Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Carlisle Double

A cold January Saturday was perhaps too early in the year to begin my 2014 trainspotting activities, but I just could not stay away. Here the Railway Touring Company's Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express railtour (see here) arrives in Carlisle, double headed.

Lead locomotive was ex-LNER class B1 4-6-0 No 61264 (see here), backed up by LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 No 45407 'The Lancashire Fusilier' (here). What a sight!

 Running round.

Ready for the off, to head south via Settle.

You can find some great YouTube footage of the railtour online, for example here, and here, and here (in which I make a brief inadvertent appearance). But for a quick 47 second 'taster' click here!

My most enjoyable read so far this year has been Terry Pratchett's novel 'Raising Steam'.  It's all about the introduction of railways to the Discworld (more here)! Iron Girder, the first steam engine, is described as "Coal and metal and water and steam and smoke, in one glorious harmony." Yes!

As the locomotive is unveiled, "'Aye, what is it?'And this, in fact, was directed to a small wide-eyed urchin, who seemed to have miraculously appeared by the side of the track. Sinmel looked on gravely as the urchin took out a very small notebook from his jacket pocket and meticulously wrote down the numeral 1 as if it were a command." Very clever! Full marks to Terry Pratchett on this offering, the fortieth book in the Discworld series. Just wonderful.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Changing Seasons

The first snowdrops at Skip suggest that winter will soon be over. There may well be cold weather still to come, but every day that passes is a day nearer springtime!

Yesterday, the sunshine between the showers tempted me out with the camera. You have to look closely but yes, that is snow on the tops of the hills in the distance.

The gorse is in flower on this verge.

Fellow walkers on the road near Pumplaburn Farm.

This is the Wamphray Water taken from the bridge at the bottom of Wamphray Glen.

Thankfully, Wamphray has remained clear of wind turbines, so far. This photo is looking west from near the old school, across the Annan, and the motorway, and the Harestanes windfarm is just in view.

It's been a good year for the mosses!

I thought I should record this sight before it disappears into history. It's a First Transpennine Class 185 DMU heading south. By later in the year, the Glasgow and Edinburgh services to Manchester Airport over the West Coast Main Line will be operated by new electrical powered multiple units - four car Class 350s. There's one already being used for staff training, and I've found myself on it between Lockerbie and Carlisle a couple of times. I'm hopeful this will be a great improvement, especially if the new timetable has the promised increased frequency of trains stopping at Lockerbie. Here's a photo of the new trains.

I continue to keep track of my garden visitors. To add to the previous list (see here), I managed to catch this little fellow with my camera last week as he was investigating the side of an alpine trough.

It's a treecreeper, see here.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Sunday, January 19, 2014

University Department of Steroid Biochemistry, Glasgow Royal Infirmary

These underground public toilets, the Tardis, and the phone box (with missing glass panel) stand opposite the north end of Glasgow Royal Infirmary on Castle Street, sometime in the early 1970s. Not the best of photographs, I admit. But it introduces the second of my 'nostalgia' posts for 2014. On the very right of the photo you can see a crane being used in the construction of the 'new' Queen Elizabeth buildings, opened in the 1980s.

The archway was the access to the Outpatients Department all these years ago. The converted old shops to the right of the arch housed the University Department of Steroid Biochemistry, and behind that facade I spent part of my final year as an undergraduate at Glasgow University, and three years studying for my PhD.

I recall that the Radiography Department occupied the second floor, and that there were patient wards above.

There are lots of great photos of the area in the 1970s here.

I suspect that many staff and students from the hospital will remember a local pub called the Manx Bar, on Glebe Street! High class this - it had a 'Ladies Room', unlike some other watering holes in the area. By the time this photo was taken, the tenements above the bar had been demolished, see earlier photos here. I haven't been able to find any images of the Three Ones (the 111 pub at that address on Castle Street), men only, and directly across from the lab, or the Trossachs on Parson Street, which served a mean meat pie and beans at lunchtimes.

Spot the young student in this photo taken inside the 'Steroid Lab' from 1969, with many of my colleagues who helped me find my way around the world of steroid biochemistry. (Steroids are molecules with chicken wire structures, see here, which were to dominate much of my scientific life in the following years. How was I attracted to such things? Well, it's a long story .... But perhaps for another day!)

So what was the title of my PhD thesis? 'Biochemical and Morphological Studies of Adrenocortical Mitochondria' occupied me for three years, with the late Dr Jim Grant as my supervisor. The image is an electron micrograph of a bovine adrenocortical cell. I haven't thought about these times for many years. Looking back, there are a lot of happy memories.

This is me after three years as a PhD student - a passport photo taken in 1972. No photo booths then. This was professionally taken by the Scottish Press Agency.

I was rather fond of that tweed jacket!

See if 'musical nostalgia' works for you, here.

Images © Skip Cottage

Friday, January 10, 2014

January birds

The River Annan is looking much more benign than recently. This photo was taken looking upstream from the Jocksthorn Bridge.

Just a couple of weeks ago the river was flowing over this field and across the road, see here. The hedge has acted like a sieve, trapping debris.

Another view of all the debris from the other direction.

I found it interesting that young beech trees have been able to hold on to their leaves despite the very high winds we've had recently. I'm afraid I don't remember too much detail of botany lectures at University in 1965 (!) I recall learning about the abscission layer, but 'marcescent' and 'marcescense' are new words in my vocabulary as of today. Here's an explanation which I found here: "In autumn, the leaves of most deciduous trees develop an abscission layer where the petiole (leaf stalk) meets the branch. This allows the leaves to fall off without leaving an open wound on the stem. Dry leaves stay on marcescent trees because the leaves didn’t develop the normal abscission layer in autumn. Marcescence is often a juvenile trait and may disappear as the tree matures." 

Meanwhile, back at Skip, I try best I can to look after the regular visitors. There always seems to be at least one robin. At the moment there are two, but I haven't spent long enough watching to see if they interact with each other. I'm not the only one who has asked if there is an easy way to differentiate the sexes, see here.

 It's always a bit of a challenge to get a good photo of my shy dunnock!

 Goldfinches at the niger seed feeder.

The most common visitors to the garden at Skip are chaffinches. The males are more colourful and so usually get featured. Time to highlight the female, above.

Now I know why this peanut feeder requires filling so regularly! Perhaps I need one with smaller holes. This nuthatch has no difficulty in wrestling a peanut through the mesh. This feeder attracts plenty blue tits, coal tits and great tits, all of which seem to give way to the nuthatch when it appears.

Buying in bulk is the most cost effective way of keeping the birds coming. These peanuts all the way from Argentina!

"Excuse me, the feeder's empty!"

Regular visitors this month include a blackie, a great spotted woodpecker, and these pidgeons occasionally drop in!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Saturday, January 04, 2014

2014: The Year of Nostalgia

Happy New Year!

That's Ben Lui in the distance, taken on the walk in on a perfect winter's day back in 1979. I'm with two friends, John and Anne Palfreyman. Our target was Central Gully, see here.

Let me explain why I've included this photo today. I've never been one for living in the past. Coping with each day, and looking ahead to the future, has always been how I've lived my life. Now, in my sixty-seventh year, I'm finding more and more I'm thinking about the things that I've crammed into my past, the good times, and the bad. It's called nostalgia!

I'm sure that being nostalgic is an inevitable consequence of growing old. After all, what is there - really - to look forward to? The word was coined back in the middle of the eighteenth century to mean homesickness – a desire for familiar surroundings. The word itself is a composite of two words from ancient Greek which mean 'to return home' and 'pain'. So nostalgia is literally the pain caused by the desire to go home. It wasn’t until the beginning of the twentieth century that nostalgia began to be used to describe 'sentimental yearning for the past'.

I had always been led to believe that nostalgia was not a particularly 'good thing'. But I've recently discovered that nostalgia is the subject of study by academics in the Centre for Research on Self and Identity, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, at the University of Southampton.

Nostalgia is defined here, and it can be measured by the Southampton 'Nostalgia Scale' (see here). I was surprised, and reassured, to learn that nostalgia confers psychological benefits!

Now, there is a point to all this. You see, Santa brought me a present last month - a slide and negative scanner. When beginning a clear out, I had come across a big collection of 35mm colour slides that I had taken and which had somehow survived, stored away over the years. It is hard to believe that at one time it was a common thing to have friends round for a slide show of photos taken when on holiday or in the hills. It was an excuse for a few drinks, although I'm sure I stopped holding these evenings when one of my 'friends' fell asleep during my show. And of course, actual slides formed the basis of scientific presentations, and important lectures, in my job at the University.

I felt I could not just throw all these slides away. I got a few digitised professionally. But that was expensive. Hence my reason for asking Santa for a scanner I could use myself at Skip.

I've found that working with these old slides has brought out generally good memories, rather than bad. 

So, by declaring 2014 as my 'Year of Nostalgia', I'm giving warning that alongside my posts of garden, walks, and heritage railways, there may be some images of what has happened in my life in the past sixty some years. This post is the first.

Anne leads the way in Central Gully. Despite an early start we were not the first on the mountain that day, as the steps in the snow show. I recall it was a straightforward climb, with only a little difficulty surmounting the top cornice. But it was a perfect day to be on the hill - I cannot recall better.

So, here I am at the top, the photo taken by Anne or John. This from the time when I had hair - too much of it, some would say!

At one time I would have been able to name all the hills in the distance.

Winter days like this don't come often in Scotland. Perfect weather, perfect snow conditions. Happy memories.

More nostalgia soon. Call it therapy!

Photos are © Skip Cottage. I suspect they were taken with a small Olympus compact, likely an Olympus 35RC, with Kodachrome film. Digitised from the original slides using a Veho VFS-008 Smartfix Scan to SD Stand Alone Slide and Negative Scanner.