Thursday, December 13, 2007

Back from the Dead

OK to be fair we've been back online for 2 weeks but isn't that rediculous?

"They" can get broadband to remote island communities but "they" can't manage to supply a 21st-century housing estate to fulfill demand.

I presume someone had to die in order for us to get our line. Or something. I had to take desperate measures - I emailed the ceo of BT. It worked; I was in regular communication with an Openroach man who was very very helpful and sympathetic but unable to change the fact that here we have the "wrong sort of wires". But at least I didn't have to ring that stomach-knotting, head-banging, bloody-awful, should-be-outlawed helpline any more.

In order to survive the technological famine, I've had to persuade myself intellectually that I don't need the internet, no-one's interested in my views and no-one will miss me anyway. So I've mentally "lost the urge" to talk rubbish (online anyway).

Plus, I have my new job to occupy me! Wayhey! I get to play with goo all day and pretend I know what I'm talking about. It's great!

So sometime soon I'll tell you all what else we've been up to during the blackout. It just might take a while for me to get used to the idea.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

bt are useless

sorry folks, broad band problems mean my wings are temporarily clipped.
I've been reliably informed (by a Mr John Smith of India) that normal service will be resumed by this weekend. I'll believe that when I see it...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Addicted to Flickr

Well it's quite easy - you join up, create a member name, icon, profile if you want to, and start posting loads of pics (which I'm not exactly short of) and other people view them, sometimes comment on the (usually complimentary!)

It gets very addictive, when you get other people praising you and you feel part of a group and so you join in and post back, have conversations, etc etc. Before you know it, you actully give a damn whether your photos are removed from such-and-such a group because they don't fit in with the group moderator's idea of what the group is all about.

So you set up your own group, (sod 'em!) and invite other people and they post pictures to your group and comment on each others pics and it's all one happy family.

Then, you start reading the more political threads about whether you should support yahoo really, or who owns the photos and read the small print etc etc ... all gets a wee bit involved.

So anyway that's where I'm at - when I log into my computer, the first thing I do is check to see if I have any Flickr comments, and if anyone has joined my group or posted more photos, etc etc ...

great stuff!

Makes me wonder where the future lies for this sort of repository. The day all the electricity dies, will all these photos cease to exist? How sad would that be?

Addicted to flickr

Well it's quite easy - you join up, create a member name, icon, profile if you want to, and start posting loads of pics (which I'm not exactly short of) and other people view them, sometimes comment on the (usually complimentary!)

It gets very addictive, when you get other people praising you and you feel part of a group and so you join in and post back, have conversations, etc etc. Before you know it, you actully give a damn whether your photos are removed from such-and-such a group because they don't fit in with the group moderator's idea of what the group is all about.

So you set up your own group, (sod 'em!) and invite other people and they post pictures to your group and comment on each others pics and it's all one happy family.

Then, you start reading the more political threads about whether you should support yahoo really, or who owns the photos and read the small print etc etc ... all gets a wee bit involved.

So anyway that's where I'm at - when I log into my computer, the first thing I do is check to see if I have any Flickr comments, and if anyone has joined my group or posted more photos, etc etc ...

great stuff!

Makes me wonder where the future lies for this sort of repository. The day all the electricity dies, will all these photos cease to exist? How sad would that be?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Leopards can't change their own spots

I was incredulous when I read this report on the BBC website.

It talks about an experiment undertaken to see how microorganisms are affected by being in space, in micro-gravity. The result was that "the bacteria were almost three times as likely to kill infected mice compared with standard samples held on Earth".

It contains the paragraph:

"These bugs can sense where they are by changes in their environment. The minute they sense a different environment, they change their genetic machinery so they can survive," Professor Nickerson said.

What a complete load of rubbish! Microorganisms don't have brains - they can't think for themselves. And even if they could - do you think they'd know what to do, in order to make themselves better? GAH!

I can't believe that a Professor could speak like this. It's against any true scientist's instincts to come out with this sort of crap - and if she didn't, the BBC have twisted her words and portray her as a daft blonde, or worse, they consider their readers to be thick. Hmmm yes that could be it.

What is much more likely is that the cells less likely to reproduce under micro-gravity conditions are dying without copying, and the ones which move well and reproduce successfully, survive. Thanks to their quick life-cycle the effects of natural selection will become apparent quicker than in other, slower "lifeforms"*. The Hfq master regulator could be important in this process, according to the Arizona University website. Hmm that makes the story much more interesting and informative.

*I'm allowed to use this word because it's a space story.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Swinging in the new job

Yeah, so it's day two and I still feel a complete spare part. It's starting to remind me vividly of the two days work experience I spent at Robert Ferguson's Printers in December 1986. I filled most of the time spinning on a wonderfully free-moving spinny lab chair, but also managed to get a tour around one of the last Victorian factories left in Carlisle. It was worth it for that. I watched the huge fabric-printing machines and visited the design room and peeked inside the director's office, all this impressed my Mam no end because she worked there as a telephonist in the 1960's and was amazed it was all still there for me to see. It's been converted into flats now.

I suppose should make the most of this quiet time, while I can still go home at 5pm without feeling guilty.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Don't Panic! First Day

I start my new job today. If it goes really bad at least I'll have my enamelling class to look forward to tonight - I've bought some copper blanks from eBay so I won't be going empty handed this time. I've had lots of ideas!

We went across to Northumberland on Saturday, and yesterday was spent sorting out the photographs we took. I'm quite addicted to Flickr - so much so that I was gutted when I got thrown out of one of their groups for not following their (hellishly bloody) complicated rules! Well they can sod off. I started my own Carlisle group cos there wasn't one - I have civic pride even if no-one else does.

I made a lovely byriani last night. The way I've spelled it there you'd think it was Italian. Suppose I must get ready.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Perfect day out = two bits of top class rock art, a castle and a beach

We went across to Northumberland again yesterday, to allow B to try out more photography techniques, and because we have to go back there every once in a while cos it's the law. I love it over there - and it was great to see those pink roads again.

We arrived at Chatton Park first, and climbed the small hill past the old shallow quarry, to the rock art located in surely the most spectacular positions in the UK. The view opens directly over the pale glittery sandstone surfaces towards the outline of the Cheviots, across the Till valley inbetween. It's an extremely memorable sight, and one which I always treasure.

It was very windy up there today but at least the sun was trying to get out, the weather on its last chance before autumn set in properly. We continued down the other side of the hill to Kettley Crag, and one of my favourite pieces of prehistoric rock art anywhere.

After a while, my eyes were drawn down to a nearby red field, which seemed to have poppies growing in it - and I felt the urge to get a closer look. It would certainly make a potentially smart photo. Only one problem - there was a farmer-type walking the fields, and I wasn't sure if he'd let me onto the land. After a while I decided to see how close I could get without crossing the boundary. As I approached, I could hear him shouting and cursing at the broken fence (proper c-word and everything, mind!). I was behind a tree at this moment, trying not to laugh out loud. He was taking all his frustrations out on this poor inanimate object and as I turned heel without him seeing me, he cracked on the chainsaw and let rip on the fence. Maybe the poppy question wouldn't have gone down very well after all...

On my return I occupied myself with puzzle and camera until B was ready to move on. We hauled ourselves eventually back up the hill and down again towards the car, and drove onwards to Bamburgh.

The first view of Bamburgh Castle along the road from Belford is always wonderful. The village was really busy - lots of tourist types (ahem) making the most of the good weather. It was between lunch and tea time so we couldn't visit our preferred cafe-bar so visited the Copper Kettle instead, which was fine. After a couple of gifty shoppies we continued on to the church, where Grace Darling is famously buried. Here there are some rather smart old gravestones there but sadly a lot of them have been completely sandblasted to bare rock by the unforgiving sea winds. Discovered that the Grace Darling Museum opposite the church is being completely rebuilt with lottery money - it used to be housed in what felt like an old garage!

We took a good look at the church and I got some good photos of the plants and insects. Then, back to the car and to the little carpark near the beach. The plan was to hang around until sunset to get some great skies, but there was some great people- and dog-watching to be done first. As the sun lowered it became clear that the sky wasn't going to be as spectacular as promised so we made do with the shots we had and headed off back home.

Meanwhile we got some great shots of the beach and the dogs etc, here are mine - enjoy!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Unemployed = freedom

It was my last day yesterday. Rather than throw me out and shout abuse at me while throwing rotten veg, they were quite nice and wished me well. No tears, no looking back. I took them a gift but for some of the office staff this was the first they'd heard about my leaving so there was no pressie for me - what's all that about?!

It felt good - not only to leave a job that wasn't right for my future, but to have all ends tied up (or most of them anyway). There is a continuing cleansing process going on in my home office... stuff was returned to it's original home and some will be heading for Mr Skip.

So today it's more reorganising, sorting, chucking, cleaning, shredding, bagging, throwing, dusting. I might watch a DVD or two.

New job starts on Monday.

A couple of days ago, I watched a leak in the road develop into a gush and later the men with tools came to repair it. There's still a hole with a little blue fence round it. The whole drama was enough of a distraction for me to actually take photos of it. So if you'd like to see the story, it's here.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Arrrrrrr it be my last day today

Jimlad... has marmite in jars just got more runny and brown rather than black and sticky? I blame the squeezy culture.

Shiver me timbers I had a horrible dream about my cat last night

Ahoy it be wetter here than a dog that's been left out on the sea arrrrr


Metal Dreams

I dreamt last night that someone told me that Ozzy Osbourne had died. At the time, I was sitting on a table of strangers some who turned out to have known him well. One brave soul wandered off so we couldn't see him cry (he used to work with him). This is all because I was listening to a Roy Wood interview on the radio last night.

On the way back from ... my very first enamelling class! Wooooo! A new hobby.

It's very inspiring. I've had lots of ideas.

A few years ago I used to go to a stained glass-making evening class, when I lived in Northumberland. It was just to get me out of the house and talk to people instead of being stuck inside; as well as something I'd always fancied trying. It was very enjoyable - I made a few bits of "art" including a landscape for my Mam and Dad, a little beach scene with real pebbles, a huge tulip picture, and lots of little danglers that were used for Christmas presents (I still have some up in my living room as a simple chandelier). I had to stop going when I moved away, but I've still got some of the stuff in a cupboard.

This new craft opportunity comes because I wanted a stained glass replacement but there was nothing exactly the same available locally. This course was the nearest and the most interesting, and also has a subtitle - "small silver work" - which is incredibly attractive to me. When folk ask what my dream job is, I answer "silversmith"...

It appears to be more flexible than stained glass, as you would imagine. I love the materials and the end result so yuuummmmm I have been totally inspired and I drove home with a smile on my face!

It's a gorgeous clear frosty morning - the first of the autumn ...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Radio Two Pickings

Radio Two - the lesser of the mainstay evils of the Beeb. Local radio doesn't work for me when I travel so much.

Radio One is full of shouting numpties, but I can get quite involved in the stuff on Radio 4, except for the Archers, which I never saw the attraction of even in my soap days.

Gah! But Johnnie Walker should sue his dentist, those new false teeth keep whistling so much that I can't listen to him any more. I bet you'll notice this all the time now.

And the more they play Katy Melua, the more often I'll switch over (or off). She's almost as bad as Tanita Tikaram for annoyance factor. I can honestly say I can sing better than both of them. Melua wanders her vocals until she finds the right note - surely that's not how it should be?!

Chris Evans (kennel name Christoff Lammy Pie) - there's a reason to keep the dial in place. What a star. His blog is quite good reading too. I've been a fan ever since the Zig & Zag days, and TFI - ahhh yeah, great memories. I still remember a great live performance of 'Bulimic Beats' by Cerys Matthews which had me in tears, then the next time they'd be tears of laughter at someone swearing their head off when it wasn't allowed.

He made being ginger cool! For a while anyway ...

PS - Christoff opened the show with "Last Christmas" tonight - what's all that about?!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Steve Fossett Game

The adventurer Steve Fossett went missing 12 days ago ... it's all very mysterious, and the situation has now developed into a possible modern-day Bermuda triangle incident.

Now I can't admit to being a huge fan - I was aware of him and his exploits but to be honest can't really understand the mentality of people who like taking such risks or "challenges"; it's just not me.

But this morning, when I realised that the story had disappeared from the headlines without resolution, I investigated and found a link on his website telling us how everyone can take part in the search.

They have split the satellite photographs of the search area into little patches, and by signing up through Amazon (of all places?!) you can review patches of ground for his plane, by comparing it to a photo of what it would look like. Obviously, this one's a "no".

This interactive haystack-searching allows people from all over the world to take part and at best makes them feel like adventurers themselves, giving them the satisfactory feeling of being some help, or at worse turns the whole thing into some sort of online game.

Ach - I played the game for a while, not really knowing if I was being helpful or if they were just making us push buttons to make us feel heroic. After all, if he crashed there's not much chance that the wreckage would be plane-shaped...

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Weak End

And so this is Friday. And what have you done?

I signed up for broadband today. Not that I don't already have it - but I'll be sacrificing it when I leave my job and I can't stand the thought of being without it, so took the plunge. BT have promised me that no, there's no problem whatsoever with the fact that I have a dacs-split on my line. No problem at all. Just for the record.

See Cadbury's has recalled some more chocolate no for being crap but because they forgot to put the "maybe nuts" label. But what about those poor souls who are allergic to elephants? I think they need another label, just in case they are sued.

The sun is shining and the chavs are loitering. Summer is here at last...

One week to go ...

I had a dream about this foot last night - I dreamt they were trying to repair it, and the new bit had long nails, painted different colours. I blame Dexter.

The other bits of my dreams involved my boss being nice to me - this is surprisingly based on reality. I spent a large part of the day with her yesterday and she is being incredibly nice to me. Not sure of the psychology of this, but my last boss did it too, and the one before that...

Said goodbye to some more people yesterday. I'll miss some of my customers as much as the folk from the office, because it was my job to be nice to them and many were nice in return, and I enjoyed their company. None of the customers know yet, so if you're one of them don't be offended (not that I have to keep you sweet any more!). I hope to keep in touch with some - perhaps through this blog - but everyone knows that usually this doesn't happen. It's one of those facts of life things that no-one tells you, you just have to learn by experience.

It's like a story I heard about Richard Harris - how when he finished a play or film he would announce, rather than be subjected to cast and crew members vowing to keep in touch: "it's been nice, and goodbye".

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Another update

I've decided that I want to talk even more shite, but pebblesfromheaven-the-blog has turned into more of a diary of what we've been up to. It takes ages to write cos of all the pictures but is still worth it - but as a result there's not much space for those little snips of twitterings, or it doesn't feel like it. I know what I mean.

So I've started another blog, for quick-fire stuff. Cos I can.

Read it if you like - or not!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Our Cat caught a Bat...

... tonight. She was making a howling noise and the wooden windchimes were rattling against the curtain. Checked to find her guarding something on the coir mat which looked like a small black octagonal flat mouse.

It had its claws stuck into the mat, so I couldn't pick it off so I picked up the whole mat, and took it outside.

Bat flapped off. All's well!

Gawd knows where she got it from.

But why oh why didn't I take a photo?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Fylingdales and Goathland - Rock Art Walk

Today we drove down to the Robin Hood's Bay area, to meet up with the NEWalks group who'd organised a trip there today.

We were there primarily to see the rock art panels, many of which have recently been rediscovered after a fire cleared most of the heather in 2003. Our guide was Graeme Chappell, who's spent many years wandering the moors in Yorkshire looking down at his feet!

After setting off intending to visit the beach at RHB and failing miserably, we arrived just in time to set off across the grassy moor. It's grassy now, but used to be a few feet thick in heather and peat, all of this was burnt off in the fire. The grass was sown in order to prevent what little soil was left being blown away as dust - but in many places the heather is already recovering.

After the fire, there were many cairns and features visible which are already started to be hidden again. Read some more about the fire here.

We walked at a leisurely pace, enough time for everyone to see some decent panels - and quite a few of the smaller rocks inbetween had carvings, often individual cups (someone decided that people who didn't bother with these were to be known as Cup Snobs!)

We did Stoupe Brow first, and headed south towards Fylingdales proper. There were plenty of stones to see, although some of them were sadly quite faded now.

After much wandering and wondering we ended up visiting Judith, so named after a misheard conversation about camera techniques! She's a cracker.

We enjoyed some more moor-scrambling and headed off over to a standing stone, and the place where a lot of our party headed home. We had one more pilgrimage to a small stone resembling either a chewed toffee or oyster shell, strangely unlike anything else in the area and very interesting...

Then a walk up towards the communications mast and the carpark, passing areas which had not been touched by the fire, illustrating what the depth of the heather had been before (approx 5 feet in some places).

We drove next to see some sites at Allan Tofts, but although some cairns were visible, the bracken was very high in some places so we didn't see as much as we'd hoped. Another excuse to return!

Gave up on the idea of chips (next time!) and headed home into the sunset.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Connect Festival 2007, Inveraray Castle

...the last day of our Argyll holiday

So after we had breakfast at our snug, clean B&B and visited a gorgeous prehistoric viewpoint, we headed south to Inveraray to the Connect Festival.

Connect was organised by the same people as T in the Park, and having been to that one (years ago) I had a certain expectation about the atmosphere, in that it would be completely different to our local festies at home. I was expecting teenagers and mud - and that just about sums it up! Boutique festival, my arse (I pity his lordship).

We arrived about 11am, slightly apprehensive about the parking arangements because they were trying to encourage people to get the bus there (not really practical for us on our way back home). There was in fact plenty of space but on marshland. They'd put temporary metal "roads" over the grass so far but after that - good luck! The trick was not to stop. We found this out the hard way and got stuck reversing into a space, requiring three burly blokes to lift the nose up while I backed in, splatttering the car and myself because I had the window open to shout "heave!"

We then started the long long long path to the main gates and festival entrance. We were fighting against a tide of weary, hungover, laiden people carrying their tents and worldly goods back to the cars after a wet night. They looked tired and miserable and were mostly determined to hog the central higher ground of the muddy path, travelling headlong into us if we didn't get out of the way. "Take no prisoners!" ... this was a bad introduction ot the festival and made us almost as miserable as they looked.

When we arrived in to the main area, we found the stalls to be very tacky and predicable, I swear one of them even had a Kiss me quick hat.

The first food stalls we found were dire. We didn't realise there were more burgers vans to be found at each of the stages so had to take our chances with the ones here; the Stoats van had the longest queue we'd ever seen (apart from the one to the toilets) because most people by now realised that porridge was by far the best food here. I bet the Stoats boys made some huge money that weekend.

Enough moaning! We came here to enjoy music.

Well our first target was to familiarise ourselves with the location of the two main stages, then to find ourself at the right one in time for Newton Faulkner... the "Guitars and other machines" stage was at the opposite end of the patch to the "Oyster Stage"... with a narrow bottleneck inbetween, again a very muddy path the opened into an even muddier space where the game was to find the high ground.

I kept telling meself it wasn't as bad as pics I've seen of Glasto. That's OK, then. I couldn't get round the fact that not only were there people here wearing white shoes and trousers, but that some of them managed to keep clean! they should have got a special prize.

Enough moaning!

So we found the Guitar Stage and parked in front of it; first up were The Kissaway Trail - never heard of them... from Denmark, young and rocky, quite entertaining but not really our cuppa... when they'd finished we made sure we moved away from the speakers a bit ...

Enough moaning!

Newton Faulkner came on to a smallish crowd which grew as people arrived to investigate. I'd heard his stuff on the radio and B has constantly played the CD in his car for the last few weeks, plus the album is number one. We were right at the front, got a good measure of the bloke - not as tall as expected, and not as hunky as some of his promotional stuff! Ginger dreadlocks - I mean, the PR people had their work cut out with that didn't they!

Newton was fab - good rapport and banter, on the stage alone with no band, held the audience in the proverbial palm. Fantastic! Brilliant guitarist and obviously used to playing on his own in much smaller venues, using his guitar as percussion as well as melody. Did that thing where the left hand plucks as well as making the chords, while his right hand slapped and drumed on the box. Wonderfully strong voice, perfect tone, explained the songs with a little story. Made a mental note to recommend him to people who like Nick Harper or Martin Stephenson. Great stuff!

Here's Newton playing "Teardrop" at connect:

So after Newton putting a smile on our faces, we hung around and watched Tilly and the Wall set up. Of course not having heard of them before either, we thought it was the roadies setting up but it was them; wondered what that round thing with the microphone was they were setting on the floor - turned out to be a tapdancing board! A joyous experience, helped by the student-types standing next to us who knew every word, I decided they must be well known and I go around with my ears shut. I soon realised why I hadn't heard of them though - cos I don't buy the right magazines but mainly because they are highly unlikely to be played ont radio cos of all the effing! Great fun, visually interesting and very entertaining. I would say they are somewhere between Riverdance, Steps and B-52's (they wish).

Tilly & The Wall clip - (this must have been filmed just to our left!)

We next had to make our way to the main stage to check out Regina Spektor - I like her CD and wanted to see what she's like live - the answer is just the same as her CD - almost word for word and plink for plonk. Russian version of Tori Amos (she wishes). I enjoyed it, but we made the right decision to head off early to make it back to the Guitar stage in time to get a good pitch for watching Seth Lakemen...

Seth brought his band with him - I presume it was his brother Sean on guitar. Sean looks so much like Jack dee, he even has the sneery smile. Enjoyed Seth a great deal - we've seen him before at Solfest last year and this was better cos he drew a much larger crowd, including dancers who couldn't help jigging to the fiddling:

Here are some Connect pics on Flickr.

Now for the grand finale. There was nothing after Björk that we wanted to see, so this was gonna be it for us at Connect. I was sooooo excited, been looking forward to seeing her live for ages, I've danced round the living room like an idiot many a time to her mental music!

I was escatic! What a goddess... she did not disappoint! I was bouncing like a kid, pogoing and shouting the words, watching her from the corner of the stage doing her thang... fantastic show, new stuff and old. Enjoyed every second of it and I'm still grinning now just thinking about it :-D

I got B to take this pic of me - I know it's crap, I took my old camera with me, but I quite like it!

Found this great clip on youtube of Declare Independance, which was the finale and the crowd went insane, including me! What a crescendo! Lasers and exploding glitter! Screamin' "Raise your Flag! Higher, Higher!"

(this is her doing it on Jools - even had Paul McCartney dancing)

So that was it - I was on such a high and I can recall it so clearly now, that I'm not gonna bring it down by telling you the finer details of our painful traipse back to the car, or the 3+ hour journey back to Carlisle.

No! Leave on a high! Go play some Björk!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Kilmartin Glen III - Dunadd

...the morning after the night before.

Did I mention how wonderful the Dunchraigaig House B&B was? This morning it was Mull cheddar and chive muffins to take for our lunch. Lush.

After packing and settling up, we set off slightly south and stopped at Dunadd fort. It's one of the sites on the Half Life tour so there was the obligatory poster at the gate, and we parked and set off on the short walk up the hill.

It was a clearer morning so the views were fab! We could see over to Ardfern again, and probably the hill that Ormaig hugs, if we knew which one it was. The nature reserves sit nearby, covered in heather patches and bog grasses.

Last night's moisture ensured that there was water inside the footprint. There isn't any cup-an-ring stuff here but there is a vague carving of a boar, very faint now but a cottage at the bottom of the fort has helpfully provided a modern copy of what it may have looked like.

We explored around the top of the hill - it's quite sheltered at the top and it's clear why someone would choose to use this place not only as a viewpoint but also as a possible home. There is an old well and some of the walls remain.

There was a Half Life installation here but again we couldn't be sure if it was in its final format as it didn't officially "open" until the next day. What we saw was sheets of rusted metal sheeting shaped to slot into the gaps withing the natural craggy entranceway at the top of the fort. Perhaps there would be music eminating or lights projected in future - couldn't say - but the rust-red colour of the sheets fitted quite nicely with the autumnal bracken and purple heather.

Then it was time to head off to Inveraray and Connect ...

Kilmartin Glen II - A "Half Life" Review

...continuing on our Kilmartin trip.

So we'd managed to blag ourselves some tickets for the Biggest Thing In Town... was it all hype? They'd done a very good job advertising it, every visitor to the Argyll area and Kilmartin in particular was very aware that it was happening, with suitably enigmatic posters up near all the major sites and fliers in the cafes and B&B's.

There were to be two evening perfomances, 8.30 and 10.30. The 8.30 was full so 10.30 was to be, due to get back at 12.30.

Our mission (should we choose to accept it) was to arrive at the meeting point in Lochgilphead to get bussed to the site, with instructions to wrap up warm for sitting outside. It wasn't made clear where the event was happening (or indeed what it was to involve) but we were fairly certain it was to be near Achnabreck, because there's a large forest around it and plenty of parking space.

So we drove and parked and found the tent and handed over our tickets and got a little book and sat and waited. The time came and everyone piled onto the old double-deckers, we could hardly all get on the seats for the fleecy waterproofs etc! It had been a drier day with nothing heavier than drizzle, but you never know up here.

We got talking (or rather talked at) by one of the people working on the show - a local woman who was getting rather excited. She said she wouldn't give it away but it was great and then (well, she kept giving stuff away!)

After a short trip of maybe 10 minutes, we arrived at the site. Everyone had been gossiping excitedly, all typical local accents of course (so most of them sounded like retired art teachers from Surrey). It was dark so we weren't really sure where we were! We were herded off the bus and up the hill, passed the shipping containers which presumably acted as dressing rooms for the performers.

The path was lit and we followed the leader until we reached the top, where we were handed a foam shape for our bums to sit on. The "stage" was there shouting at us, lit in red and yellow, all spikey and spooky between the trees.

The seats were wooden decks on a terrace which looked as if it was pretty permanent. The chatty woman on the bus had told us that they were keeping it here and they'd already had enquiries about weddings...

There was a small "shed" to the left of the "stage" where the musicians lived, they had just enough light to see what they were doing and we could see inside the netting - two people with what turned out to be strings and percussion.

By the way, when I say "stage", I find it hard to describe what we were looking at really. It was obviously the centre of our attention, clearly constructed from felled trees from the location, huge logs held together to form a raised platform with a thorny crown heading up towards the trees. Surrounding it were existing trees, moving in the wind.

I did my best to capture this without a flash, but it was difficult!

I won't be too specific about the performance, because we didn't know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised at what we got. There were three main actors, plus two characters which had it been Shakespeare would have probably been called "spirits". One star of the show who won't be in the programme was the bat, who was swooping to snack on the insects attracted by the lights during the show. Nice touch!

Ropes and pulleys and strong bodies were involved. References were made to the prehistory of the area, specifically rock art and burials and death and what it all means ...

The music was metallic and non-melodic, adding to the atmosphere together with the shwooshing of the trees in the quieter bits.

The play (for that is what it was, really, despite pretentions) lasted about an hour and there were a few gasps and chatters from the audience... the seating area was far from full but after all this was after all probably a dress-rehearsal.

After the ovation we filtered out, all handed back our arsepads and headed back downhill, past the frogs and logs and back onto the bus to Lochgilphead.

I was smiling all the way back, the bus was buzzing and folk were talking about the best bits; this was a great addition to the experience and something you wouldn't get from a normal night at the theatre (unless you spend your time in the bar)

Thinking about it now, I could have benefitted from a flask of hot choc for the bus back, or perhaps the "beer tent" at the start could have had more than booklets to hand out ... a wee nip to take the nip off as't'were ...

I would also say that if there's anyone coming to this event who doesn't know much about the history of the area, and they come just for this performance, it's a shame that they don't know how close they are to one of the most important rock art sites in the country. We were expecting this to play much more of a part in the whole thing, not just verbally but physically. But we're biased, perhaps.

So back to the B&B and ready for the next day, when we would visit one of the participating sites and stop off at Connect...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Kilmartin Glen I - The Rock Art Pilgrimage

Last Friday, we travelled up to Argyll on a small break to Kilmartin Glen.

The drive up through Glasgow and around the Clyde was painless and quite interesting because I hadn't been past the Faslane area before (big boats!)

When we passed Inveraray, we caught a preview of the situation at the Connect Festival, which we were heading back to on the Sunday... it's quite a small town and when we passed mid-afternoon looked quite civilised.

When we arrived at the Glen, our first stop was at Cairnbaan. Last time we came here (April 2005) we'd taken one look at the climb involved and decided life was too short! This time, we eagerly donned our walking boots and headed on up. Phew! Quite a sharp haul up a tight path now hidden behind some new houses...through the trees... and onto the hillside. The carvings were marked out by a fenced area. A short time later, after settling into the photographing bit, we were joind by a delivery van that had driven up a track. Doh!

I entertained myself looking at the views both back down across the Crinan Canal to Lochgilphead and up to Kilmartin, studying sedums and doing killer sudoku. See B's photos of Cairnbaan here

After returning down the hill to the car we drove towards Kilmartin itself, to check into our B&B, Dunchraigaig House. It's a cute little place, immaculate inside with nice surroundings and our room overlooked the Ballymeanoch stones!

Ballymeanoch stones

We ventured back out for dinner, fancied the Kilmartin House Restaurant (at the Museum) but found it closed, so went across the road to the Kilmartin Hotel. It's a traditional pub, which tries to do nice meals but we were a bit disappointed. Clean but basic, you might say.

Next morning we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast, fruit salad first then porridge and a fry-up - yum! Plus, home-made lemon & raisin muffins!

We got talking to a photographer bloke who was staying there, working on the Half Life project. We'd first heard of it from Janet at the Rock Art Meeting in June and were keen to find out more. The whole village seemed to be buzzing about it! It wasn't due to start until Monday night, but apparently there was going to be a preview of the preview, that very night... Locals who had taken part, helpers and limited interested parties had been invited to attend. Hmmm......

Well first we got our arses in gear and headed off to find Ormaig. Firstly, we needed a map, so stopped off at the Kilmartin Museum. A piece of art caught my eye which I resisted... for now!

The walk to Ormaig started at Carnasserie Castle carpark, and headed up the track behind and up the hill. It was made easier by the black arrowed markers, directing people to the planned Half Life installation at the stones ...

Carnasserie Castle

The weather was dull and misty - it had been raining and more was expected but the result was that we were carrying lots of gear and getting very sweaty in the humidity!

The walk took us up and through a forested area, the signs continued all the way, and when we reached about 3/4 of the route, we found a decent road which before long brought us at least three cars, one of them containing the photographer from breakfast! Doh again!

It took us about an hour in total to reach Ormaig. Yes there is a track through the quarry, but apparently you need permission to use it. Hmmm.... you're not telling me that all those folk asked first!

We descended down to a level where there was a nice view across Loch Craignish to Ardfern marina. The carvings were only about 200 metres from the track through the trees. Wow! Lots of lovely deep rosettes, cups and runnels, on several panels some still with trees growing around them. It's clear that there had been work going on to clear the area, but apart from the mozzie machine there was little sign of activity yet. No Half Life "installation" that we saw - too early perhaps.


B spent 2.5 hours taking photographs here! I spent my time reading the instructions on the mozzie trapper and watching a dragonfly, and occasionally being drafted in to hold the flash unit. Forgot my sudoku.

Up the hill again, picking and eating some brambles on the way. We stopped off at the Museum for tea and cakes (stopped serving lunch at 3, fair enough) and I bought the artwork that had been calling my name. It's done in embroidery onto silk and other materials, called "Rock Carvings (2)" by Christine Mackenzie. It's got Ormaig rosettes and mimics the fissures in the rock. Lovely!

So while we were at the museum, we broached the subject of tonight's Half Life show, and the girls in the little room serving as boxoffice told us that our B&B host had tipped them off that we might drop by for some tickets! Hoorah! Gratis! How fantastic! Very chuffed....

Half Life story to follow next ...

Monday, September 03, 2007

More Mutterings and Chunterings

So we've just returned from a trip up to Argyll, fantastic it was too.

I have lots to blog about, and I still have to upload photos from other previous blogposts too, so I have decided to sign up to Flickr-Pro and link to photos stored there. Hopefully this will be quicker than using the Blogger photo-upload process which is pants, quite frankly. I've added a cute little gizmo on the right of the main blog page to preview pics too.

This is all because I really enjoy blogging but I want to be slicker and more economical with my time .... to be perfectly honest I equally prefer being out and about taking photos and enjoying life!! But can't help chuntering on here either.

So let's see how it goes.....

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Solfest 2007

Yay! The weather held out so we camped for only the second time this year. We arrived on Friday afternoon and already the main campsite had overflowed to the opposite side of the road; but the Solfest area isn't very big anyway so it wasn't much further away.

I like Solfest. As last year, there was a fancy dress theme on Saturday night, but this time it was freeform, so there were lots of wacky outfits. Mine was almost identical to last year, apart from this year I wore a lime-green silk dress that I picked up for £4 from a TK Maxx. Somewhere in this house are the glowsticks I bought last year but could I find them?!

This year, B went as a Mexican, and there were quite a few others. Like a numpty, I completely forgot to take any pictures of our own costumes...!

For me, the food at a festival is almost more important than the music! And having been disappointed at Wickerman that there was no Burrito stall, it was the first place we looked for when arriving at Solfest. Yes! The Mexican Food stall was there as last year, worth the queue for the bulging Buffalo Burrito.... yum. the Stoat's Porridge stall was there again too - but we were disappointed to find it closed on Saturday morning - but we were soon comforted by turning round to find the Mexican place open already. Breakfast Burritos - woohoo!

So the stalls as always were also worth a good trawl - seemed like after a while they all started to merge into one large Indian bazaar. The workshops, the peoplewatching, the friendliness, the comfortable atmosphere.. and this year one of the main attractions was the alcohol rub in the toilets! Why has no-one thought of that before?! Brilliant!

So the music we saw was: Bens Brother, Moss Troopers (rehearsing and the real thing), Neck, Chumbawumba, Alison Dewar, Badly Drawn Boy, The Undertones, Lucy & the Caterpillar, Gaurav Mazunder, Thea Gilmore, Louise Mary Martin, KTB, Bex Marshall. Phew... Quite a lot actually!

Bens Brother were good, they are the next tip to be famous...perhaps a bit James Blunty though. Moss Troopers were great, numbered about 15 traditional musicians - would see them again. Can't remember much about Neck, Chumba, Alison Dewar. I think I might have been asleep. Badly Drawn Boy suffered from muffly sound from the main stage - in fact, most of the acts there did. The Bar Stage opposite was in constant competition - I think they should try and stagger it better. The Undertones had the crowd bouncing!

Lucy & the Caterpillar was bloody wonderful (dispite the poor sound quality). I would certainly go out of my way see her again - she was an acoustic guitarist with a voice similar to Joanna Newsome / slightly Bjorkish. One to watch!

Gaurav was a real-life sitar player and I've not witnessed one in the flesh before, he was good and drew quite a crowd, but to be honest we got a bit bored (too sober). It did make me wonder though how Indian classical music was acceptable but no European stuff... hmmm somehow can't imagine that at Solfest though.

Enjoyed Thea Gilmore. Louise Mary Martin was wonderful - did a great version of a Bjork song, Joga, which was nice! (Really looking forward to seeing Bjork perform in the flesh next weekend now!)

KTB was good, another acoustic girl singer - I could easily get mixed up! this girl is part of "Little Sister" who had been on earlier but we'd missed. She taught the crowd a simple song and organised a short round.

Bex Marshall was powerful - more rock chick twanging attitude than the tinkly picking which went before. Her voice sounded a bit too Bonnie Tyler for me but B liked her. She pulled off quite a successful "Purple Haze" including the fancy fingerwork. It's on her myspace page.

So that was it!

Photos now on Flickr

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Best Motorway View

I had to say something about this news item.

What a load of pants!

Everyone knows that the best view from any motorway in the UK is the one of the Howgills, heading up the M6 just before Tebay. I can't find a damn picture of it, there must be one online... visitcumbria has one of the Howgills but not as viewed from the M6.

The RAC survey seems very Midlands-centric - it's almost as if the staff in the big glassy RAC call centre were the only ones who knew about the survey. hmmm.... funny that...

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Silent Wispa

I read today that Cadbury's (of salmonella outbreak fame) is bringing back Wispa, after an internet campaign including 93 groups on Facebook.


1. I'm on Facebook and I've never seen these mythical groups (but admittedly only have 12 contacts). Just checked and the number has increased to 102 groups. Makes me wonder what other essential groups I am missing out on.

2. I hadn't even noticed Wispa wasn't around any more... it's bit like finding out someone that used to be famous has died

3. Doesn't this smack of desperation to you? A PR stunt to be seen to have the customers' interests at heart, rather than the reality of taking the money and running...

And it's gonna be called Wispa Classic. Yawn! Bad move! That sounds like they will accompany it with the other varieties that killed its popularity in the first place, like the version with caramel on the bottom which just Didn't Work.

I might try one for old times' sake - I liked them in their own way. As everyone knows, the only decent way to eat a Wispa is to dunk it in warm tea - not hot as it'll just disintegrate. Or, nibbling the outer layer to reveal something that resembles a big turd. Ah! What fun.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Save Our (Red) Squirrels

Remember this guy? If you're British and of a certain age, this was the star of the road safety campaign for kids - where Willy Weasel comes a cropper.

Anyhoo - Tufty was a red squirrel. Not a grey. The red squirrel was the variety that during the 1970's was familiar to people across Britain - but it is extinct in most areas now, save for a few pockets.

This is a shocking fact. The reason for this is that not only is the beefier, foreign grey squirrel muscling in on the reds' patch, it's bringing with it a deadly disease, Squirrel Pox, which is officially Not Very Nice.

Oh, and how could I forget - Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin is also a red!

The red squirrel has got to be one of the most endearing creatures, and not just because they are in childrens' stories. If you've ever met one while out and about, you'll know that this can be the highlight of the day - a smiley moment to savour. We met one near the Cree - it ran in front of us and scooted up a tree and I'll never forget it staring back with those beady black eyes, while furiously nibbling on a pine cone.

So, one of the ways we can save the red is to not run over them in cars... The other, is to try to protect it from the pox. This can be by keeping a barrier between the two species, or by vaccination. A vaccine hasn't yet been developed, so we are left with the horrifying fact that if we want to save the reds, we must cull the greys. See? I can't even say kill.

A few goodly people are organising themselves to try and save the red squirrel. They are extremely noble in my opinion and so I decided to do my bit here, and also donate some hard cash to the cause, so that they can do the deed and I can sleep a bit sounder knowing someone vastly more dedicated than me is making it their passion.

So please please, with tufty red ears on top, donate some money after reading all about these gorgeous creatures and all about the projects being organised.

And if you see one, alive or dead, anywhere in the areas listed (or anywhere else) - or indeed if you see a grey (bloody well hope not) - then report it to one of these guys who need the information to help with their surveys.

Thanks, from Sammy.

Northumberland Red Squirrel Partnership

Red Squirrels in Southern Scotland

The Anglesey Red Squirrel Project

More information:

Great story of the squirrel foster mum

Red Squirrel Week

Squirrel News on BBC

Red Squirrel factsheet (pdf)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Rock Art Hunt - St John Lee, Corbridge Roman Site and Wallington

Yesterday we ventured out to find three pieces of Rock Art in three very different and unusual settings.

The first was to be found just inside the door of the parish church of St. John of Beverley, St. John Lee, near Hexham in Northumberland. The church is easy to find, just off the roundabout on the main A69 road.

The outside of the church is quite plain and Victorian in style, although its origins are in the 14th century. There are some carved gargoyles, a war memorial, and pretty standardised gravestones towards the front. So far, so normal. Inside however, the ceiling has some impressive wooden carved features and its obvious that there has been some serious money poured into it over the last 150 years. One of the most interesting things to me was the marble-carved tomb of a dead Great War soldier, his head lying on a saddle and his hat at his feet. The stained glass windows were OK, again mostly dedicated as memorials, from the Victorian era to the 1940's. I learned all about hatchments, heraldic wooden plaques made in memory of the dead, while waiting patiently for B to take photographs of the rock art!

Outside, we explored the churchyard in search of possible older gravestones, because there must be some if the place is so much older than the architecture... sure enough, I quickly found some old 18th century gravestones, placed against the wall of the church; probably unlikely to be in their original position. My eye was drawn to one for Robert Forester, complete with winged and wigged angel. The graveyard was quite overgrown and my explorations were hampered by possible bare ankle / nettle contact!

Then - bingo! "Memento Mori" (Remember you must die) - a gorgeous stone with skull and crossbones (the skull had a tooth missing)- I set B on the case immediately with tripod and flash to get the best from it. The other side of the stone was carved with wonderful 18thC lettering, as follows:

In memory
of Robert dixon
who died the 26th
may 1761 aged 32
Confide not reader in thy
youth or strength
But more than both thy
present moment prize
Graves here surround the
of each breadth and length
And thou may be perhaps
the next that dies

I loved this!

There was quite a few more similar-aged stones, most had the angel (with various hairstyles) and sometimes egg-timers, snakes eating their own tails, bones and books - all symbols of course representing either everlasting life, or death.

After we left here we drove the short distance to Corbridge Roman site - again just off the A69/A68 and well sign-posted (as with all things Roman around here). We flashed our English Heritage members cards and onwards, to find the Rock Art boulder sat on a wall here.

The site is quite impressive - bigger than I was expecting. The squared grid layout undulates pleasantly, thanks to subsidence into an earlier fort! (I thought this may have been iron-aged but apparently it was a turfed Roman affair). Again, B took pics of the single rock while I wandered about.

The weather was starting too a little bit ropey and during our drive to Wallington, the were a few spits but nothing to get wet about. We'd been to Wallington before, a couple of years ago before I started this blog.

We had a poke about the farm shop and had a cuppa and scone, then headed down to the walled garden. The interior of the house will have to wait to another visit; we'd been before and it would be closed by the time we got back up hill anyway.

We followed the path down the eastern side of the site, across the stepping stones and past the fat couple fondling on the riverbank, up through the trees and back towards the road. The bridge was our target - there is a small "portable" rock art boulder concreted into the inside of the bridge's legs - rendering it not portable anymore. We missed it the first time so crossed over and no it wasn't there - started to panic but found it when returning to the first, southern side of the river.

B took some pics while I listened to the cars honking their various horns (there's a roadsign which commands it!) and watched a strange bob-tailed yellow-blobbed bird pecking amongst the reeds (since identified as a grey wagtail)

Then, back up the hill to the car, stopping to take pics of the Griffin Heads (it's the law).

On the way home, saw a hot air balloon taking off at Chollerford, before following the Hadrian's Wall route towards home.

B's photos of St Johns Lee on Flickr

Overhead view of St Johns Lee on googlemaps

St John's Lee Rock Art on themodernantiquarian

Beckinsall Archive details for St John Lee Rock Art

St John Lee website

Corbridge Roman Site overhead view on googlemaps

Corbridge Roman Site on English Heritage site

Wallington overhead view on googlemaps

Wallington National Trust site

St Johns Lee:

Corbridge Roman Site:


Friday, August 10, 2007

Space chasing - wooooooo

Last night, I had a tip-off about the overhead pass of the space station and shuttle, at about 10.30 pm.

I stood out in the back garden with a compass ("they" said it should be seen moving west to east at about 77 degrees), wondering if I would be able to see anything in the still-a-bit-light sky, and with the orange streetlights glaring. The sky was incredibly clear though, amazing considering our pathetic summer weather.

After a while in the back garden, I realised that the house was in the way - doh! So I went to the front and stood leaning against the front of the house, watching the skies.

(Was that it? No it's flashing and slow, it's a plane. They said it would only take at most 7 minutes to totally cross the sky so it'll be quite fast. )

Then, wow! A bright light, like someone running across the sky with a torch! No flickering, coming from the south west and not too high up to have to crane my neck. I shouted for B but he was unimpressed and obviously immersed in something more fascinating and rare (!)

The first, brighter object was the Space Station. B made it downstairs for the last few moments of it's passby. Then, when I was alone again, another light appeared, in the same pathway... meanwhile B had phoned his Dad, who was now outside in Dumfries watching it!

I tried to watch through my little binoculars but 1. they were too crappy (no surprise) and 2. these things really scoot, so I couldn't follow it quick enough!


It was all made a little bit more exciting because I accidentally watched the space shuttle launch last night; I found it while flicking through channels at about 6.30pm. The shuttle's on its way to dock with the station. I suppose this spectacle happened quite often, the difference being that it would be only the station not the shuttle. I will have to keep an eye out for it in future!

bbc webpage

heavens above website, from whence came the diagram above

nasa space station website

nasa shuttle website

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Talkin Tarn - in better weather

We made a return trip to Talkin Tarn yesterday, to make the most of it before the parking charges are introduced (as it turns out, the first 2 hours are free anyway)

Last time we were here in March, the weather was obviously quite a bit different and the trees were appropriately bare, allowing us to see the red squirrels clearly.

This time, we had more leaves and no squirrels (that we saw) but had people in boats and plentiful ducks, but best of all loads and loads of lovely little blue Damselflies!

Not sure what the spikey thing was though - best guess was some sort of hornet with a big spikey bit coming up from it - it was moving (by flapping the water) towards us so couldn't get another perspective... mysterious, whatever it was!

Wolfy's Talkin pics on flickr

Talkin Tarn on BBC website

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