Friday, May 29, 2009


What a lovely day it has been today. Over the past week I've been getting my various containers planted up and today got them positioned - a sack barrow makes the job easy to do! These Thai earthenware pots are my favourites. I once visited the factory where they were made. In Thailand I could buy them for £1 or so, these cost a lot more than that here! But at least they last. My experience of 'frost-proof' terracotta, bought from a number of places, has found it to be not fit for purpose.

Anyway, they are potted up with surfinias, geraniums and assorted other things, mostly grown on from plug plants. I always think that it is a leap of faith to expect these to be a riot of colour in a month's time! But we'll see.

Here are the containers round the front. This is north facing side of the house, so they are in shade a lot of the time. I like hostas, as you can see.

I spent much of today though, enjoying the sun. The small pots at the back of this pic contain different fuchsias, brought on from small 99p plants. The lion pot contains Bishop's Children dahlias, grown from seed. The alpine trough was made up last year from a polystyrene fish box, and survived the winter surprisingly well.

You can see too that Skip doubles up as a rescue home for abandoned and unloved old curling stones. No stone is ever turned away, and all will find a sanctuary here in Wamphray to be cared for into their old age! But more about this, including how to sponsor your own old stone, at a later date!

I'm not a great fan of lawns. Indeed, Skip has no grass, apart from the weeds. But it's always fun to watch the neighbours at work!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Do you like curling?

If you would like to see Jamie Jay's music vid in a larger size the link to it on YouTube is here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Garden thoughts

I found this old photo of my garden from early in 2003 before I started work to reclaim it. Six years on I realise I've made progress in some areas, and little or none in others. In response to requests to show more of the garden, I plan to do this over the next week or two, and maybe even get advice from those of you who are more expert than I am.

There are some bits of the garden that I'm quite pleased with. There are three levels at the back. I showed what the bottom level was like earlier in the year (see here). This is part of the middle level which I set out, pretty much from scratch, with heathers and conifers. Now, I like heathers, always have, especially those that bring colour during the winter with their flowers or foliage. Apparently it's old fashioned to have a heather garden these days. On a TV gardening programme recently I heard dwarf conifers compared to bell-bottom jeans! Ah well.

One problem with heathers is that after a few years the clumps merge, and at some point it will be necessary to dig these all up and start again.

In that first season, I took a run up to the Tree Shop at Cairndow and came home with a number of specimen trees for various places in the garden. This is one, a Korean Fir (Abies Koreana). It's grown a bit since it was planted and has now begun to have these wonderful cones!

I also have a number of rhododendrons which are beginning to get established, and provide a right splash of colour at this time of year.

This jumps out at you! Now, if I only could remember what its name is! I really must get my labelling organised.

Of all the gardens I've visited over the years, the one that I've enjoyed the most is the Ardkinglas Woodland Garden in Argyll at the head of Loch Fyne. Some of the big trees are very special. I would think though that the fabulous rhododendron collection there will be at its best around now. Do go if you are in the area.

More on Skip garden soon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Steam locomotives are practically human

So Spring Watch is back on air, and I look forward to Gordon Buchanan's insight into badgers in this series, but if you have a hankering after something more nostalgic, be aware that the BBC Archive is currently highlighting some of their gems about steam trains!

Now, this blog post comes with a warning. DO NOT CLICK THIS LINK unless you have hours to spend wallowing in the past. I particularly enjoyed the film of the Flying Scotsman trying to recreate its famous non-stop London-Edinburgh journey in 1968 (that's 40 minutes' worth already). What fabulous footage, including aerial shots.

And my second favourite in a long list, is a little black and white silent Children's Newsreel feature, just four minutes, which was first broadcast in 1952. It's called A Dog's Day Out. Watch and enjoy, I guarantee it will make you smile!

Monday, May 25, 2009

One degree of separation

It's a small world. And a very beautiful one, some days. Yesterday was a cracker. I had been watching the weather forecast, and Sunday all the indications were for a fine day. So I set off early to walk up the Dryfe Water to Dryfehead, taking some photos for the Geograph project as I went along. I've mentioned this before (here), and particularly how it provides a motivation to get out into places that I might not otherwise go.

I'm talking about the area north of Boreland, at one time sheep country, now covered with a mixture of private and Forestry Commission plantations. Easy enough walking for me though, mostly on forestry roads, and there's always interesting things to see.

Like the perfect blue sky (above) when I stopped to have my lunch! Not a cloud to be seen.

This is where I was headed, Dryfehead. The former shepherd's cottage is now derelict and the south gable is about to collapse. Seems a shame that this home for many families for hundreds of years will soon be no more than a ruin. The name crops up often in records unearthed by those tracing their family history.

On the Dryfe Water, a little ways south of Dryfehead. A beautiful spot for lunch.

North of Dryfehead there is still a large area of open moor, with sheep and their lambs much in evidence. That's a wee hill called Cowan Fell in the distance. I sought it out recently from the northern approach, see here. I wonder who that 'Cowan' was?

Anyway, it was around here that I met a cyclist, also enjoying the beautiful day yesterday. I had seen him earlier and I had wondered if he might be geographing too. Indeed he was! What a coincidence was that. There are 8,687 people who contribute photos to the project, and for two of us to meet up, in the same out of the way place on the same day, shows what a small world it is. It's even smaller. He told me he works in Newcastle, but when the conversation got round to curling (as it inevitably does), he knew of the sport. He asked, "Perhaps you know my colleague, he's a keen curler based in the Glasgow office?" Indeed I did, he's a member of my own club, Reform! Here's a pic of Alan Guthrie enjoying his game against Sweden in the Euro Seniors last October at Greenacres! Who needs six degrees of separation?

Pics by Bob.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Oak before ash...

Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena, as distinct from phrenology which is the study of the relationships between a person's character and the morphology (structure) of their skull, a science which is now completely discredited. Everyone seems interested in phenology these days. Actually I didn't know that was the name for it. But with the interest in climate change, lots of scientists are studying exactly when things in nature are happening. When IS spring?

Well, I want to declare that spring has finally come to Skip. For the years I've been watching - not, I should say, with my pencil and a diary to hand - spring has been when the big beech tree at the bottom of the garden comes into leaf. It seemed slow this year.

My curiosity was aroused. I asked a knowlegeable colleague some questions. Such as, "Why do trees start to go into leaf when they do?" It is forty-five years since I did my botany course at University, and his answers to my questions were somewhat over my head, but I came away remembering the rhyme:

Ash before oak, we’re in for a soak;
Oak before ash, naught but a splash.

There are a number of versions of this old saying which predate the Met Office! I have a number of ash trees in and around the garden. They are always the last to show leaf, while the oaks have been green for ages. It rains a lot in Wamphray, as it is, so if the ash trees were ever to come out early, I'm buying an inflatable!

So let's go back to beech trees.

This was May 8, a couple of weeks ago. Not a leaf in sight. Did you know there is a way of calculating how old a tree is? I don't mean cutting it down and counting the rings. Apparently, you can get a rough idea of a tree's age by measuring its circumference a metre up from the bottom. Dividing the girth in centimetres by 2.5 gives the approximate age. (There are more complicated ways)

This beech tree has a girth of 403 cm, which gives a very approximate age of 160 years. Skip was built 100 years ago. So the tree is older than the house. Indeed on the 19th century map of the area, there is a strip of woodland where the cottage now stands, leading over to the river.

If you are interested in old trees, you will probably already know that there is an effort underway to record the oldest trees in the country, see here.

Interestingly, I took this pic on the same date, May 8. It shows that other beech trees, lining the road near Skip, are already well out.

This was May 11, and the leaves are beginning to show on 'my tree'.

And yesterday, with the leaves out. Phenology - remember the word!

PS. I like this way of measuring the age of trees, taken from the Ancient Tree Hunt website. "Like people, trees grow and age at different rates depending on where they are and what happens to them during their lifetime. But here’s a rough guide to when trees start to be of interest to the Ancient Tree Hunt, based on our hug method of measurement. The 'hug' method for measuring trees. A hug is based on the finger tip to finger tip measurement of an adult, which we take to be about 1.5m. This distance is usually almost the same as your height, and means you can measure a tree even if you forget your tape measure!"

Apparently a very old beech is two adult hugs! So if there is anyone out there who would like to help me measure/hug Wamphray trees.....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A curling museum for Scotland NEEDS YOU!

Yesterday I had to make a trip to visit my dentist in Kilbarchan. I am very lucky to be on the list of the best dentist in the world. She was one of the very first students I lectured to at the University of Glasgow (above) in the 1970s. I'll not embarrass her by giving her name here. She did suggest that she should take my photo in the chair! Maybe next time!

But enough of uncomfortable things. Let's talk museums. Did you see the post about the curling museum on the Curling History blog (here)? I can hardly believe that Scotland is actually going to have a permanent place where the history of our sport can be celebrated. I'm thrilled at the thought.

The trustees of the RCCC Charitable Trust have been collaborating with the RCCC Board and the Kinross Curling Trust with a view to the provision of sufficient space for the museum in the proposed National Curling Academy at Kinross. The plans for the Kinross complex are being drawn up and the trustees have already some ideas of what the museum should be like. The trustees would like to hear from anyone who is interested in the museum project and who has ideas or expertise to share; and who would be willing to become involved as a volunteer. If you are interested, do get in touch with Cairnie House (here's how).

I've already passed on some of my own ideas. I thought that, when I was in Kilbarchan yesterday, I would look in at the National Trust's Weaver's Cottage, to see if the collection of loofies was being looked after, and also if I could glean some ideas about what makes a small museum successful.

Things did not go to plan. The Weaver's Cottage is not open on Wednesdays! Still, Glasgow has lots of museums, and they are free to visit. What's my favourite? Plan B went into action.

Can you guess? The clue is that this building has an important curling connection.

It's the Kelvin Hall. In 1985 it hosted the last Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championship. After that event, part of the building became the Museum of Transport. This museum is set to close next year, to move into a custom built facility, which will open in the spring of 2011. There's lots about the new Riverside Museum here. Make sure you look at the Frequently Asked Questions if you are interested in what it takes, and what it costs, to build such an attraction.

First stop yesterday, of course, for me were the locomotives. There are three biggies: the Caledonian Railway Caley No 12; the Highland Railway No 103; and the Gordon Highlander No 49 of the Great North of Scotland Railway. The last two are shown above. But there are lots of other things, and I'll come back to some of these another day.

In the meantime, there is a prize for anyone who can come up with the connection between Glasgow's trams and Ailsa Craig. Email me if you think you have the answer!

Pics by Bob.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Top teams sign up for the Glynhill

I learned yesterday that Debbie McCormick's USA champions, the team which will be that country's representatives at the 2010 Olympics, will be competing at the Glynhill International at Braehead, January 15-17, next year. Mirjam Ott's Swiss side, the current European Champions, is also amongst those teams which have already indicated their intention to take part. See the latest news update about the event here.

The update was issued by co-organiser Judith McFarlane, who skipped her own team in the competition last year. There's a pic of her in organiser mode here!

It's called the Glynhill because that's the hotel where the competitors stay and which is one of the main supporters of the event. The other sponsors are listed on the event website, and of course the event got underway because of the financial legacy of the World Women's Championship at Paisley in 2005. It's the only women's Champions Tour event in Scotland.

I've mentioned Judith, but what about the other co-organiser? Has she been living quietly? Not a bit of it. The skip of the most successful and longest together team in Scotland, Kirsty Letton (on the right in the photo below), was team bonding in Edinburgh recently where the pic was taken. Judy Mackenzie is in the driving seat, with Anne MacDougall and Pat Orr dressed for the road behind!

Top photo of Debbie McCormick at the Mount Titlis Worlds in Gangneung is by Hugh Stewart. Kirsty's Demons is courtesy of the team, Ian Mackin and Trike Tours Scotland.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Curling photography

A couple of things have stimulated this post with some thoughts on 'curling photography'. I don't think I'm unusual in my enjoyment of seeing an illustration which captures well some aspect of the sport. When I took over as Editor of the Scottish Curler seven years ago, I realised that missing from its pages were action photographs. In the intervening years it was one of my jobs as 'photo editor' to source and manipulate photos so they could be used in the magazine.

The growth of digital photography certainly helped. I got my first digital camera. As the months went by I realised how difficult it was to obtain good shots, and I soon despaired of my own tentative efforts. There was a lot to learn, including Photoshop skills!

But the magazine was fortunate in having the services of Hugh Stewart and Richard Gray. The latter especially took time to encourage me in my efforts. Three years ago I set up the scottishcurlerpics site, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a way of promoting the magazine. Secondly, it was to be a showcase of good photographs of our sport, taken by the three magazine photographers. And thirdly, I hoped that it might provide an income stream which would help supplement the expenses that have to be incurred in obtaining the pics. This last was singularly unsuccessful. There was little market for purchase of the photographs, although it was certainly encouraging how many people looked at the site every week.

When I thought that the Scottish Curler was going to fold completely, and I had decided that it was time to retire, I stopped updating the site, and that's the reason why there are no recent photos on it. It will close completely next month.

Knowing that these pics will soon vanish from the web, got me thinking about the impermanence of material that only exists online. At some point, the 2000 or more pics currently embedded on the Curling Today blog, will also be removed as I need my allocated Blogger space, or as they become dated (whichever comes first).

Hence I was fascinated by something I saw for sale recently.

This is the cover of a 'photobook', really just a collection of photographs, printed and published privately. Ladies, You Have the Ice contains a selection of photos taken by Lawrence Christopher from the Scotties Tournament of Hearts 2009. For more information and to find how to get hold of a copy, go here.

I bought the full hard back edition. It was fascinating to go through it. Lawrence is not a curler, so it is interesting to see the sport through his eyes. He has gone for quantity, rather than quality. And used a Leica M8 with short lenses. Some of the photos are very good indeed, others could well have been left in the in tray, or benefitted by even a few moments with Photoshop. But I do not mean to be critical. I admire what he has accomplished. It is a wonderful addition to my library, and the photos have a permanence, unlike those on the scottishcurlerpics website, or indeed on Curling Today or this blog!

My tendancy to criticise when I see the photography efforts of others has led me to try to analyse why I think a photo is 'good', or not.

Here's one I took myself a couple of years ago. At the time I was quite pleased with it. The action is from the Euro Mixed in Madrid and shows Gordon Muirhead in the head against Latvia. It's fun to look at. Now I would not rate it at all. Good for the blog certainly, as it captures a moment of the event, but it would not win any awards. The messy background is the problem.

So, two years on and having looked at many hundreds more photos, what are my favourites? Here are just a few. I hope you enjoy looking at them again.

This is the oldest one, and still my favourite. It was taken by Hugh Stewart. Sheila Swan, third player in Jackie Lockhart's team, is in the foreground in a game against Switzerland as the Scots headed for their World Championship victory in Bismarck, North Dakota, in 2002. There's so much going on. The intensity of the Swiss players, the alternate and photographer on the bench behind, the flowers. Even the sponsor's logo and the championship trophy are in the frame!

Talking of intensity, this of Tom Brewster in the Scottish Championship final a couple of seasons ago, shows his passion. It was taken by Richard Gray.

This remains my favourite of Richard's many great pics. Kevin Koe, complete with retro clothing, is competing at the Ramada Perth Masters last January. It's the corn broom behind the hack which just makes this shot for me.

Sometimes a good photo will tell a story. It is not always possible to get into a position to take a photo like this, which I managed to capture at Kitzbuehel last September at the Euro Mixed. The Scottish team have been working to ensure that their skip's last stone can tap back the opposition conter on the button just enough to get shot. And it did.

I asked Richard what was his own favourite from the last couple of seasons. He plumped for this one of David Kelly competing in the Scottish Senior Championship in 2008. I love it too, and used it as a Scottish Curler cover photo.

It is a challenge to capture the release. I was pleased with this one I took of Niklas Edin at Kitzbuehel.

Forget the equipment, the skill, and the patience, sometimes you just need a little bit luck to have the camera pointing in the right direction at the right time. I was lucky on this occasion! That's Kelly Wood and Bob Kelly at the Inverness Skins - was it four years ago? Made a good caption competition subject!

Another caption photo, this time by Richard Gray. 'Some days are diamonds, some days are stone.' England's John Brown watches his skip's stone at the World Senior Men's Championship at Paisley in 2005. USA's Dave Russell and Bill Rhyme are behind.

(Added later. No sooner had I written the above than I found this blog post by a professional photographer in Canada looking at curling for the first time. See here.)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

This is my life

I am deeply honoured to be the recipient of the Royal Club's Lifetime Achievement Award. This was presented by President Matt Murdoch at the Gala Awards Dinner on Saturday. My friend Robin Copland laid out the story of my curling life, having researched it in fine fashion with quotes from many who have known me in the nearly fifty years I have been involved with the sport. It was 'This is your life', and Copey even presented me with the book!

I'd also like to thank all those who voted me Curling Journalist of the Year!

Congratulations to the other award winners! The Young Curler of the Year Award (sponsored by Primary General) went jointly to Sarah Macintyre and Eve Muirhead. The Ice Rink Manager of the Year is Iain Baxter. The Ice Maker of the Year Award went to Douglas Baxter and Kyle Gow. The Ice Diamond Award (also sponsored by Primary General) went to the Border Curling Development Group. Coach of the Year is Sam Wilson, this award sponsored by Curling Supplies. Elite Coach of the Year is David Hay. Team of the Year (sponsored by Star Refrigeration) is Team Murdoch.

It was a great night at the Glynhill Hotel, with a tasty meal. John Beattie was superb as the MC, and George McNeill was an excellent guest speaker.

The photo of Matt and me, looking somewhat smug, is by Hugh Stewart. The award itself is an engraved piece of Blue Hone Ailsa, by Kays of Scotland.

Walking for charity

I started my new job as car park attendant today! Actually it was the occasion of the Lockerbie and District Rotary Club walk, and all the members had jobs to do. The way it works is this. The Club organises the event, and looks after things like risk assessment, stewarding the route, recording the results and issuing completion certificates, and groups or individuals come and walk for fun, or to raise money for their own charities.

I was there (early Sunday morning) to open the field to be used as the car park, adjacent to the Lockerbie Manor Hotel.

On duty, as the day started fine and sunny. (Pic courtesy of fellow Rotarian Alan Hanlin)

Such responsibility! But no-one got stuck, and everyone's car was still there when they finished their walk.

One of the largest groups of walkers was that raising money for the Eastriggs and Dornock Playgroup.

Walkers could chose to do a half marathon, or a short four mile walk, on quiet roads around Lockerbie.

Stepping out in style!

This is the Lockerbie Manor Hotel.

The best deal was the treasure hunt for the little ones, which took them up through the bluebell woods behind the hotel. (Thanks to Ian Mackin for advice on how to photograph bluebells, after my previous pathetic effort!)

It got quite lonely when the walkers were doing their thing. But I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the animals in the adjacent fields!

We became good friends.

All together now, "Awwww!"

Mike was the first walker home on the big walk in three hours and eight minutes. Other groups were not far behind. Two Emmas here - Howatson and Ferguson - were walking in aid of Mid Annandale Playcare.

Bob's charity of the day. This group were raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. You can donate to this charity here. That's their completion certificates they are holding.... and Bob. (Alan Hanlin's pic again)

They were counted out, and were counted back in. Here is the Lanterne Rouge!

The rear of the group was marshalled, and swept up as required by Ving Thomson, 'Yours eventually' - V&M Thomson, Funeral Directors, Lockerbie.