Glasgow

John

Weather: Some still days with good sunrises and sunsets. Glasgow: wet

The Tuesday 19th of November morning ferry was a little slow to depart. It was a dark morning, with a stiff breeze blowing. Nicola dropped me off at the terminal and I carried my usual luggage plus a camera bag complete with film, camera and flash onto the boat. The usual camera that I carry with me is a small digital model but unfortunately it is currently away being repaired, the lens having become loose. I felt I should take some kind of camera with me and so I was left with an elderly medium format rangefinder camera and some 120 film. I had forgotten how heavy and inconvenient it was. I mostly used my iphone camera and made some contributions to my  Instagram account.

As I was having a Cal-Mac breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs the dawn was breaking red and gold over the west coast of the Scottish mainland. The boat arrived at 9. 30 which was 15 minutes behind schedule. My bus was due to leave from Uig at 9.30, which indeed it did – much to my consternation and that of two other potential passengers, that I watched helplessly from the quayside. The usual practice is for the bus to wait for the connecting ferry but the services are not well joined up. (Previously I had asked for the connecting bus timetable at the ferry terminal to be told “we don’t know about the buses”) Makes perfect sense…. The ‘courtesy bus’ to ferry passengers from the Pier Head to the Ferry Terminal was waiting on the quayside and the driver kindly offered to drive us to Portree where we could catch up with the 915 City bus, which would be waiting there. This bus driver mentioned that the 915 City bus driver was a newly recruited young man who “was not quite sure how things are done around here.”

The two other passengers and I were duly delivered to Portree in time to connect with the 915 Glasgow service. Thank you Mr. Bus Driver!

Having caught up with the 915 City bus we had our tickets checked. When one of the other passengers (an American woman) quietly and politely remonstrated with the driver that he must have known that we were due on the bus in Uig, as we had previously booked and he had a list of the passengers, he must have known we were coming.  She was clearly told “If it’s a bother you can find yourself another service” We all quickly settled down for the remainder of the journey, feeling uncomfortably fortunate to be on this bus at all.

After a change of driver in Fort William and many stops later, the bus arrived, in good time in Glasgow. The intensity of the traffic always comes as a shock after a period living on the island. I made for the Horseshoe Bar in Drury Street in central Glasgow. This had been highly recommended to me by Prof. McIntyre of Bernerey. I went to meet my younger son, newly en-nobled Dr. Sean Kippin. This is a lively pub – full of great fixtures and fittings, and as Scotland were due to play Kosovo that evening colourful traditionally dressed football fans were warming up and gently self-medicating in time for the match – well worth a visit. Later we visited The Pot Still in Hope Street another excellent old fashioned pub with good beer and a wicked, but for me possibly indigestible, line in Mutton pies and baked beans. We finished the evening, unsurprisingly, with a spanking hot curry.

Spending a day in central Glasgow is always a pleasure and I managed to fit in the Modern Institute, The Print Workshop, Street Level, the Centre for Contemporary Arts and the Museum of Modern Art. All in all, a mixed bag of works but all offering a high level of engagement with a range of contemporary arts practice. I also called in on one of the independent guitar shops where I wanted to try one of the locally hand-made classical instruments that I had seen on a previous visit, together with a visit to a wonderful used clothes emporium, both sites overlooked by a huge wall painting of Billy Connelly, why not..

I even managed to use my ancient film camera to make one or two pictures, although the light was very poor (the dreich). One quickly forgets some of the limitations of such equipment, not to mention the weight.. given the capability of some digital cameras to operate under such low light conditions.

The evening was spent at the cinema watching ‘The Irishman’ a film to challenge the stoutest bladder in one sitting and is a worthy successor to Martin Scorsese’s earlier ‘wiseguy’ films. I had read that the unique costume designer Sandy Powell had made over 100 suits for Robert De Niro and I am looking forward to seeing it again on Netflix, with Nicola, and will maybe think about counting them.

Thursday 21st November: I had long wanted to visit the famous Arlington Baths for a much-needed swim. Nicola had booked for me to be shown around the facilities which include saunas and Turkish baths and a health club full of astonishing gymnasium devices. It was women’s day in the Turkish bath so I was unable to visit this but it does look amazing in the photographs, so next time perhaps. I moved rather sheepishly through the gym section, thinking that it looked a bit too much like a torture chamber, and why would I pay for that? The changing rooms and the swimming pool (there were hand painted notices on the ancient door announcing ‘The Pond’ ) were a different matter however, and there is a lounge where after an intense workout one could meet other members of the (health) club and use the bar..

I swum for an hour or so in one of the lanes marked on the bottom of the pool. The form is to wait until another member has vacated the lane before using it, which I did. After using the pool-side sauna (such luxury) I was standing by the edge of the pool wondering where the shower was when the attendant said to me “Do you mind having a shower if you intend to get back in the pool?’ A reasonable request. I said “its OK, I’m like Prince Andrew, I don’t sweat” He looked at me with astonishment for no more than one second, before a smile creased his face and he said ‘the shower is through that door”. If I were to live in Glasgow, membership of the Arlington Health Club would become a priority and a much better investment than a season ticket at St. James Park.

Lunchtime was spent at the Civic Street Canteen in the delightful company of Abigale Neate-Wilson the events director and Nicola’s youngest daughter. No 26, Civic Street is an arts venue based in a converted print works and is close to the better known ‘Glue Factory’ artist’s centre on the North side of the City.  The upstairs space is generous and well-appointed and the canteen serves excellent vegetarian food. Lucky Glasgow. It still manages to have a lively and progressive arts scene that is not ruined by developers.

Friday the 22nd November: I was on time to catch the 10 am bus from Buchanan Street back to Skye via Fort William and despite my concerns, given that the bus arrives in Uig only 10 minutes before the ferry departs, the journey went smoothly. We even had the same driver, who seemed in a much better mood..  Nicola met me at Lochmaddy ferry and drove us back to Minish. Nicola and I talked about the following day’s Symposium (which we were both contributing to) at the North Uist Arts Centre, Taigh Chearshabagh –  ‘Drawing from Life, the Artist Educator’.

Angelo and Alice were pleased to see me – at least I like to think were.

Onn (gold)

Nicola

Tuesday the 19th of November, I drove John to the ferry around 7am – it was dark, windy and raining so I did not hang around. I quickly drove back to the cottage in Minish to light a nice fire and do some drawings and photo-retouching work.

Wednesday the 20th of November, I attended the writing workshop with poet  Mandy Haggith. This was a first for me and an inspiring afternoon. There were about 10 attendees, as with a lot of these events, only one man. I sometimes wonder what men do for extra interests, other than fishing of course, this is a very popular man hobby especially in the Hebrides. Perhaps bird watching is also a popular extra curricular man ‘ting’… Anyway, going off topic.

The writing/poetry workshop was very challenging and informative, there are a lot of very good writers and poets here. Pauline Prior Pitt runs a poetry club, which is thriving and even has a waiting list.

The writing/poetry workshop was based around a piece of yellow gorse (Onn in Gaelic) also sometimes called furze or whin. The group, under the guidance of Mandy Haggith, discussed this strangely mythological flowering bush.

  • It is believed to extend protective powers over herds
  • It smells like coconut combined with marzipan and tastes like almonds
  • It flowers can and are used to to colour and flavour whisky
  • It can be made into Yellow Gorse Wine.

The gorse bush is a prolific plant in the Outer Hebrides with sun-kissed apricot yellow flowers and although it has seasons where it flowers more than others, it does in fact never stop flowering all the year around. Which is fortunate as there is a saying that goes:

“When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season”

Gorse also has some pagan witchy associations too; it is linked to love and fertility – but beware if you bring it in the house it is extremely unlucky.

By the end of the workshop I was much informed and impressed by this thorny ‘wee’ Hebridean beauty – but I warn you, mind their needle like thorns!

The last hour of the workshop was set aside for writing and there were some lovely descriptions and prose written by the members of this group – I managed just one feeble line. I feel more sessions are needed if I were to show anything, it was hard enough just reading my line out to the group. They were all very encouraging of course.

Thursday 21st Nov. after some teaching on the UHI art course, I met Fiona Pearson for lunch in the Taigh Chearsabhagh cafeteria. We had a lovely soup and coffee and a very good chat about art and life and grandchildren.

John and I arrived in Uist in February this year, so this is our first Autumn here and it has been amazing for me to see the landscape changing over the seasons. In the cottage that I am staying in, the bedroom windows overlook a sea loch and I have the pleasure of watching the morning light, as I drink my tea. The distant hills go through an array of colours, as the sunlight moves over them. Orange, to gold, to yellow, then blue, grey, slate to purple. Always shifting – each colour shaping and set against another, placed to enhance, placed in contrast and never the same. Sometimes a bird gets caught in a gust of wind (often a seagull) and glides by. Netflix just doesn’t compete!

Friday 22nd November, I pick John up from the ferry in Lochmaddy at about 7.45pm – just in time to talk about the following day’s Symposium (which we were both contributing to) at the North Uist Arts Centre, Taigh Chearshabagh –  ‘Drawing from Life, the Artist Educator’.

The cats are such great company when I am on my own. Alice is so affectionate and follows me around the house. Angelo still holds the title of mighty rat catcher of Minish!

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

Weather: Temperate, especially when compared to the weather conditions in the North East of England and Glasgow. No flooding.

Since the clocks have gone back the nature of the days have changed. The arguments given to ensuring lighter mornings makes more sense in this latitude, although the afternoons still become evenings quickly enough – dusk starts at 4pm (Creating a minor confusion around wine o’ clock).  The lack of street lights in the Hebrides, means that the nights are an intense velvet black that is only broken on clear nights by a back drop of stars stretching into infinity and from the light of the moon, this can be very bright and intense when it is full. The winter nights are a shock when they come and are in such contrast with the almost 24 hour light that is experienced throughout the summer months.

There have been some spectacular Autumn days with beautiful light and only some strong winds mostly coming from the North East. There have also been several wind free days and these days have a profound clear silence. Nicola and I have been very grateful to have escaped the deluge experienced by much of the North of England. (The one referred to by our visionary Prime Minister as ‘not a national emergency’).

The oncoming autumn has once again changed the colour of this fascinating and remarkable landscape, the rusty brown/gold palette has now become desaturated making pale yellows and lime green moors to be framed against the fading distant purples and blues of the hills. It sometimes feels like the landscape is drawing breath before embarking properly with the winter. Sadly though, on the 6th November a high wind meant the bonfire celebration in Lochmaddy had to be cancelled.

The Autumn has also brought a new emphasis with the local bird life. Because of the lack of blossoming vegetation, it has been easier to see the redwings and thrushes pulling out worms and the tiny wrens going about their urgent business. The snipe and curlews are in evidence and the starlings and lapwings are gathering in flocks. There are lots of swans and geese – the returning birds, and a variety of ducks and gulls. I took a cross country walk to Lochmaddy from Minish (approximately 2 miles) and it was good to see a lone seal fishing in the loch immediately next to the Arts Centre at Taigh Chearsabhagh. This was accompanied by a kestrel, hovering above the ground below. These are truly the sights to lift the spirit.

As a mark, of what Nicola and I feel is ‘community acceptance’, our neighbour now shares the odd local folk tale:

 “A man called Angus (what else) left the kitchen to collect a pail of water from the small shallow freshwater loch in front of the house. When he never returned, he was searched for high and low by his family and then by members of the local community. The ensuing rumours described every possible and impossible reason for his sudden disappearance including (reasonably) drowning together with (unreasonably) the sighting of bright lights and consequent possible abduction by aliens. He was never seen again on the islands, although one farmer mentioned seeing someone whom he thought might be him on the boat from Lochboisdale on his way to Mallaig. Possibly in search of a Sainsburys.. so if you are ever referred to as doing an ‘Angus’ – this is what is meant!”

There has been much travelling to and from the garage in Benbecula (Creagorry Motors) as both of our banger fleet have been due for MOT Testing. On a previous visit I went to pay the bill for a recent service and as I forgot to retain the invoice I apologised for my dis-organisation, and asked if it was a problem finding the paperwork, I was told ‘only if your name is MacDonald..’ One of our vehicles has so far passed and we are waiting for our second one to be repaired. It is a pity that there is no discount loyalty scheme. We would prosper. On the cultural front, this week the mighty Newcastle United completed their second ‘back to back’ win. Thank you V.A.R. (How does Steve Bruce do it?)

It has been necessary to perfect the art of circular fire-making. We use household coal with kindling to initiate the process, followed by smokeless fuel. If this is topped up first thing in the morning it keeps the house reasonably warm depending on the strength and direction of the wind. Much of our work is done in the house, and keeping warm has become a preoccupation. It is expensive though. One early November afternoon, escaping the house, we drove to Scolpaig (a favorite coastal walk) to ramble along the coast where the surf was huge, foaming and crashing into the bay there. It wasn’t particularly windy when we arrived although the waves were steadily building, threatening a stormy evening ahead.

With the possible and imminent Brexit looming over us all and whilst doing the ‘weekly’ in the local Co-op I made a note of where the items in our basket were sourced from. In no special order, these included: Pears (Netherlands); Tomatoes (Spain); Apples (Belgium); Lemons (Spain); Garlic (Italy); Oranges (Spain); Walnuts (Muldova?); Olive Oil (Italy); Cheese (France); Halloumi (Greece); Olives (Spain); Wine (Italy and France). Roll on Brexit.. To be fair the shopping basket also contained some Venezuelan (Chocolate) ice cream and some Bolivian quinoa so ever conscious of Brexit, we’re not worrying.

The General Election seems a long way away – even more to do with the tight- knit London media scene than previously and ever more a cause for dismay. Bring back Screaming Lord Such and the Monster Raving Loony party. At least he knows he’s bonkers. The Scottish Nationalists will almost certainly represent these Islands after the forthcoming General Elections, which is sensible, given that Labour are unlikely to attain their pre-eminence and only the SNP will unify the Scottish vote against the Tories.

Too much reliance on social media is quickly depressing, we seem to be continually either burning or drowning and everyone else it seems is to be on the trip of a lifetime..  Perhaps it is just too much information about too many different things. It is sometimes difficult to keep up.

It has been necessary to keep Alice, our still young cat, indoors today as a vast White Tailed Sea Eagle flapped across the loch at the rear of our house. Our other cat, despite his visibility is safe from aerial attack due to his great size. How the local rats do not see him coming remains a mystery to me but the half-rats complete with highly visible internal organs continue to be deposited at the doorstep (as a love token) with impressive regularity.

Three Eagles

Weather: Sunshine and showers with some very still days. Relatively warm. We seemed to have missed the heavy rain of most of the rest of the UK.

Much of the week’s activities have been planned around a major programme of retouching work that Nicola has been working on behalf of Newcastle photographer John Faulkner. This is relatively straightforward work for a commercial client. It is however, painstaking and time-consuming requiring a high level of patience and skill. It has also been a time to catch up on some academic written work and blog writing. My own photoshop skills are relatively basic so I have found it compelling to see the amazing difference to the image after it has been skillfully retouched. This process is effectively a re-visioning of the original image extending the authorship of the photograph.

The weekly yoga session is held at Carinish hall. I am usually the only male present and am useless. Nevertheless, apart from swimming, yoga, as taught by the excellent Sheila Park, is an hour of relaxation combined with exercises at a level set by the individual themselves. After the session Nicola and I went back to Sheila’s house where we made a couple of portraits of her, one in the garden of her house accompanied by her enthusiastic Black Labrador (difficult tonal range) and one of her in her yurt which she had left up for another day specially to accommodate us.

We planned a dinner date in celebration for 2 visiting artists. Rosie Roberts is a video artist from Glasgow and Maija Annikki Savolainen is from Helsinki. All seven guests brought food and drink and we managed to fit everyone in our modest sized living room. We had a brilliant evening with lots of singing and story-telling. Alice, our kitten, bouncing around the room creating mayhem wherever she alighted. Maija perhaps thought that we are always like this, and at least we gave them both a good send off. Most of the next day was spent recovering, one way or another.

After the debacle of last week, witnessing my car/van parking itself in an astonished stranger’s front garden, it was time to take it in to have the handbrake examined and treat it to a service. I left the car/van overnight at Creagorry Motors in Benbecula, with the key in it to be looked at the following morning. Nobody really bothers to lock their cars, and I have often witnessed cars with their engine’s running where their drivers have gone off to do a spot of shopping.. Naturally for several reasons this is perhaps not a good idea, but I think you could leave an unlocked bicycle by the roadside here and it would rust away before anybody stole it. When this was tested on Tyneside, it was less than an hour before the bicycle disappeared – in London it takes even less time!

The car/van needed a new caliper which would be fitted when the parts order arrives in a few days. I felt at least partially vindicated as the previous incident had not been completely due to my own incompetence. We also had a few issues with Nicola’s car involving a flat battery due to an interior light staying on overnight (which I might have helped happen). The mechanics at Creagorry Motors were more than happy to test the battery at a moment’s notice. It was fine, thank you guys.

Later in the week we photographed our friend Keith Dawson. This was a good session and the beautiful sunny day meant that we could work both inside and outside. Nicola and I have found that it is helpful to have more than one option though, and this approach has become more useful as the project has developed. Although usually we try to work using available light, on this occasion we needed to add a little light to the overall levels in Keith’s house mostly to lift the shadows a little.

 12th October Saturday evening we visited one of our immediate neighbour’s houses Ron and Amanda. Both are a mine of information about all local matters relating to North Uist and thereabouts. Ron (who is from Newcastle!) has been a crofter for 40 or so years and cuts his peat in the traditional way using the peat spade. The most common method these days is to hire the use of a mechanical peat-cutter. This saves the initial work although the peat still needs to be stacked, dried and bagged. It is never easy work. We had a pleasant evening and later we walked back home guided by the light from the (nearly) full moon.

As the next morning was sunshine and showers and a rainbow had formed across the distant hills. We walked in the garden to look at the rainbow. There was a deep whump, whump sound and a squadron of swans flew over to the house and out towards the sea. The Whooper swans are returning to the Uists for the winter, and they are a welcome sight. These swans flew in a tight arrow formation with military precision and are a glorious sight. The Red Arrows have much to catch up on..

The coming of Autumn has meant the purple heather has gone and the moorlands are now covered with russet gold bracken fern. There have been several spectacular days, beautiful creamy pink and purple sunrises and sunsets and some days have even been without any wind. On these still days the lochs are a silver mirror to the sky and the world around then seems strangely to be turned upside down.

Later in the day we drove down Committee Road where we watched 3 golden eagles flying high above the highest point of the island. It was the best view of Eagles in the wild I have experienced and they were around for long enough for us both to get a really good look. They are a spectacular sight, their command of the skies is total. At this crepuscular time of the day, a deer stood close by our car and watched us whilst we listened to the incredible roaring sound of the deer rutting in the nearby woods. On arriving home I watched a clip of Mattie Longstaff finishing off Manchester United. Bliss.

The fishing has been disappointing this year although that maybe due to a relative lack of experience in fishing here. This time Keith and I walked up to one of the hill lochs still fishable at this time of the year as it contains sea trout (allegedly). The recent rain had made for a very muddy track and we both had wet feet on arrival despite wearing wellingtons. The fishing was slow with only a few brown trout caught but the loch is beautifully situated in the hills and the surface was as still as oil. A sea eagle flew the length of the loch with its massive wings and seemingly languid flight. Shortly after, a stag appeared at the head of the loch bellowing for a mate. By the time we had walked back to Keith’s land Rover we were exhausted.

Scolpaig tower is the central icon around which our concerns about the proposed development of a Spaceport on the Island is focused. We wanted to make some early evening photographs and construct some artworks that could be used in various campaigns of resistance to these plans. This is not a place that is likely to attract the attention of large numbers of protestors or the mainstream media, but it is important for us to contribute to resisting these proposals in any way that we can. We had left it a little late, and had no red gels to use with our lights. In true Chris Wainwright style however, we were able to press a Maltesers packet into service to obtain the necessary red filter on our torch.

On other outings with Chris we had used the red plastic packaging from Mr Kiplings’ cake products. I was dismayed to see that they were now using clear colourless plastic, of no use to photographers (or the environment) in fact, completely useless. At least I can find a use for the Maltesers.. Nicola and I managed to make some images, learning a lot on the job, including that wading across to the tower wearing normal thigh-length waders in the near dark was unwise, and that long exposures using digital cameras is pushing them to the limits of what they can do. Come suitable weather we will return to Scolpaig and continue to develop our work-in –progress. Just a short distance from here we had watched as the Eagles owned the skies without the fear of the lunacy of rockets destroying their habitat and driving them into extinction.

Tuesday the 15th October the Island was visited by the ‘Gallery in a Bus’ a travelling exhibition space which was showing an exhibition by Alec Finlay. Neither Nicola or I had previously encountered this gallery which was parked outside Taigh Chearsabhagh for the day. They had travelled from Stornoway to Lochmaddy and were due in Skye the next day. Jo Arksey gave us a tour of the exhibition and told us something of the history of this project which goes back 40 years. The exhibition is excellent and well worth a visit and you will be welcomed, should it be passing a venue near you…  http://www.travellinggallery.com/

Friday the 18th October we walked to Lochmaddy, as it was such a beautiful afternoon picking mushrooms along the way. The air has a distinctly autumnal feel and the dampness is condusive to the growing of all kinds of fungi. The mushrooms we encountered were mostly different varieties of Waxcap, all of which are safe to eat, although some taste better than others. Stopping at the Lochmaddy Hotel offered a welcome rest and given that it was nearly dark we decided to eat at the nearby Hamersay House Restaurant. After an excellent supper an Aldas taxi was called on our behalf to take us home. Our driver told us he was 85 years old. He drove us back to Minish at a stately 15mph. He also said he had been working on North Uist since he was 14 years old. On sunny days, in Lochmaddy, he exhibits his vintage motorcars, parking them in the main road for all to see. One of these cars is a metallic green 1955 Vauxhall Cresta that has travelled only 7000 miles from new. He did not want a tip for his services which were most reasonably priced.

The sea loch close to the house has a number of big fish in it, usually Coalfish (coley) or Pollack. These have the local names Saithe and Laithe respectively. There may be some sea trout as well, but I have never seen evidence of this. The loch is fairly shallow and weedy

And I have fished it with both flies and lures. On this visit the weed was particularly difficult  and there was a snarly wind. I hunkered down trying to keep as low a profile as possible and tried a floating pike plug and bang! Two beautiful fish. It has been a very variable season but the sea fish have provided some memorable moments and some welcome fresh food.

Another drive to Lochboisdale, this time to pick up Nicola’s daughter Abi and her partner Chris, who are staying for a week to look after our cats. Nicola and I have a week on the mainland…

Since Angie has had his teeth fixed (scale and polish) his temper has improved. He was always on the moody side in an impressive, brooding kind of way. Even with Alice flying in his face he remains sanguine. His rat count is steady with around 2 a day being average (one is usually headless) all beautifully presented at the doorstep. Alice, meanwhile is becoming keen to be outside, even though when she does manage to get out, she rushes back in like a startled rabbit. We think that she is showing signs of being on heat. Oh joy. 

BRIGHTON

Weather: Mostly good with lots of sunshine, quite windy.

I met Alan and Mick at the ferry terminal and they followed me on their bikes to our house.

Having parked the bikes, they were pleased to have completed the ride. Having ridden similar distances previously I can well understand that they did not want to get back on the bikes until the time to leave. The four of us had a brilliant weekend, the weather was excellent and we visited some of the local places of interest, we had quite long walks, visited cafes including the excellent Seafood café at Kallin where bacon and scallop rolls are available. On the table next to where we were sitting, a man returned the salad that accompanied his main course on the grounds that he hadn’t asked for it…) We visited the excellent Westford Inn for Sunday lunch and generally caught up with one another. We had a wonderful evening of projected music videos, taking it in turns to afflict one another with our own particular musical proclivities. The weather was good as they left early on the Tuesday morning. Alan and Mick were excited on seeing a large number of dolphins on the ferry back to Skye. Their ride back to Newcastle was damp in places but unproblematic. It was a great trip for all involved.

We have had a week of administration and catching up with necessary paperwork. I have been re-reading a thesis for examination and have been sorting out such tedious necessities as preparing the accounts. Nicola has been scanning and preparing images for various purposes and has been preparing her teaching presentations for next week, when the University new term begins.

We have managed to make two portraits this week and to discuss the planning of another. This work is slow but is always enjoyable, we work with individuals (and some couples) to plan how we will approach this work. It is a creative and collaborative act and we are making steady progress. We have agreed to exhibit a ‘work in progress’ exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhag next summer.

Looking out of the upstairs bedroom window one morning I noticed what I thought was a dead sheep on the foreshore of the loch behind our house. On closer inspection, it turned out to be lying on its back, but was still breathing although looking somewhat alarmed. Nicola and I are insufficiently experienced with sheep to know if its condition was serious, or what to do in this situation, so I walked to see Andy our next door neighbour who works the croft next to the house. He came down and promptly pulled it up on its hind legs. It then trotted off up the hill, mud spattered and happy apparently none the worse for its experience. Apparently sheep ca die if they are upended in this way and not found.Next time, we will all know what to do.

The following week Nicola started the new teaching term at the University, and I was once again, en route to Newcastle and on the boat to Uig. After my long drive, the next morning was spent in Alan’s shed at his house in Gateshead machining valve guides and grinding in the valves to fit the cylinder heads of my R50/2 BMW. Later, Alan rode over to Kenton on his 30’s Ariel and we spent the rest of the afternoon fitting them back on the bike. Such fun. This accomplished , the bike was put in the shed, probably until next year.

Home Alone

Nicola

Weather: Changeable. Strong winds with showers and some bright spells.

Monday 8th September morning, John headed off to the main-land for an extensive (10 day) road trip to Brighton and some financial meetings in Newcastle.

This is also marked the beginning of term and my 1st Tutorial introduction to students at Taigh Chearsabhagh Centre for the University of the Islands and Highlands (UHI). A great BA Art course with some very talented students, I look forward to supporting them this academic year.

Tuesday September 10th – a significant plummet into autumnal weather, which in Uist means the winds develop a ferocious energy. My trip to the local Solas Co-op became more of an expedition. With my wind proof coat firmly fastened and Co-op bags in tow I left the house and as I turned to head towards the front garden and driveway I am hit by the hurtling whirling wind, ‘Splat’ – like a slap in my face. My Carrier bags flapped beside like parachute balloons causing me to moon-walk down the drive to the gates, that need opening before I get into the car. There is also rain, that has been given a wind-force factor making the rain drops fire like little pins into my face. The car it’s self requires a Houdini manoeuvre to get in – I have to hold on to the doors tightly (so they don’t fly off the car) and then wedge myself into the driver’s seat. Every movement I make is obstructed and exaggerated, the phrase ‘battling the elements’ feels the proper way to describe walking to and getting into the car. When secured inside the haven of my vehicle, I am almost exhausted, but also strangely ecstatic and windblown.

Much of my time, when John is away, is spent catching up on scanning and other essential time consuming digital work – I spent Wednesday and Thursday, some of Friday and Saturday doing my media ‘catch-up’ which as every ‘anorak’ will tell you can take up many hours in the day, and to anyone else this can be uneventful and obssesive. I enjoy the intensity of this kind of work, but am aware that there is not much to discuss that might be of interest to most people.

I will move straight to Friday evening – and the more important Hebrides International Film Festival 2019 . At 5.30pm a viewing of the very appropriate ‘Rockets Galore’ (A must see for all North Uist residents!) directed by Michael Relph and based on the novel by Compton Mackenzie. The story line in this movie is almost identical to the ‘real’ proposal for the  Space-port on the site of Scolpaig in North Uist. (There is only one questionable moment in the movie and that was when the local priest patted a small boys bottom (this is of course a sign of the times) – a distinct intake of breath was heard from the (now) more aware audience. Still a highly amusing film, with amazing back projections and very fitting – a prediction of events to come… ‘Rockets Galore II’ is in the making and to be set in North Uist!

The weather this week has had an overall wet and blustery presence, although Sunday let up enough to tempt me into a fabulous walk along the beach. I set off to Clachan Sands Beach, the nearest beach to Minish. I feel blessed to be living in a place where I can drive for just ten minutes and then arrive at the most beautiful white sands beach with turquoise water, a max of 5 other people and array of Oyster catchers, Lap wings, Sanderlings a variety of gulls – and other birds that I am not yet able to confidently identify.

John arrived safely back on the Wednesday – I was impressed with the amount of driving he did. I am always pleased when we are back together.

Angelo maintains his title as ‘King Ratter’ whilst Alice has developed an unhealthy taste for flies – this causes havoc with her stomach and the catching of them causes havoc with anything that might be in the way of her and the targeted fly.

John

I was driving down to Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire to meet up with Dave Cubby who was over from Australia amongst other things, to meet up with some folks in Brighton. I parked the van outside his sister Janet’s house and was drinking a cup of tea when Janet’s partner, Ian asked me why I had parked my car in the neighbour’s drive. Oh no, said I – looking beyond the hall out towards the road, it’s on the street outside…

Janet and Ian live on a private cul-de-sac in Ashby in a detached bungalow, you get the idea.

My car had managed to slip its handbrake, trundle off down the street, mount the kerb, enter the neighbour’s drive (which was 50 yards opposite and further along the slight downward slope of the street). It managed all of this on its own, and on somehow turning into the neighbour’s drive, it destroyed the recycling bin (a very good thing, recycling) before stopping 3 inches away from a brand new, white BMW.

The owner of the car opened the front door in her dressing gown, no doubt curious as to what must have made the noise. She was very understanding. No harm seems to have been done and Ian (bless Ian!) was able to replace the recycling bin with one he had spare. Miracles do happen. Minutes later, the man of the house returned. He was very big, and had fitted CCTV for security purposes only recently. This incident provided, of course, the perfect opportunity to see what had actually happened. A small crowd developed around his smart phone and were treated to an action replay. Meanwhile I had been keepin a low profile having re-parked my car in Janet’ s driveway after taking the precaution of leaving it in gear in addition to very nearly pulling the handbrake lever off.

When the fuss had subsided Dave drove to Brighton in a newly rented Nissan. He had learned to drive in Australia in a car with an automatic gearbox. This car had six forward gears, any one of which Dave was likely to engage without warning..

We parked in the Travelodge car park before unpacking and walking along to the local Indian Restaurant. Some day.

The next morning Dave and I were due to meet up with Mick Duckworth and Charlie Hooker. We had all been a part of creating ‘Experimental Studies’ in the early 70’s.

The afore-mentioned course pathway had ‘evolved’ from the Fine Art Painting and Sculpture at the University, before becoming ‘Critical Fine Art Practice. Experimental Studies developed an alternative Fine Art culture that was seen as Socially based and outwith the gallery system. Its media were performance, artist’s film (later video) photography, writing, audio, in fact pretty much anything apart from painting and sculpture, which we considered insufficiently conceptual and belonging to an earlier sensibility.

As we arrived at the University we were welcomed by a John Hilliard dual screen film piece playing in the foyer. It featured a 19 year old version of myself pointing a 16mm film camera at Tony Finch (whatever happened to Tony Finch?) who was pointing a 16mm film camera at me. Sue Breakell is in charge of the archiving of materials relating to the University and Naomi Saloman is currently responsible for the Critical Art Practice programme. We were made welcome and we were there in order to flesh out some of the missing details from the earliest years of the programme. Jenny Lund, the curator of the Brighton Art Galley was also present and she had previously interviewed John Hilliard, our main tutor at the time and the central focus around which Experimental Studies had developed. Without John, who encountered stiff resistance at the time, it would not have happened. Apart from his continuing brilliant career as an artist, John became the Professor at the Slade School, continuing his commitment to educating artists. Charlie was to join us later although as the Professor of Sculpture (ironically) he had previously made his contributions to the archive. Amongst other things the six of us talked about was ‘the Fabulous Shitts’ a proto punk, anarchistic rock and roll band including all of us in various capacities.

After the meeting, we met up with Charlie and Gordon Grant for an extended lunch, drifting into the evening in the Basketmakers Arms, a Brighton landmark where most of the drinkers were in the street outside the pub in the evening sunshine. The next day we spent wandering the around the entertaining Brighton shops buying hats and Cigars (!) before were back on the M25 on the way to Ashby de la Zouch, from where I picked up my errant car and drove back to Newcastle. Sunday was time to recuperate in the Tanner’s Arms for Lunch with my daughter Laura. The next couple of days were spent attending to the domestic and financial,  before finding myself back on the boat from Uig to Lochmaddy, an evening sailing after a day’s driving in the rain.

THUNDERBIRDS are GO !

Weather: Mostly fine and sunny with relatively light winds.

The big news around here is the proposed development of a Rocket Range on north Uist.

This perhaps needs to be restated. In the age of Environmental Extinction Rebellion, increasing climate change awareness and the ever-increasing levels of CO2, not to mention the awareness raising pleadings of Greta Thunberg and others. The Council think that it is a good idea to completely transform the unspoilt nature of this place and create a SPACEPORT! – ostensibly so that it can provide a few new jobs for the island, all without even the advice of a proper environmental impact study! Nicola and I attended several of the ‘consultation’ meetings that have been taking place where these proposals have tried to rail-road this through by the Council, who have purchased the land in order to make this planning application. So no conflict of interest there then.. 

There have, of course, been many objections, but the Council attempts to marginalize a large number of these with the insinuation that as many of the objectors are not ‘indigenous’ folk they somehow are not valid. The logic of this argument is  extremely unpleasant and finds its echo in Populist Politics around the World. Like the Amazonian forest and the Polar Ice Cap the environment is of concern to us all, and cannot be the subject of the whims of speculators and careless guardians such as the Island Council. Their tactics are to keep this a local issue. In a small place, such as this, everybody knows somebody or is related to somebody, who works with somebody..   – voices are seldom raised however keenly the issues are felt…The site at Scolpaig is an exceptionally beautiful one. It is teeming with rare wildlife and plants, overflown by eagles, has special archaeological  interest, and is loved by everyone who has ever visited it. It will be ruined, never to be replaced and we and all of the world will all be the poorer for it.

Still with the febrile environment of the ‘consultation‘ meeting foremost in our minds, we returned to the Community Centre in Carinish for our weekly yoga session. This is something in which Nicola is consummate but I am as flexible as Nigel Farage..

It was a beautiful late summer’s day, so after the yoga session, we decided to take our snorkeling equipment and spend some time on the beach at Clachan where we swum in the clear water as the tide gradually uncovered the white sands. During our Hans and Lottie impersonations I was pluckily attacked by a crab – no doubt I was viewed as an alien invader by the creature which had dug into the sand with only its claws protruding and defending its territory from a monster 1000 times its own size. Later, over the weekend we photographed Rosie and Raphael before walking along the Machair foraging for mushrooms and other fungi. Raphael spotted the biggest field mushroom that I have ever seen.

We had a week of writing reports, feedback to students, cutting the grass (this takes at least 3 hours) the odd unsuccessful fishing trip, visiting the vets, the usual shopping trips, walks along our foreshore and preparation for our forthcoming trip to Harris and Lewis at the weekend. We have booked an Airbnb in Harris and are looking forward to the weekend. It is ostensibly to celebrate my 40th birthday but is really to have a much-needed break. Keith has agreed to feed Angelo our big white cat and Rosie and Raphael have agreed to look after Alice our kitten. The evening before catching the ferry from Bernerey to Leverburgh we dropped Alice, our kitten off with Rosie and Rafa and stood with them as we watched an otter swimming in the bay close to their house in the western part of the island.

It was sunny and warm the next morning as we took the ferry on the way to Harris. There were porpoises in the bay close to the island and we had an excellent journey keenly anticipating the week ahead. We stopped at a very charming round café at Greabhal on the way to our accommodation at Asaig. It was most welcome, and in addition to excellent coffee and cakes they had the most beautiful ‘Sussex Rose’ handwash in the lavatory, available to purchase in the café at only £20.. Because it was nearly my birthday we shared a piece home-made caramel shortbread-truly special!

Our accommodation was in a rather charmless caravan, flesh pink on the inside with that gilded chintzy finish to the fixtures and fixings beloved by caravan designers. It was however, clean and warm with all of the necessary accessories, such as a charming table lamp decorated with attractive fungi. We noticed that a short way along the road there was a cattle grid. This meant that every time a vehicle crossed the grid there was a whomp! The noise varied according to the weight and type of vehicle. I imagine that one would be able to guess the type of vehicle grossing the grid, but luckily we were only to be there for two nights..

We visited the capital of the Islands, Stornoway stopping off at a couple of charity shops on the way to the centre. It is a pleasant enough town and is a considerable contrast in scale to the other settlements on the islands. After some essential purchases including lipstick and fishing line we had an excellent lunch at the Harbour Café, a pleasant sea food brasserie in the modern style. Having lunched, we visited An Lanntair, the Arts Centre situated opposite the ferry landing station. This was busy with people in the large café area and generally milling around the ground floor galleries where there was an exhibition of a catholic selection of work by Tom Hickman.

 We had coffee in the café (mostly milk) before driving down to Callanish, the site of the Bronze Age circle comparable to the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney or Stonehenge in England. During a previous visit to Callanish, there were people everywhere on the site. This included a woman in what was intended as a red druid’s outfit miming to a ‘celtic’ soft rock song whilst being filmed. Every so often 6 other, similarly clad young women would drift into the picture wafting in the ethereal breeze of the ages in time to the music. I don’t know how successful the song was but at the time, it certainly made the visit a memorable one. On this occasion we mostly had the place to ourselves, the atmosphere being slightly compromised by one of the nearby residents drilling something.. The site is a spectacular one with amazing views across the hills and the sea loch and we were pleased to have experienced it on a fine day.

The following day saw us walking towards the Eagle hide in the Mountains of Harris. As we approached the small car park we saw a pair of Golden Eagles being harassed by another bird, probably a raven. These are spectacular birds in a wonderful landscape and we were looking forwards to viewing them from the privileged situation of the hide. As we walked up the valley the weather deteriorated and the rain started. When it rains it rains hard. We were quickly soaked through, and it was a great relief to eventually struggle on to the hide where we could shelter from the rain. Needless to say, we saw no more eagles that day. By this time, the visibility was poor and we were grateful to return to the car. Apart from a further stop off at the rotund café at Greabhal on our way back to Leverburgh, that was our (birthday) weekend. Two hours later we were picking up Alice, our kitten from where she had been thoroughly indulged for the weekend by Rosie and Rafael.

In cat-world – Angie has had his teeth examined, as his gums are causing him some discomfort. He has been booked in for a scale and polish in a couple of weeks time..

He whacked 5 Rats in one day! His record to date. Alice managed to bring in a caterpillar as she is only a trainee. She has eventually found her purr again as her nose was somewhat out of joint after her weekend trip away from home. She has a tummy upset which caused not a little embarrassment whilst she was away, and we will have to keep an eye on her.

The Mushrooms

Weather: Very showery and mostly quite windy. Warm at nights when the wind is quiet and some midge filled intervals in the early mornings.

Following my late-night arrival back in Minish, it seems like there was scarcely a moment before being due at Lochmaddy Hall for the R.N.L.I. (Lifeboats) fundraising event. To this end Nicola and I duly appeared with our Photo – Booth setup, although our positioning in the hall was not ideal. The day contained all of the usual events and sideshows and passed successfully with a significant sum being raised for the Association. We had agreed to photograph the procession of the inevitable pipe band marching from the pier to the hall, but the inclement weather made this impossible. Instead the band played in the hall. Bagpipes of the Scottish variety (as opposed to the Northumbrian or Galician pipe) are designed to stir the blood on the field of battle and when played indoors are, unsurprisingly, extremely loud..

Nicola and I had a very pleasant evening and dinner with artist Fiona Pearson and her family. A well spiced curry made by Fiona and Nicola’s homemade chocolate mouse.

Much of the week there-after was spent in indifferent weather, catching up with the various writing and reading tasks, together with producing materials for on-line and other publications. There was time for a visit to the swimming pool and to see the photographic exhibition about Vatersay by Paul Glazier on in the museum in Lionaclete.

Nicola agreed to look after our neighbour’s dog, cat and fish – for three days whilst they were away- this meant dog walks twice daily, a cat count (the cat lived outside) and a sprinkling of fish food in the fish tank. The black and white collie – called Geordie  was a delight to walk, but a dog is definitely more demanding as a pet than a couple of cats.

The area around our neighbours house is quite boggy, it has been used for peat cutting and provides rough grazing for sheep. This boggy land has many interesting plants – such as the carnivorous sundew and increasingly, as the seasons are shifting towards Autumn – some very interesting and quite rare fungi. Nicola spotted and picked some puff balls that we later had with our lunch – a delicious mushroom tasting of omelettes.

Since being on the Island, Nicola has persuaded me to attend a yoga class with her and I would like to say that I really enjoy this gentle and restorative yoga class despite being flexibly challenged and the only man who attends.

The rain, meanwhile does not seem to have abated for days, although the forecast suggests that there will be a sunny warm period at the weekend.

The Saturday, was better than forecast – it was an excellent day, warm and sunny with light winds. As the weather was so good, we decided to take a walk at Scolpaig (as I have previously mentioned, proposals are in place to convert this special place into a rocket launch centre, so it was with a hint of sadness that we walked around the loch onto the grassland fringing the rocky shoreline here.) We encountered a number of Geologists and Entomologists with nets – they were collecting various types of algae from the fresh water loch around the tower and studying the different bee species. We were shown a nest of the Great Yellow Bumble Bee. It was lovely and informed walk – you just never know who you will meet out here. A hot haze filled the air this day and going indoors didn’t seem a like a good option on what could be the last of this summer’s days.

We chose to spend the evening at Balashare beach, our favourite camping and swimming spot. We got back to the house and packed the car with a substantial quantity of the household bedding and cooking equipment. We took our newly acquired snorkeling gear, together with usual body boards and inevitable wet suits and set off to Balashare. On arrival at the beach, the weather made a dramatic change (dark clouds suddenly started to ominously roll in) but we were committed. We pitched the tent (our special anti-wind South-Uist model) and settled in against the prevailing wind (a lively westerly). When our camp was secure, we went through the ritual of changing into our wet suit gear, now with the addition of fluorescent blue (for me) and fluorescent pink (for Nicola) flippers. Much hilarity was had. The surf was quite lively, and it was quite an experience trying to walk into the sea with full snorkelling equipment fitted. What became increasingly obvious, was that this was not the right place for this activity – it was impossible to see much of anything in the sandy turbulence of the water. I ended up being up-ended, and quickly went back to using the more familiar body board. We had a most joyful frolic, jumping on and surfing the waves.

After an hour or so, wet and windblown, we headed back to camp and prepared our portable barbecue, surrounding it with wind-breaking stones. We had an excellent supper (in the rustic style). We spent a comfortable(ish) night in our tent despite the noisy lashing of the wind, threatening to blow us away. Early the next morning, we hastily packed up (before the inevitable rain) and returned to the house. We had our morning coffee and an extra nap. The wind in the tent had kept us awake. This camping trip seemed to mark the inescapable change in the seasons, it has been a good summer but the weather has not been consistent and the change has been quite sudden.

Some good news at last from ‘the team’! After a poor start to the season (as usual) they beat Spurs at White Hart Lane giving all Magpies a sigh of relief and Steve Bruce cause to relax for a moment… My apologies to my dear friend and Spurs supporter D.C. but it’s about time…

Now that the weather has an autumnal feel, we have been ‘mushroom hunting’. Being amateurs of course, there has been much recourse to on-line checking of which fungal varieties are suitable for eating. To date we have found Field Mushrooms, Wood Mushrooms, Puffballs, Scarlet Wax-caps and Crimson Wax-caps together with several smaller, non-descript varieties that we are still trying to identify.

A single fishing trip to a hill loch has again produced zero fish for myself, although Keith kindly let me have one of the small brown trout that gave themselves up to him. This little fish would feed the cats well!  

The seals have deserted the rocky outcrops in the bay overlooked by the house at Minish. This morning, five sheep unexpectedly wandered into the garden and enjoyed eating the long, fresh grass before running off to their more familiar pastures. They are such strange creatures. Apparently, a ram has been introduced to the field which explains their new-found friskiness.

Nicola met with the course team at the University of the Highlands and Islands to agree the forthcoming term teaching arrangements on the fine art course. We met with Andy McKinnon from Taigh Chearsabagh (TC)  to discuss our ‘work in progress’ exhibition in the downstairs gallery at the centre. We have agreed that this work would be shown next June/July/August 2020. Meanwhile Norman (the Manager from T.C.) handed me a substantial electrical transformer from the darkroom in the hope that I might be able to fix it and make the darkroom useable. We’ll see…

In true Hebridean style, the weather has had a momentary change, enabling another trip to the loch where the wind had dropped, and the sky becoming crimson as the evening progressed . I managed to connect with a good fish but sadly we parted company, the fish jumping and twisting, flashing gold in the evening sunshine never to be seen again. By this time, I was resigned to coming away fishless again… until spotting a rise as I was preparing to pack up. I cast to the rise and eventually landed my first sea trout this year. Nicola and I ate this beautiful tasty delight with relish and gratitude – almost biblical, a special moment was had. (“May the Lord open”)

Our next day was spent in preparation for the visit of two of my oldest friends, both of whom were on the Fine Art course at Brighton with me back in the temporal mists. They are due to arrive on their motorcycles on the evening boat from Uig and will be in need of refreshment. Alan is riding his Moto Guzzi V7 Sport (an original, elegant lime green one from the early seventies) whilst Mick (who is a motorcycle journalist) is on a 390 KTM, one of the better-looking single cylinder bikes from this Austrian manufacturer. I cannot help thinking that the majority of these bikes look as if they have already crashed, such are the vicissitudes of contemporary design fashion. Possibly this is just my prejudice, but modern motorcycles do seem to me to be aesthetically challenged.

Angelo and Alice have been content in their feline routines. Alice is a dear sweet soul and deeply affectionate, she loves to sit by the back door and survey the world, whilst keeping a wary eye on the sheep. Angelo continues to drop headless rats on our doorstep, tokens of esteem – for which we are most grateful.

A Week of Small Things

Weather: Cool and raining with strong winds

JOHN

My ferry left Lochmaddy at 7.30am on Saturday 10 August. It was very blowy and there had been some concern that it would not run. The journey was however, fairly smooth although I couldn’t quite manage the keenly anticipated Cal-Mac breakfast that I had planned. The drive to Newcastle was uneventful and I arrived as expected in the early evening. The garden had excelled itself, the recent rain having sent the grass and hedges into overdrive spilling onto the pathway.. Sunday, having earlier cut the grass, found me in the familiar surroundings of the Tanner’s Arms with the Sunday Times and The Observer whilst partaking in an excellent Sunday lunch accompanied by a pint of Landlord and able to plan the rest of my week.

Monday found me at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland to look at John Askew’s exhibition of Photographs made in the far eastern Russian town of Perm. His colourful and astutely observed images give a sensitive insight to the particular community in which John has located himself. I am always delighted by this Gallery which overlooks the Docks on the Quayside at Sunderland. The views across the river from the café are exceptional. Having taken in this exhibition, I travelled on to Newcastle to visit Locus+. The Locus + archive has been recently relocated to Newcastle University for safe keeping and it is good to hear that the organization has such a positive view of the future. Locus+ has achieved so much for the Visual Arts with its innovative approach to creating new ways of working and its commitment to the artists that it has worked with over the years. Many organisations have borrowed heavily from Locus+ over the years including Artangel in London and the Baltic in Newcastle. This has not always been readily understood, and it is to be hoped that Quality and Innovation once again become a central focus of Arts funding as these are becoming qualities that are in short supply within arts programming.

I met up with Mike Golding for coffee at the Pink Lane coffee shop (the coffee here is in my experience, the best in Newcastle) Mike is now writing with the nom de plume of A.M. Stirling and I am looking forward to reading his soon- to- be published and what promises to be a stirring new novel.

In my small studio in Newcastle, I have been photographing many of the Artists that Locus+ have worked with over the years. I arranged to photograph Peter Stark later in the week. Peter, previously the Chief Executive of Northern Arts is very much a long – term friend of Locus and an important part of their ongoing narrative. John Bewley and Jonty Tarbuck (of Locus+) and I reflected on the fact that some of the artists that we had worked with had not been included in the portrait series, for various reasons and that we should try to catch up with them and other omissions whilst this was still possible.

Tuesday had been promised as the best day weather wise of the week and so it proved. It was warm and sunny.  It was to be the first outing of the year for my old BMW 90s. John (Park) called for me (riding his BSA Gold Star)  and we rode out to Shotley Bridge then via Edmundbyers across to Stanhope on the wonderful Weardale road that meanders across the moors for 20 miles or so. The heather is in full bloom at this time in August and the hills are purple and fragrant. We passed through the lead-mining villages of Nenthead and Killhope onto Alston before climbing to Hartside Summit and descending the tight bends to the Village Bakery in Melmerby. After an excellent lunch taken in the garden, we returned to Alston before riding to Middleton in Teesdale, thence back to Tyneside. The weather held and we had a memorable day out. Having wiped the bike down and thanked it I returned it to its shed hoping that there will be another opportunity before the summer ends. I spent the evening with my daughter Laura in Gosforth’s top Italian restaurant Adriano’s eating pizza and drinking Italian beer.

The following day, having wrestled with the garden and sorted out some other domestic chores (including shopping for items unobtainable in Uist)

Thursday I was able to spend some time in the studio photographing Peter Stark and subsequently processing these films in addition to the few black and white films that I had brought with me. When it is appropriate, I enjoy working with film and used my 60’s Rolleiflex to make Peter’s portrait. It makes a pleasant change from the digital cameras that I have been mostly using. The Rolleiflex never fails to be a conversation piece, the camera is one of a pair made in the 1960’s and are as good as ever. In the evening I re-acquainted myself with the Gosforth Chippy’s regular fayre and then packed up the van ready for the drive to Skye the next day.

Friday morning was wet and windy and I set off on the drive up to Glasgow. I had arranged to meet my son Sean and his partner Mia in a Greek restaurant for lunch. The motorway driving was horrific and visibility was terrible. I stopped off at the Costa on the M74 just north of Carlisle where I had the usual cappuccino. For some reason the coffee here is always particularly bad and as I have been served by different ‘baristas’ over the years I can only put it down to the water..

Arriving in Glasgow, I met Mia and Sean in ‘Halloumi’, a pleasant restaurant. Mia is a sweetheart from Vermont and they are intending to get married next year in New York. After our very pleasant meeting and lunch,  I made a mental note to start saving.

The drive onto Uig in Sky was leisurely and took up most of the rest of the day. The late ferry leaves around 10 30 on a Friday evening but it was running a little late. It was a good journey though. On arrival back in Uist at 1. 30am Nicola and I briefly exchanged our various experiences before going to bed. Phew, what a journey!

The big news is that the ‘consultations’ with the public over the proposed development of the Rocket Range at Scolpaig had taken place. I was disappointed to have missed these but Nicola had attended and was very much concerned and brought me up to date with her experience of the meeting. This is a most deeply disturbing proposal that will change the character and nature of this place irreversibly. It is supported by the Council and the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Board and it is intended that no thorough environmental impact studies at this stage are necessary –  as this is just a ‘test’ activity. Please.

The cats are very pleased to see me and Angie presented me with a full half-rat at the doorstep. Luckily I will never know what had happened to the other half. Alice, boundless in her energy, now has two people once again, to attend to her every requirement. I had brought back a couple of those mice on an elastic leash and within the half-hour the stuffing had started to show on one of them. Cats look so aesthetic and refined, but they are seriously unpleasant to rodents..

“A Woman’s Prayer”

Weather: Showery with some sunny spells and some quite windy days.

NICOLA

Saturday the 10th August – (already). 7am, a blustery, wet morning – I stick my head out of the roof Velux window in the top main bedroom at Minish, to wave John off. He is going to the main land for a week to do some work things and to see his daughter Laura and son Sean. I have a week to myself and with this thought the very fitting poem by Pauline Prior-Pitt  A WOMAN’S PRAYER  came to mind. Pauline is a poet who lives in North Uist, and after she made a point of introducing herself to me, a little while ago, I have become aware of her work. She is a very acclaimed and gifted poet and artist. I am particularly enjoying some of her very humorous feminist poetry.

I have much to achieve this week, so after a short deliberation (messing with Alice, the cat) my essential wake-up cup of coffee is required. Today is computer day – these are very intensely focussed days for me, which I enjoy.

Sunday: began with an early start, more computer work and then a lovely walk by Scolpaig Tower – bliss, beautiful, meadows of flowers everywhere, so precious. The distant hills are blushed with purple from the blossoming heather. The weather was autumnal, otherwise I would have gone swimming. Thoughts of the looming ‘Spaceport’ proposal disappoint me – why here?

Monday: shopping, computer work, print preparation and yoga.

Tuesday: Taigh Chearsabhagh a couple of meetings and then a session in the print studio.

Wednesday: North Uist Conservation group meeting – Spaceport 1 Consortium. Having just arrived to this place it might be questioned as to my right to an opinion, but for me my opinion comes as a human who lives on this planet. I want to know what the long-term affects of – PHASE 1 of SPACEPORT 1 – has on the environment. Who does it affect? And what is PHASE 2 and PHASE 3? Will this also affect the animals, the birds, the insects, the fish – haven’t humans destroyed enough of them?

The Spaceport 1 Consortium was presented by the four organisations:

  • Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – project lead.
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise –  promoting and supporting economic development.
  • QinetiQ – providing the range and technical expertise.
  • Commercial Space Technologies – providing the core Space and Market expertise.

In this meeting, we were informed by the ‘panel’ that this Spaceport was intending to launch rockets –  a mere 6 rockets a year. In 10 years that is 60 rockets – the fallout from these launches will be dumped into the sea. The rockets will be used to observe climate change. Will it as well observe the amount of damage that this Spaceport will also have on our precious world and do these people even care? How will this observation benefit and reverse the effects of climate change? The answer to all such questions was: As this is a test site only some environmental survey work needs to be carried out and nothing can be clearly determined (including the damage) until after the test has been completed. It states in the Spaceport Community Newsletter that the Spaceport’s footprint will be relatively small, relative to what I wonder? It was also confirmed that this testing is to be used for some military purposes, but these too were not clearly defined. There was an argument put forward (from some of the community members) that the jobs that this ‘Spaceport’ would provide will be welcomed by the locals – it was also confirmed (by the panel) that there were likely to only be 6 -13 permanent jobs available in the long term. So, for a few measly ‘promised’ jobs how much will be sacrificed? Scolpaig is home to a vast number of creatures- animals, birds, insects, marine life. This is one of our few remaining beautiful places.

I care about this place, Scolpaig and my opinion counts because it is part of our very fragile planet, I may not be a local but I too live on the Earth. People need jobs but there will be no jobs if we are all dead. Wake up world we need to think beyond ourselves – think of the consequences, think of the future. And yes, I am proud to be an EXTINCTION REBELLION WARRIOR!

Everyone came out of this meeting very charged. I went to yoga in the evening and felt sad.

Thursday – A beautiful poetry reading evening at Taigh Chearsabhagh art centre  By Niall Campbell and Pauline Prior-Pitt.

Friday – yoga, housework and Hurray John returns – I’ve had some restorative ‘on my own time’ but now look forward to ‘our time’ and place together.

Saturday 01.30am I hear John drive down the track. We have tea and share experiences before retiring for the remainder of the night.

 

Purple Haze

Weather: The air is warm and we have also been affected by the record temperatures ‘enjoyed’ by those in the South of England. At one stage it was 22C – uncomfortably hot in these parts.. Towards the end of the week the weather once again, had noticeably shifted and the strong winds returned, frequently accompanied by heavy rain.

This week began with a visit to the one and only ‘Benbecula Thrift Shop’ (a charity shop) to collect some furry jackets and wedding hats (for the Lochmaddy week, Photo-booth event on the 31st July). We then drove to Scolpaig Tower in the North-East of Uist, where Nicola and I walked the few hundred yards along the loch past a deserted farmstead to the bay. The day was warm and bright with the Machair grasslands shimmering purple and yellow and the white lilies on the water opening their petals to enjoy the maximum effect of the sun’s rays. This bay is sheltered by a small enclave and a rocky outcrop where the clear turquoise blue sea pours into the many crevasses in the rock face. Here is where the intended rocket site will be situated, a proposal which is almost beyond belief, and hopefully can be resisted. There are people swimming in the bay. They are quietly snorkeling whilst swimming over the lush seaweed in order to see the marine life beneath. The sea and sky reflect in a spectrum of blues and the white sand shows in patches and pathways beneath the surface of the water. Nicola and I resolved to return later in the week to picnic and to swim in this beautiful place.

Keith had booked a boat to fish in Loch Fada, one of the largest freshwater lochs on the island. We rowed along one arm of the loch making the usual drifts across and casting our flies. The boat that we were using was not the usual club boat but a larger, heavier one which we were obliged to use, as a visitor had mistakenly taken the wrong boat. Once or twice we managed to gently ground the boat in the shallow water due to our unfamiliarity with the topography of the loch. The weather was promising and there was a nice ripple on the surface. Trout came there none – and to add insult to injury, my rather expensive fly line somehow parted in the middle, necessitating onboard repairs before being able to continue fishing. It was very quiet and no fish were moving. Later when we encountered the visitor who had used our boat we asked how they had fared. We have caught just 6 fish said he… “Excellent, well done” we said, not meaning it.

July 31st, Lochmaddy week. As a part of the programme of events we agreed to set up the ‘Photo-booth’. Nicola has some experience in this area whereas my previous involvement had been only to obtain a passport photo. Having acquired the necessary dressing up items earlier in the week, from the charity shop – we set up our ‘Photo-booth’, just outside the Lochmaddy community hall – it was such a beautiful day. Business was slow as the event was not particularly well attended, although we did have some fun with people posing – using our dressing up outfits. This also proved to be an excellent way to engage with the community and to let people know what we are doing. Nicola and I were asked to run the ‘Photo-booth’ again at the RNLI day in a couple of weeks. Hopefully on this occasion we will also improve our booth as a result of this experience, so watch this space.

The weather continued to be dry and warm and we revisited ‘our’ bay at Scolpaig, this time with our wet suits. We took a walk to the nearby sea caves and searched for wild flowers before relaxing for an extended picnic and lunch. Thus fortified we swam in the bay until it was time to pack up and make the walk past the loch back to our van. There are still new flowers to be seen everyday and an encouraging amount and variety of butterflies. Purple is becoming the predominant flower colour – Bell heather, a variety of thistles, highland heather and numerous others that we are attempting to identify. If I squint (or take my glasses off) a purple haze shimmers over the greenness.

Nicola and I have been planning another Photographic Landscape Workshop ‘Explorations in Landscape 2’ to run at Minish. Whilst we are based here, it is an excellent place from which to run our events. It has a sizeable room which converts admirably into a lecture theatre and practical photoshop tuition space. Our posters advertising tis occasion arrived in the post midweek , late as ever, and we spent a day or so distributing them around the island.

The Lochmaddy hill run took place on the Friday and we were invited to photograph it. For some reason there were few participants this year but those that took part did so in good humour departing on the boat to the starting point, then running over the hilltop to return to Lochmaddy along the main road, finishing at the Hotel. There was a bouncy castle for the kids and something of a P.A. system pumping out pop music across the sea loch. Hamburgers, including Venison burgers were on sale and one of the drinks being served to the waiting onlookers was ‘Malibu and and red and blue Slushy’ Wow!  All participants in the main event received a bottle of water and a mars bar. We photographed the finishers before retiring to the Westford Arms, North Uist’s only pub. Despite the seeming monopoly, this is an excellent place and they too, were holding a barbecue event in their beer garden. The weather had been so good recently that everywhere on the island outdoor activities and events were being pursued – whenever possible.

We printed some of the portraits that we had made, and Nicola has been planning future photoshop workshops – to be delivered this autumn. We have looked at a number of alternative venues for these subsequent workshops although it is too early to be clear of our requirements. Nicola’s small car has had a problem with a leaky exhaust so I have spent some time hanging out at the excellent Cregorry Motors on Benbecula, whilst the suspect part was initially identified, then replaced. I am due to take the ferry to Uig tomorrow and because of the sudden ‘turn’ in the weather there is some doubt as to whether it will run. The ferries are all fully booked at this time so if there are cancellations due to the weather, it will cause serious problems.

Our cats, Angelo and Alice seem to have settled down to a new relationship. Angie continues to be the long suffering and ever – tolerant boss cat who spends much of his time outdoors chasing rats (on one day he caught four, one of which he presented to little Alice who proudly presented it to us in the bedroom. They might have left its head on..  For her part, Alice is compelled by some territorial instinct, to encroach upon any space occupied by Angie. It is a strange relationship that only occasionally explodes into feline fisticuffs. Mostly Angie, when he is indoors, sleeps in the upper hallway and Alice has taken to sitting on Nicola’s lap whilst she is working on the computer. She is, naturally, keeping a sharp eye on the mouse..

Supplementary – Glasgow Print Studio.

Weather: Rain, rain rain to Fort William. Beautiful sunshine and hot summer days

Monday 11.45 ferry – since arriving in Uist ( February 2019) this is only my second journey off the Island. I stood on the Deck, as the boat departed on this misty moist day – John was (as is his want) documenting the ferry departure and I waved furiously inorder to be in his shot. The ferry is a great part of the journey to and from Uist and offers a fabulous cooked breakfast/lunch and a variety of snacks. On this occasion, I had the cup of grapes and a coffee – I munched through these, had a wander around the boat, and then settled in the viewing lounge where I had a little nap. I was woken by boat murmurings as the ferry made to dock on shore at Uig. I was bussing it to Glasgow to visit my daughter Abigale Neate-Wilson. We had a couple of days set aside to make some photopolymer etching plates and prints in Glasgow Print Studio.

On arriving in Uig I had 45 mins to wait for the bus so stopped off at The Sheiling & Ella’s Cafe opposite the petrol station at Uig and had a delicious soup – Sweet potato, coconut and tomato. I then boarded the bus, and although I did not get the front seat (as John had suggested) I did sit in an adequate seat and a woman (who had befriended me at the bus stop) – June from Inverness sat in the parallel seat on the other side of the aisle. June and I had pleasant chats – until she left the bus just before the Fort William stop – for her connection.  June travels to Uist every year and spends time with friends in Grimsay. She left the Island early this year to visit her daughter in Canada. June thought I might get better views if I sat in her seat which was on the near side of the bus – so when she left I moved all my bags over and sat in her seat.

At this point, I should describe the weather – which had been torrential rain all the way; wet and humid. In my new seat, there was a smell. It was a sickly, pervasive stench that had a vaguely human body tone to it. I was uncomfortable because of this odour and started to sniff my stuff (was it me?). I could not detect its source – I smelt my coat, my bags and even wondered if my cats had sprayed on my luggage or something. I continued to try to settle in this ‘new seat’ and then felt a little dig in my side… (The passenger behind me had decided to put his legs up and had squeezed his foot around the side of my chair.) The ‘smell’ became unbearable to gagging point and yes it was him! He was wearing light canvas shoes, which had obviously become soaked in the rain and quite clearly he suffered from the most appalling foot odour!!

I very quickly gathered all my stuff up again and moved to another seat – I had four more hours to travel and his feet were unbearable. My advice to anyone with problems with foot odour – do not even think about buying canvas shoes, however comfortable they might look.

My bus journey was tolerable thereafter, and I arrived at Glasgow bus station at 10.30 pm and from here I took a taxi to my girl’s Abi flat. She rents a gorgeous place in the South side, which she shares with her lovely partner Chris. I felt very welcomed, and after a cup of tea and a chat I retired. We had a busy few days ahead planned.

As a mother, I love travelling to visit my daughters (I have two) in their adult lives, it gives me great pleasure. I try never to stay longer than 3 nights and this seems to be a good cut off point for all concerned.

Tuesday morning 6.30a – I always wake early, so brought Abi (my daughter) a cup of tea. We had planned for an induction at the print studio and to undertake a fair amount of work. I had already prepared my photographic images for the photopolymer process.

The day was gorgeous – hot. Print studios are always industrious and today everyone there worked up a sweat. Abi and I have a history of printmaking together and thoroughly enjoyed the day – making great prints (which even got the attention of the other printmakers). We completed in a day that we had anticipated would take two. We were very pleased, as now we could spend the following day going to galleries and swimming. That night we had a light dinner at the Bell Jar. The following Day we went to The Modern Institute  and MOMA IN GLASGOW and then took the train to GOUROCK outdoor pool – another fabulous day with reasonable weather! Quality time spent with my younger daughter. Abi’s partner Chris made us a lovely dinner that night and we all retired early.

Thursday 4.30 am– I woke (my bus was leaving at 6.50 am). I made tea, had a shower and packed. I was a little early, but going back to sleep was not an option. My daughter booked me an Uber cab – so convenient… the ease of the digital era and no exchange of money. Transactions of all kinds can be sorted in a seemingly hassle free manner … although they are always trackable!

Bus, seat – fine. I pretty much slept all the way to Fort-William. On the journey to Glasgow the bus stopped at Fort-William for an hour (for lunch) and I presumed it would be the same for the way back. There is a big Morrison’s here so I leisurely wandered around the supermarket (there is not this kind of choice in Uist) for 20 minutes. I went back to the bus stop – the bus was not there. I did not stress too much, even though I had left all my things ( phone, computer, artwork, clothes etc.) on the bus… this is what we had all done on the way to Glasgow. The bus driver had probably gone for fuel. 50 minutes later still no bus, so I decided to ask someone.

“Och nee it is a 10 minute break – the bus has been and gone.”

OMG all my things – my Phone and money what was I to do? – also only one ferry that day which that bus was meeting.

The conductor pointed to a telephone box. I had to beg a passer by for some change (by this time I was crying). The first person refused and the second person, a man – lent me his phone (luckily I remembered John’s phone number, although only managed to leave a message). This lovely man, who worked on the meat counter in Morrison’s also gave me all the change he had in his pocket (£3.70) so I could get a cup of tea. I felt destitute.

image courtesy of Neil Davidson

I spent this money wisely – I had a three hour wait for my next bus. I was going to miss the only ferry on this day and I did still need to contact John. The conductor had assured me that they would try and return my belongings en route. I bought the Guardian and read the devastating news about the Boris disaster. I finally managed to contact John (who took the necessary steps to ensure I was not stranded in Uig) and the new bus driver picked up my missing luggage ‘en route’ from another bus – (everything was returned). It was an eventful journey. I arrived in Uig to meet John from the ferry – coming from Uist with our tent! We both camped in Uig at the camp site and then returned to Uist on Friday on the 9.30am ferry. We shared a delicious cooked breakfast which included the famous ‘Stornaway black pudding’. It was a gorgeous day so we sat outside on the deck chatting. It took me only 16 hours to get back. I was very pleased to be back- Hurray!

Highland Games

Weather: Sunny and warm mostly with odd wet days, then increasingly wet and windy. As unpredictable as ever.

Our week started with a walk to Taigh Chearsabagh to post a birthday card to my Aunt Ruby. She has a form of Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a Care Home in Hastings. The card was purchased at T.C. and was a three-dimensional bunch of flowers which pops out in a surprising manner on opening the card. I doubt that she remembers me but I think the flowers may make her smile. She is the youngest of my father’s sisters and is in her mid 90’s. On the way there We called by Tom and Lorraine’s house to arrange for Tom to cut the grass outside the cottage. It becomes very long and meadow like very quickly, and needs one of those heavy-duty petrol engine strimmers to cut it back. We walked back the way we came , it was a beautiful day and the wildflowers have exploded with carpets of yellow flowers appearing in the most barren looking of landscapes. The closer you look, the more there is to see, from a sea of buttercups and tiny pink spotted orchids to great clumps of purple bell heather. There is the usual accompaniment from the call of the oyster catchers, perhaps the loveliest sound of the sea.

Sunday was again warm and sunny and although we had travelled back from Balashare the previous morning (feeding the cats, turning around etc) we found ourselves returning to see an art event on the beach. This was the public enactment of a piece by the truly exceptional Katie Paterson. I knew Katie, having worked with her at Locus+ in Newcastle and was looking forward to seeing her. I learned however, that this re-enactment of this work had occurred at numerous coastal sites and that she would not be present at all of them. That said, the piece, which consisted of a set of moulds from which to create a mountain range out of sand was enthusiastically performed by numerous members of the public. As ever she had made something extraordinary and unique in that quiet way of hers.

The Island of Bernerey lies to the north of North Uist and is the next significant island between the Uists and Harris and Lewis. Bernerey Week celebrates this place with a series of events. These include boat trips, barbecues, Ceilidhs, craft shows, dog shows etc. We went to the sheep dog trials where the shepherd whistles furiously at his or her collie dog to herd the sheep over a particular course, and to put them in a holding pen. The dog then separates the mini – herd into a ‘split’. It’s all clever stuff and remarkably compelling to watch. A wide range of people are attracted to this event, which is held on the West Beach Machair in Borve, from a huge catchment area. After this event the weather began to deteriorate.

For some reason the settlement of Sollas holds its celebratory week on the same dates as Bernerey week. It has many similar events. I am sure there must be a reason for running them together this but I have not heard this yet. Most of the week was compromised by the weather but the day was good for the North Uist Highland Games, held on the Machair in the north west of the island. The games consist of a number of sporting events (running, high jump etc) mixed with fun events (pillow fighting, tug of war etc) together with highland dancing by mostly young girls and piping competitions. There are the usual retail opportunities and we succumbed to some marmalade and gin.. The bagpipes are strongly in evidence and participants stand, and occasionally walk up and down playing to the judges who sit in their plywood cabins writing their observations about timing, intonation, accuracy and other things that I can only imagine. The day is a well lubricated one and the games are great fun. The previous day’s weather was so poor that the complimentary South Uist Games had been washed out sadly.

The following evening saw us putting up our tent on the East Beach in Bernerey. The evening was beautiful and we met Neil Davidson there. When we arrived, he was watching a seal playing close to the beach whilst sipping a suspicious looking liquid from a metal cup.

We walked the two and a half miles to the Ceilidh where most of the island’s population, including many friends of ours, were warming to the evenings dancing. The dances need to be learned otherwise there is much foot-treading and bumping. Nobody really mind this, but in the faster dances the untutored are best watching. They do get fast.. We have resolved to learn some of the moves, so next time perhaps. Ceilidh events are attended by all age groups. This is a pleasure to witness and to be a part of. We eventually ran out of stamina and stumbled off into the (not very dark) night to walk the two and a half miles to find our tent. We slept well.

The next day was warm and sunny with a ‘fresh breeze’ (BBC terminology) blowing from the west. Such a day should not be ignored so we went to Balashare and settled down on the beach. We swam in the sea, drank a little rose sparkling wine and ate our picnic. Wonderful. The next time I will remember to put more sun cream on.. Sunday Fran and Keith came to lunch at our cottage in Minish, delightfully ending a very busy week for us. We even managed to take some photographs.

Monday, the weather has become misty and wet. Nicola is travelling down to Glasgow to stay with her daughter and to put some time to working on a number of photo etchings at the Print Workshop there. We are hoping to include photo etching in our series of workshops at a later date. The ferry sailed off into the mist. I am always excited at the prospect of such travel and the drama of the ferry crossings between the islands. When her boat had disappeared I drove up to the Co-op in Sollas to buy the Sunday papers. Monday is still the new Sunday.

Both Angelo (white cat) and Alice (small cat) are very quiet since Nicola’s departure.

Angie is friendly with Alice as enthusiastic as ever but there is a coolness and they wonder where she is.. Outside is out of the question at the moment as it is raining hard and they are carefully marking out their indoor territory. If anyone is looking for a lucrative professional income and likes felines, I recommend cat psychology.. 

The Workshop

Weather: Always unpredictable – definitely warmer, some hot days and humid nights, some heavy rain and strong winds.

I had hardly returned to the Island before I was whisked off to a camping trip to Balashare, one of the most beautiful beaches in the vicinity. We built a bonfire and a barbecue, had a picnic and swam in the sea until we were thoroughly exhausted. We had omitted to include a mattress, so sleep was challenging at times, although the sounds of the wind and rain beating on the sides of the tent was comforting and even romantic despite slight anxieties about our security. In fact, our tent (purchased especially for staying on the Hebrides) remained securely fixed to the ground – as did I the next morning whilst trying to sit up.

Later in the week I began to feel ill and so did not accomplish very much although there was much preparation work needed for our forthcoming workshop ‘Explorations in Landscape’. Many honey, lemon and ginger drinks later – my man-flu had passed and I was ready for the forthcoming weekend workshop event, that Nicola and I had planned. This photography workshop began with an evening talk about the historical associations of painting with photography. The weekend progressed with field trips to Scolpaig and the Island of Vallay, where our workshop participants were able to make some excellent pictures. This was followed by indoor sessions concentrated on Photoshop post-production processing of the images that we had collected, before printing our results. The weather was kind to us and everyone enjoyed themselves. We are hoping to run another workshop upon these lines and hopefully extend our scope into other areas of photographic practice…

The following week the weather gave up on us and it has been wet and dull, although the winds have been light. Nicola fell ill during the week having perhaps caught my cold, necessitating much rest and restitution. Naturally this was something that I could assist in.

There have been two fishing trips this week. The first in a small sea loch resulted in a good sized Pollack, caught using a small spinner, the other outing was on one of the beautiful inland freshwater lochs where Keith and I only managed a few small brown trout, although Nicola found a beautiful position on a rock outcrop to make some watercolour paintings. Later we attended a workshop outlining the assistance available to would-be entrepreneurs setting up businesses in the area. The University of the Highlands and Islands is central in facilitating this economic development and it is encouraging and appropriate that much of this is seen in the cultural and arts sectors.

The week ended as it had started, with a camping trip to Balashare beach. The day was sunny and warm and the westerly winds ensured that the surf was running. After a glorious hour or so in the sea with our body boards we lit a camp fire and lit the barbecue. We grilled the (salted) Pollack that I had caught earlier in the week with some nettle pesto and salad.

It was a memorable evening (and although we had forgotten to bring sufficient water) we had plenty of other drinks with which to pass the evening. The night was starry and quiet, with the orange lights from nearby Benbecula glowing intriguingly in the distance.

Our rather impromptu trip was truly memorable and I am hoping that next weekend we can repeat the performance. I had not envisioned the feeling of freedom and immersion of the senses possible through the simple expedient of wearing a wet suit and attempting to ride on the waves as they break onto the sand. Seldom have I laughed so much or had such a great time. Early the next morning we drove back to the house to feed the animals. They are always so pleased to see us.

Nicola and I have started to work on our portraits which are developing well. Working closely together on this project is proving to be an interesting and exciting creative adventure.

Angie (white cat) and Alice (kitten) are getting along much better. Alice follows Angie enthusiastically everywhere.  Mostly he is OK about this although sometimes he does not want to play with Alice because he is a bit of a grumpy old man (not like me..) or he is tired from rat whacking.

Please note our bird sightings are proving untrustworthy, never the less our twitching enthusiasm remains undiminished.