Saturday, February 18, 2017

Guppies and gonopodia

On Friday I found myself driving along Paisley Road, near Ibrox. In the early 1960s (!), this little shop played a big part in my growing up. I must have been thirteen years old when my parents allowed me to have a small tropical aquarium. That prompted regular visits to M&R (Dog Fish) where a very patient Mr Mellor taught me the basics of keeping a small community tank.

Bert Mellor, whose family had fled Germany in WW2, had established the shop in 1958. I just loved going there. In the basement of the shop were a variety of tanks, and I spent a lot of time just looking at what was on offer, and of course spending my pocket money. At home I farmed white worms in trays kept in the coal bunker (not allowed in the house) and when my red platys had fry, I grew microworms in jam jars with a layer of porridge in the bottoms.

Of course, as a thirteen year old, I was fascinated by the sexual activities of the livebearers, especially my guppies. And I learned, amongst other things, that a gonopodium is a modified anal fin!

It was a responsibility of course. Regular maintenance had to be done. I remember very clearly heading off to the cinema one Saturday afternoon (I even remember the film - North West Frontier, with Kenneth More) and returning home to discover that, having switched off the power supply when I was cleaning the tank, I had forgotten to turn the heating back on. I was lucky, everything survived, but only just. A lesson that a teenager never forgot.

I would have liked to have had a larger tank, and that urge was satisfied when, in my last years at senior school, I was a member of the aquarium society!

In my adult life, I returned to fish-keeping at various times. I had a tank when living at Meikle Burntshields. And for most of my years in Thailand I had a huge tank - no heating costs, and most freshwater tropicals were inexpensive. I've looked today to see if I have kept photos of either of these tanks, with no success. Unlike my gardens, which I did photograph regularly, I seem never to have taken any photos of my aquaria.

Which takes me to yesterday. I was pleased to discover that M&R is still in business. It was like falling back in time!

The shop is now owned by Jim Wilson, who I remember well as the young man who helped out in the shop when I was a regular customer in the late 1980s and early 1990s. What was lovely was that he remembered me too, and it was great to catch up.

Jim's son Jamie is also an enthusiast! And well done to Jim in keeping going his independent small business. Continued success to you!

Photographing fish is not easy, but I just had to try to capture these amazing guppies.

Would I keep fish again? If I won the lottery perhaps, but probably not at this stage of my life. But there is nothing like a wee swim in nostalgia!

Pics © Skip Cottage

Friday, February 10, 2017

Signs of spring

As February 2017 marches on, I'm hoping I don't have many more mornings like this to wake up to!

It is encouraging to see the snowdrops appear, no matter how cold it is.

The occasional day has been quite spectacular. Here - as most followers of the blog will know - is my favourite tree on the back road near Saughtrees!

The bird feeders are busy, whatever the weather. A challenge is always to get a picture of my great spotted woodpeckers. That's the male on the peanut feeder.

If I have a favourite it is the blue tit. Lots of them frequent Skip, and nest in the garden.

This great tit is trying to tell me something! I've got some unusual visitors.

A group of long-tailed tits made a visit one day, attacted only to the suet balls.

I've not noticed long-tailed tits in the garden before, although they are apparently not uncommon hereabouts. Smashing little birds! I hope they will now be regular visitors to add to my own 'Birdwatch' list of Skip visitors at various times of the year: blue tit, great tit, coal tit, robin, chaffinch, wren, sparrow, brambling, dunnock, backbird, nuthatch, greenfinch, goldfinch, great spotted woodpecker, siskin, crow, rook, sparrowhawk, pidgeon, and even the occasional pheasant!
Pix © Skip Cottage

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

On the Great Central Railway

The sight of an approaching steam locomotive continues to thrill!

And that was why I ventured down to Loughborough last weekend to spend a day at the Great Central Railway's Winter Gala. There were lots of locomotives in steam. Here is 0-6-0 Maunsell Q Class No 30541, built in 1939, and visiting from the Bluebell Railway, see here. Pic taken at Rothley station.

Here's the Q again.

The GCR's LMS 'Black Five' No 45305 with a goods set at Loughborough. Locomotive details here.

BR Standard Class 9F 2-10-0 No 92214 reverses back at Loughborough to take on water. The locomotive story is here.

It's not just the locomotives which are of interest. A 'primitive' toilet is maintained at Rothley. I am not the first to wonder just what was meant by the sign: 'ALBONOIDS - The Best Aperient for ADULTS'. Back in the day, these laxative tablets were apparently available in twopenny, sixpenny and one shilling tins! I should say that I'm just off the first train of the day from Quorn, so that's why there's no people in view. It got much much busier as the day went on.

I rather like Rothley station with the fantastic Charnwood Forest Garden Railway nearby, see here

Despite the rain the model railway was running flawlessly!

The signal box at Rothley.

Rothley is a great place to appreciate the locomotives. This is King Arthur Class 4-6-0 No 30777 'Sir Lamiel' which was built in June 1925 at the North British Locomotive Works in Glasgow. More here.

 I encountered this Class 101 DMU at Rothley, see here.

At Loughborough there was opportunity to see round the shed where restoration of BR Standard Class 5 4-6-0 No 73156 is nearing completion, see here.

West Country Class 4-6-2 Pacific No 34039 'Boscastle' is in the process of a major overhaul. Here are the frames. Story here.

Here is LMS Class 3F 0-6-0T No 47406 being prepared for the day's action. I do love a 'Jinty'!

I met many interesting people during my day on the GCR. Here's a selfie with the station master at Leicester North!

I was waiting for my last ride of the day, behind BR Class 2 2-6-0 No 78018, see here.

Saturday was my second visit to the GCR. I enjoyed a visit back in 2013, see here. And my second visit was no less enjoyable. Big crowds of course, and the weather was a bit iffy - but, for January, it could have been worse. The Great Central Railway has lots of plans for the future - a link to the line running north from Loughborough, and a new museum. Hopefully these plans will come to fruition.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

East of Durisdeer

The village of Durisdeer, just off the A702 not far from Thornhill, was my starting point for a short walk on January 2, 2017.

Nothing too strenuous - it's been a while since I ventured far from Skip, and this was straightforward walking.

Did I say it was a cold, frosty morning?

It didn't take me long to reach my destination - Kettleton Byre bothy.

Kettleton Byre is maintained by the Mountain Bothies Association. I found it in good clean condition, and obviously well looked after.

It's a small bothy, with just the one room. Home from home!

It's always fun to look through the bothy book, and see who's been there.

The bench outside the bothy door was perfect for lunch. It's a wild spot though, and picnics outside in January would be the exception rather than the rule!

Did I say that the bothy had all mod cons!

It is 'big sky country' hereabouts!

Old wall, new fence.

This is the view to the west from near the bothy! What a perfect day for a walk.

We had this long conversation on the walk out, as I did my Dr Doolittle thing! And then of course I had an ear worm for the rest of the day. "If we could talk to the animals ... " (Sammy Davis version here.)

Photos © Skip Cottage

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Dawn on a New Year

So, another year! Should I make resolutions? Probably not. But fingers crossed for a peaceful year in a world that is becoming increasingly alien to an old guy like me. Still, I'm very content here at Skip. Annandale is a wonderful place to live.

Highlights of 2016? There was a visit to the trolleybus museum at Sandtoft, see here. That was a fun day.

I've not done as many walks as I would have liked, although this stretch of the Southern Upland way was explored back in March.

With the Carlisle-Settle rail line still closed, there were fewer local opportunities to experience steam locomotives close up, as few rail tours came up to Carlisle during the year. However, I did get up close and personal with Flying Scotsman, and that was exciting, see here. Size isn't everything of course, and I enjoyed this day with some wee locos at Threlkeld.

The new camera got put through its paces when a couple of red squirrels decided to visit Skip regularly in June and early July, see here. I wonder if they will come back in 2017?

August was a fun month with lots of really enjoyable days at the Edinburgh Festivals - and I made a number of blog posts. I'm the same age as the Edinburgh Festival, which is 70 this year. Highlight of many good days was making my stage debut, thanks to Countermeasure, that story here!

I do lots of things in my life that I don't blog about. This year I received a 'commission' to photograph some sites associated with Sir Walter Scott. This took me to a number of places I've never visited before, including Smailholm Tower, above. It's always a challenge with 'commissions' to get the best photo, prevailing weather and time constraints notwithstanding. But I do like a challenge!

I can thoroughly recommend this biography of Sir Walter, written by a good friend, and recently published by the National Museums Scotland, see here. Having just finished reading it, I realise just how little I knew of Sir Walter Scott before. It gets five stars from me.

Generally though, the Skip Cottage blog wasn't as busy as in previous years. My efforts have been directed towards keeping the Curling History Blog active, and researching curling history articles for that site has kept me occupied and engaged, and has been a rewarding experience. Even more so in 2017 I hope.

A Happy and Healthy New Year to everyone!

The top photo is of dawn on December 16, 2016, taken from outside Skip Cottage. I looked out of the window to see this sky and the toast went on the floor as I rushed to find the camera!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December 21

Some three miles east of Lockerbie, on the road to Langholm, is Tundergarth Church.

In the cemetery adjacent to the church there is a small stone building. This is where I go to remember those who died when Pan Am flight 103 was blown up by a terrorist bomb on December 21, 1988. Of course, just outside Lockerbie itself, there is the Garden of Remembrance and the Lockerbie Disaster Memorial, in Dryfesdale cemetery. But the memorial at Tundergarth is very special.

One reason it's there is because the nose section of the airliner came down in a field just across the road from the church. You will have seen the photograph - everyone has.

Tundergarth is a place to visit on one's own. I have often taken visitors there. I wait outside and let them explore the place in their own time. It is one small room. On a table against one wall there are two books. This is one - and turning the pages of this book brings home the magnitude of what happened.

Each page of the book has one name, beautifully inscribed thereon. Just one name on each page, and as you turn over the pages the extent of the loss becomes more and more evident. It is a large book.

It is one thing to say that 270 people died. It is quite another to give each of these people a name.

Back in 1988, there was no Internet nor World Wide Web. Today of course, one can just search for information on the bombing, and about those who died. Having opened the book today, randomly at the name of Sarah Susannah Buchanan Philipps, it was to find she was one of the thirty-five students from Syracuse University who were killed that night. She is not forgotten. Material about her is held in the Syracuse archives, see here, and you can read this personal tribute on the Web.

On the same desk is a copy of On Eagles' Wings, a collection of photos and information on all 270 people who were killed. This book, first published in 1990, was compiled in remembrance of the victims, by Georgia Nucci, whose son Christopher Jones was aboard the flight. Most of the information in the book was collected from the victims’ families and was gathered from obituaries. Some pages are left blank respecting the wishes of the families.

I have never been able to read more than a few of the pages when visiting Tundergarth. It is an emotional experience to even try. Away from the memorial, one can appreciate Georgia's work more dispassionately. The book is now available online, via Syracuse University archives, see here.

Just reading the prefaces to the first and second editions, pages 6 and 7, gives an understanding of Georgia's motives, and why there are blank pages.
There is a Visitors' Book too, at Tundergarth. And it is emotional to read the entries in that. Twenty-eight years on, family and friends still visit Lockerbie to remember those who died. They are not forgotten.

Terrorism never seems to be out of the news these days. The many victims should always be more than a number in a news report. This sandstone plaque is on the wall at the Tundergarth memorial. One hopes that the sentiment is true as we go forward into a new year.

Photos © Skip Cottage.