10p piece into a slot to make a call, and when the money was running out the ‘pips’ would alert you to the fact that you were about to be cut off. This was all part of normal life.

In this day and age, with virtually everyone having a mobile phone, I don’t know how many red phoneboxes still contain working phones, but it seems to me to be not very many.

Britain’s red phoneboxes, or kiosks as they were first known, came into being in 1921, and were painted red to make them stand out. There have been a variety of designs over the years, all of which are illustrated and described on the impressively detailed website, The Telephone Box.

When you get closer to the phonebox at Bendochy, you find that where it used to say ‘TELEPHONE’ in the white space at the top, it now says ‘Bendochy’ and there’s a little ‘i’ after it, signifying ‘information’.

As you approach the door of the phonebox, you might think you’re seeing shelves of books inside:

And you’d be quite right:

The sides of the phonebox that are not supporting books or acting as the door, are mounted with pinboards, one of which has maps of the area stuck to it, and an explanation of what’s going on inside the phonebox:

The pinboard on the other side has been left for advertisements:

I keep meaning to pin up a little flyer about my book on the pinboard, and stick a copy of the book on a bookshelf.

Bendochy’s phonebox is just one of over 1,500 such boxes to have been adopted by local communities and put to good use now that they no longer contain phones.

The decomissioned boxes have found all sorts of new leases of life. Quite a few contain defibrillators purchased by local villagers and installed in case of medical emergencies. There are also phoneboxes that have turned into art galleries and grocery shops.

If you fancy adopting your local phonebox, you can do it for the bargain price of £1.00 by applying to British Telecom.

They have a website all about it here, and they’re very keen to hear from people with interesting suggestions.

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By a sort of happy accident several years ago, I ended up in the Falkland Islands.

I’ve recently been revisiting the place in my mind, because it features in a book I’m writing, and although I unfortunately don’t have all the photos I took back then, I do still have a few and I thought I’d stick them on here in a post.

The Jhelum at Stanley

The wreck of the Jhelum in Stanley Harbour, the Falkland Islands, with geese in the foreground

In 2006 I was feeling a bit bored and needing some excitement, so I left my job, gave up my flat in Edinburgh and popped off to South America with the vague intention of learning Spanish.

En route, due to missing a connection in New York, I was put up in a New Jersey hotel for the night. This was the view from my bedroom window:

Hotel room view

The next day (or possibly the day after, it was a long journey and I got very confused about time zones) I landed at my destination: Buenos Aires in Argentina.

This next picture is a bit out of focus and not representative of the city as a whole, but it was the view from my hotel window and its depressing appearance pretty much summed up my mood at the time (I should say that the hotel itself was quite nice, but looking out at this didn’t exactly inspire me). It was quite a contrast from New Jersey:

Buenos Aires hotel room view

What with one thing and another (not just the view), I was rather miserable in Buenos Aires and didn’t seem to be able to shake it off. I got so down in the dumps that after a few days I walked into a travel agency and booked a flight to the Falkland Islands.

Due to the political shenanigans between Argentina and the Falklands, you can’t travel directly from one to the other. Although the Falklands are just off the Argentinian coast, I had to hop across the border into Chile and get to the Falklands from there instead.

I flew first to Chile’s capital, Santiago, and then on to Punta Arenas in the south, from where I could catch a flight to the Falklands. I enjoyed flying over the Andes:

Flying over the Andes Mountains

My mum is always saying I land on my feet, but what she doesn’t add is that I get there by way of inelegantly slithering over icy patches and slipping on endless banana skins.

I like to think of myself as quite well organised, but the truth is that I am never as well organised as I should be. On this occasion I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead.

I arrived in Punta Arenas in the dark, early evening I think it was, and only then discovered that there was no airport hotel. My flight to the Falklands was not until the following morning, and Punta Arenas airport was being locked up for the night. The small adventure I had as a result of that has provided me with a bit of the story I’m now writing.

I was also unprepared for my arrival in the Falklands. I had mistakenly assumed that since it was a British protectorate I could just turn up, waltz in and be welcomed with open arms.

Thanks purely to some kind Falkland Islanders who were on their way home after a holiday and took pity on me, I was smuggled into the country and deposited at a Bed & Breakfast in Stanley. (This is what my mum means by me landing on my feet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’ve lost a couple of years off my life as a result of the stress at the time.)

The B&B was run by a kindly lady who wasn’t expecting winter visitors, and certainly not those who turned up unannounced (you’re supposed to have proof of accommodation booked in advance before you can even be let into the islands). She looked after me wonderfully well and gave me a lovely big room in her house. My windows were at the top left, looking out in both directions:

Stanley B&B

Once I had settled in and got over the strain of the journey, being in Stanley was balm to the soul.

The weather was wintery, with bitingly cold winds and occasional snow flurries, but the sun shone and I had a jolly time ambling along Stanley’s quiet streets:

Windswept street in Stanley

One of Stanley’s long windswept streets sloping down to the sea

The landscape outside the town reminded me very much of Scotland’s western isles, low-lying moorland with occasional houses dotted about. It made me feel at home.

Falklands moorland

Despite being located off the southern tip of Argentina, the Falkland Islands felt very British. There were Union flags all over the place in Stanley, and traditional English pubs (sadly, without real ale on tap).

Like many people the world over, Falkland Islanders take a pride in their gardens, but I think Stanley is the only place where I’ve seen penguins standing like sentries round a well-clipped plant (up near the back of this garden):

Stanley garden

It’s also the only place I’ve ever seen Falkland steamer ducks, which is not too surprising since I believe the Falklands is the only place you find them. Like the other steamer ducks found in South America, these chaps can’t fly.

Falkland steamer ducks

The birds I encountered around Stanley all seemed quite tame, including these beautiful Dolphin Gulls and the many geese that were in attendance.

Dolphin Gulls in Stanley

The Falkland Islands are famed for their penguin colonies, but unfortunately I didn’t see any of these delightful inhabitants. I did, however, see the world’s most southerly cathedral with its whalebone arch nextdoor:

Stanley Cathedral and whalebone arch

I only spent a week in Stanley, and I had a bad cold for much of my visit, but those 7 days stick in my mind as a vivid and exceptionally positive experience.

On my way out of the Falklands I used the facilities in the airport and was amused by this wartime poster next to the sink. Wartime is within living memory of most Falkland Islanders, after the invasion of Argentinian forces in 1982.

 Wartime poster in Stanley airport

After leaving the Falklands, I made my way back to Santiago in Chile, where the smog was sitting heavily over the city, as I believe is quite common in the winter:

Santiago in the smog

I lodged in a hostel for a while, walking around Santiago during the day and trying to work up enthusaism for settling down and immersing myself into Chilean life, but my heart wasn’t in it. I did like Santiago though, and it would be nice to see it in the summer time.

I was a little sorry to leave after a short stay, but I had blown most of my funds on the Falklands trip and work was hard to come by with my poor Spanish, particularly in the winter time.

On my way home, the misty mountains around Santiago looked enchanting from the air:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the story I’m writing, my main character visits the Falkland Islands in winter too, but unlike me she makes her return journey to the UK by sea, during the course of which she has some adventures.

If I were to go to the Falklands again, I would like to jump aboard a cargo ship to get there, and I would especially like to go on one like this (below). It’s a new Japanese design using giant sails to harness wind power when the conditions allow:

cargo-ship-with-sails

image courtesy of the University of Tokyo

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