Saturday, December 04, 2010

A day on the Ochils

The weather again. Some of us were meant to go to a bothy for the weekend, but the exceptional cold and snow put a stop to that. Myself and a friend arranged to go a day walk in the Ochils instead.

On the way, both of us fessed up to an interest in photographing the oil refinery at Grangemouth. We found a snow-covered golf course to do this in. I'll spare you the pictures, but here is a nice one of my shadow in the snow.
We crossed the new Kincardine bridge, and drove through a foggy Clackmannanshire. All the glens on the south side of the Ochils are worth exploring, but we chose Alva Glen and followed it up to gain the open hillside. This wasn't easy, as the deep snow made crossing the burn and climbing the flank of The Nebit into a proper mountaineering exercise. When we reached more level ground, we found obvious traces of some recent avalanches.
With this in mind, we kept away from the slopes above the burn which seemed to be worst affected. The snow was deep and only just frozen on top, in some places giving about the most strenuous walking conditions you can get, where your front foot sinks in just a little, but then crashes through as you put your full weight on it. As we headed up Ben Ever we met some skiers, who were arguably having an easier time.

We were heading for Ben Cleuch (721m), which does not normally figure as a major peak. In these conditions though, it felt like quite an adventure. These rimed-up fence posts tell their own story.
There were fine views of the edge of the Highlands. Bens Lomond, Ledi, and Vorlich could be picked out among others, and the peaks on Arran just topped out the Campsies.

It was something of an impromptu day, and we had talked of descending to Castle Campbell and Dollar Glen, but time was passing and it seemed best to take the most direct way down over The Law. The light started to get even more extraordinary.
We were reminiscing on the way down about a similar winter day on Beinn Fhionnlaidh years ago where a late start also meant that we got a spectacular sunset on our way down. Sometimes things just work out.

And after descending Tillicoultry Glen, some nice people gave us a lift in their van back to the starting point.

For a parallel account of this walk, see Love of Scotland.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Back garden in the snow

I daresay a lot of snowy pictures will have been put in blogs recently. But why should I be different? Taken recently while working from home and wishing it would just stop.
I didn't open my bedroom curtains for a few days, but when I did I saw these icicles.
There was a LOT of ice around the downpipes and gutters. Thankfully it seems to have melted without any damage.

More nature notes

This week has been a complex pattern of snow, office closures and trying to do work on a crappy laptop at home.

On Wednesday, I was the only one in the office, and sat in glorious splendour having a conference call, and looking out at the snowy landscape. This time I saw two jays. They were more obvious against the snow, and I am getting more confident in my identifications.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Impromptu walking

The walking group I go away with got caught out by the first of the snow this year. And it was snow of a level that we don't normally see in late November. What was supposed to be a trip to the Trossachs (I've not done Ben Venue in ages) had to be hastily rearranged. We are equal to this challenge though, and the coach took us to Hillend, from where we walked along the end of the Pentlands. Snow was still falling heavily, and our walk parallel to the Edinburgh bypass felt more like the Cairngorms. Somebody knew a way onto the Water of Leith at Colinton, so we continued into town. I've done most of this before, but it looked totally different in the snow. And I've not been since Anthony Gormley's sculptures were put in.

They look cool in the snow. I'm sure the intention was that the pieces would undergo various alterations. And they have inspired a number of other more jokey tributes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bird watching again

I saw what I'm pretty sure was a waxwing today from the office window. It was foraging in an oak tree just opposite me. Assuming I'm right, the RSPB site says it's a fairly rare sighting. The name totally foxed me until I found out that it refers to the red patches on the wing that look like sealing wax.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Coffee and cardamon

I seem to have got very domesticated recently. Last night I was baking a cake that required ground cardamon, and the best way I could find of doing this was to use my wee coffee grinder. The cake turned out nice (thanks to Dan Lepard) and the coffee that I ground and drank afterwards tasted fantastic.

It's so hard to be original though. It turns out I have stumbled across a version of Arabic gahwa.

Friday, October 15, 2010


I heard today at work that our IT department is continuing their relentless drive into the future by rolling out ....... IE 7! A quick surf reveals that this is exactly 4 years on from its release. Amazingly enough, we have been on IE 6 up to now. A lot of Web sites no longer support this, either putting up a message to this effect, or just giving you a crap version in Latin.

I wonder if they will ever replace our back-to-the-80s email system?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Another one down

I was telling my work colleagues today about my mouse problem and they (both women) were rather grossed out (particularly about the blood-on-the-floor detail). On examining a trap tonight I found I had another kill. This one had also bled on the floor. Are my traps particularly gruesome?

Must stop blogging about this, you'll think I'm obsessed with killing small animals.

Friday, August 13, 2010

All day permanent red

I can provide an update to my mouse problem. I bought a couple of traps and, on the advice of various people, baited them with Bounty bar. In time, the bait fell off and then disappeared. I re-baited and waited. A couple of nights ago, I heard a click and some scuffling. I was sleepy and forgot about it until this morning, when under the sprung trap I discovered a dead mouse stuck to the floor with dried blood.

Bounty is a fatal taste in this house, my little friend.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Death Ray

I was pleased today to see my childhood vision of the future coming one step closer today. A laser system for shooting down aircraft has been demonstrated. A lot of my reading as a teenager was of books where people were torn apart by ravening death rays, so this is way overdue. Death rays existed before the laser, of course (the Martians in War of the Worlds had them), but that invention did give a focus to hopes of futuristic death. A pity then that the main uses of the laser turned out to be stuff like survey equipment and playing CDs.
Raytheon CIWS system
I notice that the artist's representation can't resist the cliche of a brightly coloured beam linking the laser to its target. To be fair though, the conscientious BBC journalist did note that this is rubbish.

I bet the range is, and will remain, rather short. You just can't get round that inverse square law.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Coastal walk

Thought I'd post-blog this.

Last month, I went on a nice (though damp) coastal walk from Cockburnspath to Dunbar.

The main attraction near the start was Dunglass Collegiate church, looking enigmatic in the warm July drizzle. To us now, it seems an odd use of land and resources. Is praying for your soul worth that much? The middle ages thought so.

Later, we passed Torness power station. This is a lot more interesting than it sounds, as its builders have fallen over themselves in an effort to be cuddly and inoffensive and give you information boards to look at. The sea defenses use piles of specially cast "knucklebones", which give the whole thing a futuristic air. I could see it as part of an episode of Blake's 7.

My companions didn't seem interested when I mentioned this. Different generation, I suppose.

Perhaps some future walker will find this piece of land use as inexplicable as a collegiate church.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


In a rare burst of social life, I went to a party last night, and quite enjoyed it. I walked back through Marchmont and Grange at about 3am. It wasn't really dark, more a kind of blue dusk, with blackbirds tuning up in the gardens.

Today has been an exercise in staying one step ahead of dehydration. And I can't get rid of the smell of tobacco smoke.

Friday, June 18, 2010


I saw my first iPad today, produced a little self-consciously by somebody on the 47 bus.

Saturday, June 05, 2010


Like the middle-aged bloke I am, I enjoyed buying some wood (sorry, timber) this morning. There's a builder's merchant conveniently round the corner, so I bore my 4.2 metres of 33x69 mm dressed timber home by hand. It's hard to explain to a non-bloke why such a transaction is so satisfying. Despite never being a tradesman, early training with my dad means that I can just about hold my own in conversations about tools and timber sizes. I even sympathised with the salesman when he told me about his awkward previous customer.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dirt under the nails again

I'd like to record my first tiny bit of gardening after about a six year gap. The tenement I stay in has a nicely-kept communal garden where I have negotiated planting rights. This has coincided with unseasonably warm weather. The heat made it feel like I was back in my garden in Ipswich in the warm muggy south.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Election night

First an update on my personal election postbag. More materials have been arriving, including various of those newsletters that pretend very unconvincingly to be newspapers, but of course just have stories about Party X and how great they are. Is anybody actually swayed by this kind of stuff? The ruse is so worn out that I doubt it. More convincingly, I received a letter with a handwritten address from the Lib Dems. The contents looked handwritten but was actually printed/photocopied (not quite sure). But anyway, somebody was trying hard, and some family member/intern probably got the job of writing out lots of addresses. Oh, and I just got an almost identical one from the Tories. Sorry guys, but saying "Me too" doesn't cut it.

I have a polling station across the road, but it's not my polling station. Some odd boundary-drawing means that I had to walk up to Sciennes and vote in the school there. As a kid in Glasgow my primary school was used for elections, so that an early memory was going to vote with mum and seeing familiar classrooms with the desks pushed back and plywood partitions in front of the sandbox. Today was much the same really. I lingered in the corridor for a moment to admire children's work based on Matisse's The Snail (erudite or what?).

If any readers aren't familiar with a British General Election, what happens is this. You enter a large room, usually a school classroom. It is almost empty. Sitting at various desks in it are a selection of pensioners and students earning beer money. They are always very polite. You read a list of streets to see which desk to go to, then hand over your polling card, have your name checked off a list by one of the polite people, and get a voting slip. You then retire into one of the plywood shacks and place an X in the position of your choice using a pencil on the end of a bit of string. It only remains to slide the folded paper in the slot of a black-painted metal box and you have voted. You may then optionally view children's art on your way out, nodding to the various political hangers-on who congregate round the entrance for some reason.

Other countries have vote rigging, violent demonstrations, and people being prevented from voting. Gives you a cosy feeling, doesn't it?

Unlike some, I will not be staying up for the first results, as it's pointless. I'll find out quick enough in the morning.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I finally got to Trinity House in Leith on Saturday. It's the old story: if it's on your doorstep you don't make the effort. It's a lovely interior filled with maritime stuff, including harpoons, sextants, ship models and a totally mad painting of Vasco da Gama rounding the Cape of Good Hope.

You have to turn up at the right time though. On my first attempt I must have missed the slot. It was a nice day though, so I walked down to Ocean Terminal, where the tricolour was flying. The Latouche-Tréville of the French Navy was in, with a support ship whose number I didn't note.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Volcano news

I must admit that I feel a tiny tingle of, well, almost pleasure about the Icelandic volcano business. It demonstrates that we don't run the planet, we just live here. Although after the winter we've had we arguably don't need the demonstration.

It also exposes the odd biases of the media. You could summarise the news on this in very few words, but that doesn't stop them spending lots of time on the story as it's judged to be important. Well it is, but maybe you could report more about what's happening in Iceland, rather than get more reactions from stranded travelers. I mean, what do you think they're going to add?

Thursday, April 08, 2010


I spent the Easter weekend in Mull, which is becoming one of my favourite areas of Scotland. My first visits were as a child in 1971 and 1972 (it was the only holiday location that we ever repeated). I can't honestly say that I remember anything about this, although family legend records that I wouldn't let go of my teddy on the ferry, and that only stale bread was available when we got to the island.

We apparently went to Duart castle on that visit, meeting the clan chief. It felt like time for a return visit. Duart has a fantastically romantic location, perhaps only equalled by Eilan Donan castle. And Easter Friday saw perfect weather, with a spectacular view over Loch Linnhe to the mountains of Lochaber.

Inside it was chilly as the immense walls don't warm up until later in the summer. Apparently it's then quite cosy until January. There's also a nice account inside of a Cromwellian shipwreck that's just off the shore.

I walked to Lochbuie on Saturday in the drizzle. Mull's only stone circle there. You reach it by following some white-painted stones across a soggy field.

I had been watching The Stones of Blood recently and on seeing deep indentations in the field, though that an Ogri was on the move. But it was just a cow. It's a pity there are so many rhododendrons around the circle. If it was clearer, you might be able to see why it was placed here.

Lochbuie also has Moy Castle, a cracking 15th century tower house. The scaffolding seems to have been up for a while with no obvious sign of work. I hope somebody gets around to finishing this work off.

I got back to Pennyghael, where I was staying, by walking up Glen Byre (named because it's square and boxy?) in worsening weather.

Sunday was a clearer day, revealing that more snow had covered the higher peaks the day before. I set out to walk to Carsaig along a forestry track that was pointed out to me. Forest changed to moorland and then to the modest summit of Cruach Inagairt, which turned out to have a superb view.

Then it was down to the shore and along the coast to Carsaig. For some reason I didn't blog about Carsaig when I was there last year, but it is a gorgeous place which I can't really do justice to here. Pausing only to sneer at the people who were getting out of cars and putting on clean new walking boots, I walked through the grounds of the house and up the moorland road. Ben More said hello again.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A letter from Ian

I've got the set now. Another personnally addressed letter, this one from Scottish Labour.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More misery

What awful dreich weather. I had been meaning to blog about how the last trace of snow had just about disappeared from the Lammermuirs, making my view totally snow-free for the first time since about December. Then comes today's weather, taking us back to shivery midwinter. All day at work we looked out on to slanting lines of sleet. The bits of the Pentlands that were visible were blanketed with snow again. I actually find it worse than proper winter weather. I like it crisp and cold, but temperatures around freezing feel colder than those below.

We've had strong winds all evening and lots of sleet. A small drip has appeared in the corner of my living room. Argh! that's all I need. But now it has started snowing properly and the drip has stopped. So that's something.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I've just gone wireless, and it's quite a relief. Since shortly after moving into my flat, I've had ten metres of Ethernet cable snaking through my hall in order to connect my Mac with the modem. It's always been so, but my old flat had a more centrally located phone socket, so the cable was shorter and not much in the way. Here, either I have my Mac in the kitchen, or its out with the masonry drill, or I get a wireless router. I got a wireless router.

When you enable Airport connections, you can see whatever networks are in your area. There's quite a lot round here. It makes me very aware of the verticality of living in a tenement. Maybe "Monkeymouse" is some of the people I see tapping at lit windows across the back green.

In the eight months or so that I lived with the Ethernet cable I've got used to stepping over it at several key points. It feels odd now that I don't have to. And I can shut the living room door now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A letter from Neil

I have just got another personal letter, this time from the Conservative candidate for Edinburgh South. If you missed the comments on my previous post on the subject, this is clearly because Edinburgh South is a key marginal with the incumbent about to step down. Actually it wouldn't surprise me if the Torys took it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Short post

I have mice in my kitchen.

Monday, March 15, 2010

We know where you live

Just got a letter from the Scottish Liberal Democrats, God help me. It is addressed to me personally, yet I have never had any connection with them or any other political party, and I haven't lived here very long. I presume they get the information from the electoral register, but I really don't like this. I can't help seeing it as a very Big Brotherish own goal.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Diet Delusion

I recently finished Gary Taubes' excellent book The Diet Delusion. The first thing to note is that the title misleads, as the book is only partly about diets and is most certainly not a diet book. (It's no doubt an attempt by the publishers to cash in on The God Delusion, but there's no resemblance to Richard Dawkins that I could see). In the US, the book's title was Good Calories, Bad Calories, which gets much closer to its subject. And--unusually for an American book--the cover is better.

TDD argues that much of what we accept as true about diet and disease is actually little more than a set of plausible assertions that were accepted about 30-40 years ago, but that may in fact be totally untrue. Saturated fat may not actually be bad for you. Excessive carbohydrate might be the culprit instead. Eating fat does not make you fat. Excess calories do not necessarily make you fat. Exercise is not normally an aid to weight loss, and often has the opposite effect, as it boosts appetite. Refined carbohydrates make you gain weight by raising insulin levels, which then stores the food as fat. The nub of it may be that, unfortunately, we still have the same design spec as our Palaeolithic forebears, and they just weren't set up to cope with sugar and starch rather than meat, nuts, and berries.

If you want a more extensive summary, see the ten-point conclusion quoted in the review on David Colquhoun's website, where I first heard about TDD.

One of the book's best features is the absence, not only of diet advice, but also of any dogmatic conclusion. Books that put forward a challenging set of ideas can turn shrill and whiny, but that never happens here. Taubes wisely stays above the fray, instead giving us a detailed and well researched history of how our views about what we should eat developed over the last century or so, and how our health may or may not have been influenced by this. One over-arching conclusion is that pinning down cause and effect in such matters is enormously difficult, expensive, and lengthy.

Taubes' narrative shows how many conclusions reached between about 1930 and 1960 were overturned by a number of well-intentioned but forceful individuals who "knew they were right" even when studies failed to back them up. They also didn't read German much: German and Austrian medicine in the 30s had sorted out fat metabolism and diet to a surprising extent, but who was going to turn to these sources in the late 40s?.

This is one of the best factual books I've read in a long while, perhaps comparing with Richard Rhodes history of the Atomic Bomb. I can't say the sorry tale of poor policy-making surprises me. My (admittedly short) experience working in the civil service gave me plenty of examples of policy based on not-very-much. It would also be interesting to hear how UK policies on diet and health fell in behind the USA's lead.

Time to go and eat something fatty, I think.

Friday, February 05, 2010


I discovered today that the Edinburgh tram project has inspired its own Downfall mash-up.

I keep getting into conversations about the tram, usually with people who claim that the lateness of their bus/the quietness of this shop/the bad weather are caused by the tramworks. I've never really reached a conclusion myself. I have been hugely inconvenienced by the works, but then there's always something going on in a big city to get in your way. Edinburgh has always had serious unresolved transport issues, and I do like the city-of-the-future look of the promised system. One argument the anti-trammers use is that "it won't even reach to the airport", but as far as I can tell, this is simply not true. One day, we'll look back at this and laugh.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dryhope Tower

Although Edinburgh has reverted to standard damp dreich January weather, the Borders has had lots more snow. I walked over a bit of the Southern Upland Way, ending at St Mary's Loch. The large amounts of fresh snow on the hills didn't photograph well, but the Dryhope Tower on the way out did.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The slow churn of people at work joining and leaving (mainly the later recently) has continually moved me, like a pebble on a beach, to lie next to different pebbles. To put it another way: I keep having to change the group I have lunch with. Our quintessentially millenial office in the woods allows me to stare out of the window (an office in the woods! - what would my dad think?) and not really attend to conversations about X Factor, or knitting, or football. The woods seem active today, or maybe I am just observant. See a squirrel, various tits, a bullfinch, and (probably) a treecreeper. Around me, beans on toast, low fat yoghurts and soup are consumed.

Not sure what this post is about. Thank you for your time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Weekend pictures

Some pictures from the weekend. From Arthur's Seat, early in the morning:
Skies over Midlothian, from the Pentlands:
A cold snowy day, with better winter conditions than I've experienced on hills twice the height. And on the way down, some big icicles:

Monday, January 04, 2010

Yet further snow

I reckon we've now had about a fortnight during which I could always see snow in the streets or on roofs. This will be deeply unimpressive to you if you live in Canada, but for Britain it's pretty rare. You have to go back to the early 80s, or maybe even late 70s to find a precedent. Yesterday I visited some friends nearby, and we went skiing on a golf course (best use for it that I've ever found). After lunch, we did a South Edinburgh haute route from Blackford hill onto the Braid Hills. Although we did this on foot, there was snow all the way, raising the possibility of Norwegian style ski tours. If we got this more often, would I ski to work though the snowy wastes of Midlothian?