Two Views

Weather: Wet, cold interspersed with one or two hot sunny days with light winds.

Carpets of yellow Tormentil, yellow primroses and common Birdsfoot-trefoil with a sprinkling of pink and white daisies cover the pastures. The roadsides verges are littered with yellow Iris, Cat’s-ears and, this must be a lucky year, because also the biennial, purple/pink Fox-glove – are visible in a most complimentary way. The sea loch’s tidal islands, visible only at low tide, are blushed with Sea Thrift – gorgeous little pink flowers that can exist in and out of the sea-water. Bog cotton shimmers in the sunlight creating silver patches on the grass slopes. These are some of the things that make up for the ‘not so hot’ summer we are experiencing this year… so far.

Robin and Marjory Gillanders, whilst on their Hebridean travels – stopped by for a late Sunday lunch. Before they came Nicola and I had a stunning pre-lunch walk on Clachan Sands beach – we paddled bare foot in the sun warmed sea – wonderful!

The Gillanders’ arrived at about 4 pm and then duly (after Robin and I had tested the ground) – drove their camper van onto the front lawn. The van got stuck and became completely embedded in the mud. Many failed attempts were made to get the van back onto hard ground. In the process two tow ropes were broken using our own van. Finally, the ‘AA’ had to be summoned from Benbecula (via Birmingham) and kindly and quickly (it was Sunday) came by – his tow rope snapped too – eventually a chain had to be attached to Robin and Marjory’s camper in order to haul it out of the Hebridean peat – much relief all round!

Photo by Marjory Gillanders

The four of us were finally able to sit down to the ‘well’ deserved late lunch – traditional style – roast chicken vegetables, copious amounts of wine followed by a few wee drams generously provided by Robin… Caution needs to be made when partaking in these ‘wee drams’ which on occasion are not as ‘wee’ as they might sound. Robin and Marjory stayed in their camper van overnight in the garden – with, impressively, their cat Spike, who has lovely eyes and travels with them – we all had an absolute gas with an enthusiastic exchange of ideas and stories. We swapped publications. Nicola and I have been enjoying  reading Robin’s excellent ‘Highland Journey’ which is based on the earlier travels of Edwin Muir.

As ever, the search for the quintessential ‘Scottish Identity’ proves elusive, but as I identify as a Geordie and Nicola is from Niarobi, this is something we may be able to offer a clearer view of, at a later stage as our project develops. Robin also left a copy of ‘Studies in Photography’ which he is editorially involved with. This is a scholarly and serious publication and is highly recommended. Alongside ‘Photographies’ this is a real contribution to the printed material available to contemporary photographic culture.

This was a very busy social week.

Monday: Fishing with Keith Dawson – I was late due to a slow start (guests, hangover etc.) – Keith had booked a boat on Loch Fada. Keith rowed us across the loch. It was blowing hard and started to rain. The rain increased to such intensity that my special Harris-tweed fishing hat became so water logged it drooped like a wet fish over my head and face –  fishing was abandoned.

Tuesday: dinner at Minish with Rosie, Raphael and Neil – a combined contribution – the food was exceptionally tasty. Vegan chili, quinoa, and celery salad followed by a gorgeous chocolate vegan cheese cake and berries in cream. Wine, prosecco and lemon water.

A lovely evening and great company.

Nicola: Friday 21st June 7am – I drove John to the ferry. He was off to the mainland for a motorcycling trip with his biker mates. It was very early, so rather than stay to watch the boat depart (which I know John would have done) I headed quickly back to my bed for an extra hour sleep – I had some exciting events planned for this Friday and I needed to prepare.

The second start to my day began with domestics – cleaning, shopping and packing for the Midsummer night camping adventure. Preparations are everything – Tent, found and packed; a cool-bag of goodies including prosecco an avocado and a bottle of water with lemon slice, a sharp knife and some salt; two duvets, my toothbrush and camera.

This Midsummer evening began with a PV at Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre  – a very interesting sound and video installation by Canadian artist Joshua Bonnetta calledCaolas na Hearadh | The Sound of Harris. This event was wellreceived andattended – by community contributors and local artists – the night was going well and it looked like the weather was going to hold out for the Midsummer night’s camping trip.

9pm – it was time to set off to Hosta beach – the chosen location because of the sun-setting to the left of the beach and rising to the right. A small group of us went in convoy, Rosie Blake and Raphael Rychetsky in one car and me in another – following Andy Mackinnon , the organizer. We were joined by Neil Morrison, Catriona MacInnes and Joshua Bonnetta. What a Gorgeous night -Rosie and I managed a dip in the sea – but that tired us out and I unfortunately did not manage to see the sunrise – I had to crash (in my very comfortable tent with the two duvets) at about 3am. This was a fabulous evening – wild camping, the bonfire and being present for the event. Raphael was the ‘man’ – he managed to get the event sunrise ‘Photograph’!

June 22 – waking up on the beach – lovely fresh air and warm, the weather was the best it had been for weeks and I was informed that it had been a spectacular sunrise. I had a quick coffee with the remaining ‘midsummer gang’ and then headed back to Minish to feed the cats. This day just got better and better – gloriously hot – like summer. In Uist if the weather is ‘this’ good you do not hesitate – all plans change – I needed to be outside! I sorted the cats, grabbed a snack – then quickly packed my wet-suit, body board, lemon water, some drawing materials and my camera – this was a Baleshare Beach day.

I swam for two hours, playing with my body board and the waves and then enjoyed the early evening sitting on the rocks doing a little watercolor sketch. On the drive back to Minish – now 6.30pm I took some photos. This was the hottest, most beautiful day yet, the light, the colours, the flowers, the thrill of being here – I felt truly blessed. A passing thought – ‘I sure am glad I don’t have to put on a bunch of leathers and crash helmet today’ (although I did wear my wetsuit)

My week was full: Yoga, beach, drawing, preparing etching plates and making photographs.

John: Friday 21st June 7amLeaving Lochmaddy. I boarded the ferry to make my annual motorcycling trip with long standing fellow motorcyclists. On departure, a rainbow illuminated the sky across the bay. It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed the crossing. Arriving at Uig, I located the bus stop for the journey to Glasgow. On all previous occasions, I have made the journey to Newcastle by car, but on this occasion (as I was due to return with Nicola’s car) I travelled by bus and train. The bus journey is around 7 hours through exceptional scenery. There was an hour for lunch at Fort William then onto Loch Lomond before the inevitable traffic congestion around Glasgow. Nonetheless, I enjoyed not driving, thinking that the life of the coach driver must put my occasional experiences in perspective. I took the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh (Who could have thought there could be so many stops?) before joining the connection to Newcastle where on arrival, I was fortunate to quickly find a local bus home.  

I deeply regretted that my annual motorcycling event was co-incidental with the summer solstice. I hadn’t noticed this when I confirmed the dates. Nevertheless the weather in North Yorkshire was as agreeable as it had been on North Uist and our little motorcycling party – Alan (Aerial), Andrew (Suzuki), David (Moto Guzzi) , John (Morini), Jonny (M.Z), Pat (Ducati) and Rebecca (Ducati) – covered many miles in beautiful weather. My bike had been smoking a little but was running well. The journey is the destination when riding an old bike (my BMW is the same age as me) and so, nowhere fast was easily achieved. The days were beautiful and easy with great scenery, wildlife and buildings including some wonderful pubs. In Swaledale, I even saw a red kite make off with a large rat. We stayed in Leyburn in a friendly pub with tolerant management.

Within 1 hour or returning home, Alan Wilson and I had my bike in bits and we found that worn valve guides were accounting for the (slightly excessive) smoke. This was a relief as worn pistons or bores would have been expensive. Unfashionably, we love the (elderly) internal combustion engine! Alan has also stripped down his 1930’s Aerial in order to fit a higher compression piston. Exciting times lie ahead..

In Newcastle I visited Jon Bewley and Jonty Tarbuck they were preparing to move the Locus+ archive to custody of the University of Newcastle and are considering the next move for this organization. This major collection of significant works from many of the exceptional artists that Locus+ have worked will be safeguarded for the future – thanks to the foresight of the University and the commitment of Locus+. I also had a meeting with Dr. Rupert Ashmore, from the Department of Arts from Northumbria University. We discussed a research paper he is writing for the Arts Journal using ‘In this Day and Age’ as a case study. We shared ideas regarding borders and islands and reflected upon the construction of identities, both within a personal and political context. Rupert has a keen interest in the particular characteristics of the Scottish Islands. As ever, it was a pleasure to see him and we had an enjoyable interview and discussion and I am looking forward to seeing the outcomes of his research.

It was my youngest daughter’s birthday and we visited Chinatown to celebrate although the bean sprouts were a little too plentiful for her taste. I also managed a coffee with Author and Photographer Mike Golding and beer (on this occasion the ‘Rivet Catcher’ was not at its best) and curry with one of my motorcycling friends John Park, who had found in me a new home for an old Zeiss Ikonta roll film camera and a folding 35mm Dolina snapshot camera. My journey back to the ferry terminal at Uig took most of Friday. I was bringing Nicola’s car to the Island and allowed plenty of time for the journey which was uneventful. The car was piled up with a lot of the equipment needed for our forthcoming workshop activities. I had time to catch the end of the Uist Arts Association Summer Open Exhibition at Taigh Chearsabagh since then I have been ill with a cold. Ugh..

Birds spotted over the two weeks include:

  • Short ear owls.
  • Redwings
  • Hooded crows
  • Jackdaws
  • Arctic tern
  • Artic skua
  • Swans in flight
  • Grey lag geese and their goslings
  • Plovers
  • Redshanks
  • Curlews
  • Hen harriers
  • Kestrel
  • Merlin
  • Buzzard picking up a rat
  • Golden eagle circling in flight
  • Several Herons
  • 3 black swans in flight

Angelo and new kitten ‘Alice’ are becoming acquainted. Alice loves Angelo – Angelo is tolerant but has upped his rat surveillance duties. We have set times for ‘on your own naps’ – Angelo appreciates this space. Alice is in training and is very good at catching her toy mouse, at playing hide and seek and toe catching. We are both covered in affectionate scratches..

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