Sunday 31 May 2009

The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

At 11.30 on Friday night it was still light enough to see for miles and four hours later the sun was rising again.

Although the foreground looks dark in the top photos that is an effect caused by pointing the camera at the sun. Turning away and looking at the garden it is obvious that by 4 am on Saturday it was full daylight.

GB and I went into town for a spot of shopping and ended up in the Library Cafe for coffee.

Look what my brother had with his coffee. Disgraceful, isn't it. (I'm not telling you what I had but it bore an uncanny resemblance to his!)

We were down to our last Times 2 crossword clue with one gulp of coffee still to go but we made it. Our reputations remain reasonably intact!

We stopped off at the harbour to look at (and, of course, photograph) a couple of boats; a yacht and a tall ship (the Westward Ho).

Back home at GB's I lazed around reading while he got some jobs done - including fishing algae out of the pond.

Then we had our usual salad lunch which I augmented with cheese - which I'm not supposed to have.

The problem about staying at GB's is that he has some irresistible cheeses, like this Black Crowdie Gruth Dubh (pronounced 'grew doo' - highland cheese hand rolled in Scottish pinhead Oatmeal and crushed Black Peppercorns) and some beautiful Yorkshire Blue.

After lunch I read some more and then walked down the croft and along the cliff top looking at the flowers and enjoying the sunshine.

Mid-afternoon coffee saw us once again finish the last crossword clue with the last mouthful. It's such a satisfying feeling! Dinner included haggis which I love but which is almost impossible to obtain back on Merseyside. GB's haggis is vegetarian haggis but is just as tasty as the real thing. And then I had a fairly early night, reading in bed with a cup of coffee and a biscuit.

This is the life!

The Stone and other Imperial measures

When I was little - very little - we had to learn our addition and multiplication tables. I can still recite them now so deeply are they embedded. But we also had to recite our pounds, shillings and pence table; our volume table (2 pints = 1 quart; 4 quarts = 1 gallon etc) our length table (12 inches equals 1 foot; 3 feet equals 1 yard; there are 16 feet 6 inches to the rod, pole or perch; 4 rods to a chain; 10 chains to a furlong; 8 furlongs or 1760 yards to a mile ...) and our weights table. This latter went :-
16 ounces = 1 pound
14 pounds = 1 stone
2 stone = 1 quarter
4 quarters= 1 hundredweight
20 hundredweight or 2240 pounds = 1 ton

I knew that in America, like here in the UK, Imperial measures were used to weigh the human body (though that has now disappeared here in hospitals and among the younger generation who all use metric weights). What I hadn't realised until I got comments about it the other day was that in the US the stone isn't used. (The plural of stone is not stones but stone so I weigh 9 stone, not 9 stones). I also hadn't realised that in the USA a hundredweight is a 100 pounds and a ton is 2000 pounds.

Many of us in the UK still use Imperial measures for cookery so we measure things like flour by weight in ounces whereas, of course, in the US cookery measures are by volume (in cups, etc.) . Anyone under 30 in the UK is likely now to use metric as a result of which you will see the prices in both pounds / ounces and kilos / grams in a butchers or at a cheese counter, etc.

The ' Ounce' comes from the Latin uncia or twelfth part. The ounce is a sixteenth part of a pound avoirdupois, but it used to be a twelfth part of a pound troy. The apothecaries ounce and troy ounce are now different weights. All very confusing. The abbreviation "oz" comes from 15th century Italian, an abbreviation of "onza".

The pound is always written as "lb" to prevent confusion with a pound in money "£". The pound weight is a very old measurement and can be traced back to the Roman libra, which explains its abbreviation. It has been used in England since the time of Ethelred the Unready (968-1016) when a pound (money) was originally a pound (weight) of silver, and the symbol for pound (money) £ is a stylised form of L.

Historically the number of pounds in a stone varied by what you were weighing and by where you were. Each city had its own standard weight and merchants weights would be checked against them to ensure they weren't cheating their customers. The stone was standardised across the UK in 1824.

I also hadn't realised until I started looking into all this that our liquid measures are different. They sound the same but the quantities are not because the relationships of the units are not the same. The Imperial system has 5 fluid ounces to a gill, while the USA system has 4 fluid ounces to a gill. This means that the gill and all multiples of it (e.g. cup, pint, quart, gallon) are all larger in the Imperial system than in the USA system.

I've rambled on long enough now so I'll leave firkins and things for another day... You have been warned!

Saturday 30 May 2009

Why do we read blogs?

Lots of people write the occasional posting to justify why they write their blogs. Not that they need a justification. If we enjoy writing blogs why not admit we do it simply for that reason?

But why do we read blogs? I suspect that one of the reasons (among many) is to see how similar are our thoughts and actions wherever in the world we may live. I delight in finding that someone has not cleaned behind their cooker fir three years. On the other hand, if you are obsessively keen to wheel it out and clean behind it every week you probably read different blogs and find fellow enthusiasts.

So much of our history and so many jingoistic people endeavour to tell us how different (and usually superior) we are to folk in other countries. It is as though this divisiveness has been a satisfactory excuse for fighting, trade wars and attempts ro wipe out those of other religions or points of view.

Never before have we had the opportunity to learn about the day to day lives of the ordinary people in other countries. Not the celebrities or the politicians but folk who do the day to day work and keep the wheels of the world turning. I find it great that I can visit the blog of a Mum of three in Utah, a teacher in California or a librarian in Australia and discover they have similar thoughts and similar day to day actions to my own.

Another reason for reading people's blogs came to mind when I read DeeDee's yesterday. She had told the story of festivities at Providence, Rhode Island. Where else would I have ever known about what went on in a city on the other side of the world. Our international news only tells of murders, political scandals, war and famine (and even the latter rarely makes it to our screens since it is much better to brush it under the carpet and pretend it doesn't exist.) When people use their blogs to tell about the beauty and the art and the cultural events in their small area it once again shows us how much good there is in the world.

A further motive for reading blogs is that so many of them make me smile. In a world with so much pain and grief it never ceases to amaze me how folk suffering adversity of one form or another can nevertheless treat it with humour. I haven't been able to find the origin of the saying "You've got to laugh", but it seems to me that my fellow bloggers have got the art off to a T. Many is the morning that I have not felt 100% but have been cheered by reading the antics of a fellow blogger. They either make me realise that there are those worse off than me or give me a giggle by allowing the world to laugh with them rather than at them. The day seems better after that.

Never before have we been able to appreciate that despite differences of culture, religion, economic situation or climate a lot of us are very much alike in how we view the world.

Douglas Adams reckoned the answer to question 'What is the meaning of life ?' was 42. I reckon it could be blogging!

PC - or not PC?


Friday 29 May 2009

Of Skinny Lib and Snipe

Since my teens I have weighed seven and a half stone and had a waist which was 28 inches . The latter increased to about 29 inches when I was in my late 20s. Lots of folk would love a figure like that but I warn you its no fun standing sideways at a bus stop and having them go past because the driver didn't see you. I was over five foot ten at the age of twenty but have now shrunk to five nine.

In my teens it was so difficult to buy clothes off the peg that I had to have my shirts, suits and trousers made to measure. While I was at college a bloke actually tried to found an organisation called Skinny Lib to campaign for clothes manufacturers to make things to fit the likes of me. And every time I sought life insurance I had to have medicals because I was underweight.

Every so often when my doctor has changed or added to my medication he has warned me that I might put weight on - Ho! Ho!

But now it has happened. Six months ago my tablets were changed again. And in the last few months I have put on two stone and two inches around my waist. I am now almost my correct weight for my height. The problem is that if I carry on shrinking and putting on weight at this rate I reckon by the end of 2010 I shall be a four foot round ball weighing 20 stone. Perhaps I'll be able to market myself as a giant Christmas pudding.

GB's weather recorder packed up a for a while this morning, I hadn't actually examined it until then. I tend to look out of the window and stick my head out of the door. When it started working again I took a look at it. It tells you the temperature, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, humidity, and a host of other things.

I think I'll probably carry on looking out of the window and going in the garden to stick a wet finger in the air. I'm a bit slow to catch up with the 21st century.

At home in Pensby the occasional Blackbird song, Starling noises and mewing Buzzards accompany the twitter of the House Sparrow during the day. The highlight comes when a Dunnock sings or an Oystercatcher pipes its way past. Here at GB's the bird sounds are entirely different. It is lovely to hear the Skylarks singing and last night the Snipe could be heard drumming across the crofts. F W Headley, in a letter to the magazine Nature in 1904, described it as a " loud throbbing hum that startles one when it suddenly descends from an ethereal height, and the small bird is descried, hardly more than a speck to the naked eye, circling round in wild career, and now and then swooping headlong downwards and thrilling the air with his weird music". Last year one swooped within a couple of feet of me during daylight on the croft and gave me the fright of my life. Just one of many unforgettable experiences the Hebrides have given me.

Another Garden Tiger

Oh Heather! How could you even think I might have cheated? It was because they were being caught by the wind that I took the movies. Just to show you I'm posting another movie taken at the same time - though, in fairness, I don't think the wind had much to do with this one - it just over-balanced. I get the impression Garden Tigers are not the brightest of caterpillars! (Sorry - this was done at the same time as the last one so still no voice. Perhaps one day!)  

Thursday 28 May 2009

Garden Tigers

GB's garden had a fair supply of Garden Tiger caterpillars in it today - taking advantage of the sunshine to nibble their way through some foxgloves and dock leaves. One disadvantage of being very hairy is that the wind can catch you:-


The Price to Pay

After yesterdays rainbows I checked my lottery tickets. Must have been someone else's pot of gold this time! But perhaps just seeing so many rainbows is a pot of gold in itself.

There is a price to be paid for living almost anywhere. Many people who see the marvellous view from GB's kitchen and study windows would sell their souls for a view like that. And the island life seems idyllic in many ways. Comparatively little traffic in Stornoway and virtually none on the roads outside. Beaches that are mile after mile of sand and surf with not a soul in sight. Summer days that are long and light. But there is a price.

Heather mentioned No-see-ums the other day. Well, the Hebrides have their equivalent - the dreaded midge. Clouds of these biting insects can drive even the hardiest of natives indoors when they attack. Then, whilst the summer days are long the winter ones are short and dark. But it is the wind that might get me down if I lived here. Calm days are a rarity and whilst the average wind speed for much of the time may be unspectacular it is nevertheless enough for someone like me to find it off-putting. And the wind, especially with its salt content, makes gardening a real art.

GB has learned that art over the years and has an attractive pond with a lovely waterfall, surrounded by low-growing rockery plants that can cope with the weather. This is Phlox 'Emerald Cushion Blue'

And Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana'. (Try saying that after a few glasses of wine!)

And, of course, that mainstay of rockeries, the Mossy Saxifrages.

P.S. Incidentally, if you receive an e-mail telling you not to eat tinned pork because of the dangers of swine flu, ignore it. It's just spam.


Dunblane Cathedral

On the way up to the Isle of Lewis we stopped for a walk around Dunblane and its cathedral. Here is a black and white photo essay. Most of the pictures are self-explanator but I must mention that this first one is a 10th or 11th century Christian cross. It's amazing to think that a cross made of sandstone has been around for a millennium and is still in such good condition.


Wednesday 27 May 2009

Of sunsets, sunrises and shirts

It is worth coming to the Outer Hebrides just to see the sunsets and sunrises. In summer you have to stay up late to catch the former and be up very early to see the latter.

On Monday night the sun dropped below the skyline of Lower Bayble just as I ws on my way to bed but I had a lie in until 6.00 am on Tuseday so the sun was already well up over Bayble Bay. By 6.15 a.m. GB was on his knees in his dressing gown pulling blanket weed out of the pond. I've spared you (and him) a photo. But then he might have retaliated as I was wandering around in a weird assortment of clothing.

I commented, half jokingly, on my Hebridean blog the other day about a friend wearing a corporate green shirt instead of his usual white ones. Needless to say he looked very neat and smart but there is a certain something about the wearing of a crisp white shirt that makes a man stand out. When I worked I wore a shirt and tie all the time and on special occasions I would wear a white shirt but for most of the time I wore a lightly patterned or slightly coloured one. I don't think I realised at the time the difference that a white shirt can make. Nowadays I hardly ever wear a formal shirt - favouring instead the casual polo shirt or occasionally a T-shirt. Suits have been replaced by casual trousers and jumpers or cardigans. For a slightly warmer outdoor wear I can usually be seen in tracksuit tops. It occurs to me that a change back to shirts and ties may not be a bad thing. Whether I shall do it or not remains to be seen.

The showery day led to a couple of rainbows in the afternoon. This first one was a broad band well out to sea, towards the mainland.

The second rainbow was a complete one across Broad Bay with part of it a double rainbow. It was very impressive.

By the time the third rainbow appeared I was getting a bit blase about them. But the fourth one seemed to end in the garden before gradually moving out to sea.

I've never seen so many rainbows in one afternoon before. With all those pots of gold around perhaps I should check my lottery ticket.


Having done a blog posting about Wisteria recently I discovered when we went to Bicton Park near Exeter that it has probably the oldest Wisteria in Britain.

It really is a magnificent specimen.

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