Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hail the garden in May

It made me smile today to hear a radio presenter saying how warm and dry it was! It does show just how blinkered you can be if you live in the south of the country. The above pic was taken yesterday morning. The forecast warned of 'showers'. I was outside and it suddenly got dark, very dark. I made it inside, just, before Skip was battered by the worst hailstorm I've experienced in years.

It had been very windy the day before. Fortunately no serious damage around the garden that I could see - except that one of the bird tables was blown over. Lots of trees down through Dumfries and Galloway though. And the West Coast main line was shut after a tree came down near Gretna.

I'm sure the containers will survive the hail. A few minutes later the sun was out and it had all disappeared.

The garden is looking really nice, despite the cold, wet weather. It's amazing how much growth there is at this time of year! The white shrub, colour co-ordinated with the hailstones, is a little azalea which went went in some four years ago and seems to like its situation.

Here's another pic of the narrow strip on the south side of the house. The yellow shrub next to the white azalea is Sumbucus Canadensis 'Aurea' which I bought in a small pot in a sale for next to nothing when I was trying to populate the garden without spending much money several years back. I lucked out with this purchase, as it's a lovely feature, but is really too big for the spot it's in. I've already had to prune it right back. Getting things in the right place is a continuing problem for me!

My three troughs came through the cold winter. The one in the foreground is made from a polystyrene fish box. It's in the 'old curling stone sanctuary'. These old stones have found a loving place to spend their retirement! I'll always find a place at Skip for any old, unloved, stones. Let me know if you find any in need of rescue!

Clematis Broughton Star is so reliable. I added a later flowering clematis one a week or so ago. We'll soon see if I've got it in the right place.

More photos of the garden if/when it gets warmer and sunnier!

What about the birds? I can confirm that the blackbird eggs hatched and the parents are working hard to feed the four (or it might be five) chicks.

This is a favourite visitor to Skip Cottage garden, a great spotted woodpecker. Very timid though, and difficult to get its photo. I was lucky to get a couple of pics the other day.

"Who's a pretty boy then?" You can just see that it has a red patch on the back of its head, which tells me it's a male.

Springwatch is back next week!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Our Speaker Today

I was in Glasgow yesterday, to meet Allan Gaw, a friend and former colleague, for lunch and to discuss future plans for our book Clinical Biochemistry: An Illustrated Colour Text, which hopefully will go to a fifth edition in the years ahead.

I was early for my appointment and took the opportunity for a stroll along University Avenue and Byers Road. The West End was my stamping ground for many years, but I haven't been back often since I retired. I stood outside the Boyd Orr building in whose lecture theatres I had 'entertained' 200-plus classes of first and second year medical students for most of my career. The building (above) still dominates University Avenue. As I took the photo, memories came flooding back. Happy times!

It must surely have been more than a co-incidence when later Allan delved into his briefcase to give me a signed copy of his new book, Our Speaker Today: A Guide to Effective Lecturing. You see, I had been one of Allan's lecturers way back when he was a student. Turns out I was one he remembered (positively) and he has - embarrassingly - included a very touching acknowledgement! He is currently Director of Operations of the Glasgow Clinical Research Facility.

I read the book last night. I haven't laughed so much when reading a 'text book' for a long time. It really is excellent, containing perfect advice for those having to give lectures and presentations. He doesn't shy away from pointing out what makes a poor lecturer, and what contributes to a bad lecture. And therein lies much of the humour. Allan, the consummate medical educator, has lectured all over the world for twenty-five years and draws on his immense experience.

If you have to give talks, and have never been taught how this should be done well, then read this book! It should be required reading for anyone early in a career that involves speaking in public. Particularly relevant is advice on using PowerPoint. It is available from Amazon, see here, and can even be bought as a download for your Kindle or other tablet. Even if you give presentations on a regular basis, you might recognise yourself as a Seagull, Tart, or Spencer Tracy!

As Allan says, "Please don't read this book if you already think you are good enough. You probably aren't, but with that attitude I am not sure I can teach you anything. DO read this book if, no matter how long you have been giving talks, you think you may have something to learn. That openness to new possibilities means we can work together and all the mistakes I've made don't have to be repeated by someone else."

After a long career, I too recognise in the book all the mistakes I made at one time or another in front of a class. It was certainly an entertaining read to be reminded of them! Allan says these mistakes don't have to be repeated! For the lecture and presentation attendees of today, I wish that could be true.

Pix © Skip Cottage

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Serious Photography

I enjoy my camera, although I'll never be more than an enthusiastic amateur when it comes to photography. I know what a good photo of curling looks like and I'm always trying to take better and better when I cover the circuit for Skip Cottage Curling.

I appreciate too the more artistic aspects of my hobby, and I'm always willing to learn more. I was delighted recently to receive an invitation to attend the 'degree show' of the students on the commercial photography course at Gray's School of Art at Robert Gordon University.

Having taught students for all of my working life, I do miss them (on occasion) in my retirement. I admire their enthusiasm and creativity!

I had met Rebecca West, a photography student at Gray's, when she attended the European Curling Championships in Aberdeen in 2009. She had obvious talent, and I had wondered how she had got on in her course since our paths had crossed. So I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend a show of work put on by all sixteen students on the course. It was a brilliant evening and I was really impressed by the standard of all the displays.

Above is Becky with the eight black and white photographs she has on show.

I am sure she will have a big future ahead. Success to you, Becky!

The Photography Degree Show is open to view for the next couple of weeks at Gray's School of Art, Garthdee, Aberdeen.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Friday, May 13, 2011

The emotional rollercoaster that is the wood shed

This year's April showers have arrived late this year, and working outside in May has been a case of trying to dodge the worst of these. Some of these 'showers' have been quite unpleasant. The other day it was thunder and lightning. Today it was hail stones!

If the showers look to be passing over quickly, I usually take shelter in the 'woodshed', that outbuilding at Skip which is, I must admit, somewhat quirky. Many things at Skip are quite quirky, but the 'woodshed' probably deserves status as a listed building!

The shed is full of junk, of course. In one shower, I took the opportunity to sort out all these various pots!

Part of the shed does indeed store wood for next winter.

Last summer I didn't use the shed much. You see, it was occupied. A pair of blackbirds had set up home. The female tried to raise no fewer than three batches of young. I think some of the first brood fledged OK. I found dead chicks from the second lot fallen from the nest. I could not believe it when all the eggs in the third batch hatched, but sadly the female, for some reason, didn't come back to the nest and they all died.

I noticed traces of a new nest last month, in a most inappropriate place, in a gutter. This was during the dry spell. I cleared away these early efforts, and thought I had persuaded the birds to nest elsewhere!

Not a chance. Sheltering from a shower this week, I had the feeling I was being watched. Look behind the hosepipe in the picture above!

Not only was there a beautiful nest, but it had five eggs. Since then, the female has been sitting on them. And I've been creeping in and out of the shed. I just hope it's not going to be the same catalogue of emotions as last year.

When is Springwatch on the box this year?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

2011: A Steam Orgy

The North York Moors Railway is celebrating 175 years of the Whitby-Pickering line this week, and this is being done in style, with multiple preserved locomotives in steam and working, see here. For me, more used to catching one at a time, to be surrounded by so many steam locos was great fun! Above is early morning at Grosmont.

Sir Nigel Gresley at Pickering.

Quite a responsibility, I would have thought, to be in charge of the railway's flagship locomotive.

If you are a fan, then where better to have your lunch!

There was lots going on. This is a Standard Class 4, but is it really 76084? (No, that loco is still being restored. This is 76079 running in disguise!)

On the left is Southern Railway's S15 825/841 (it has the frames of the earlier loco), a 4-6-0, sits ready to pull the afternoon departure to Pickering.

All sizes were on display. A design which lasted for more than 50 years, this LNER J52 would have been originally used for shunting and station pilot duties in the North-East.

Now, they say that size isn't everything, but I do get excited by the big Standard 9Fs, all 2-10-0 of them, built to haul freight!

92214 was built in 1959.

Ready to haul a late afternoon train to Pickering.

What a sight! And moments later I was back as a wee boy again enveloped in steam and soot as it pulled past the platform end! Magic.

Photos © Skip Cottage