Tuesday, 25 December 2012
Saturday, 16 June 2012
Please let me know what you think!
I enjoyed spotting this sign at the University of Stirling earlier this week, considering how many committee (and other) meetings I have sat in over the last 25 years!
Tuesday, 12 June 2012
Well, it probably will be once in a lifetime that the Olympic Flame is carried through the town where I live. And that is happening here in Stirling tomorrow, Wednesday 13th June 2012. And, despite all the corporate nonsense and over-commercialisation of the London 2012 Games, I refuse to have my excitement quenched. This road sign, foretelling tomorrow's rolling traffic restrictions and heavy-handed security blanket, was in Bridge of Allan's main street, where the Olympic Torch convoy will be going before coming within two minutes drive of my house in Stirling.
Sunday, 10 June 2012
Yesterday, I was clearly feeling the love from contact with nature - it spilled over last night into my blipfoto daily post, here. Here's the story:
"This is a fantastic time of year to take a closer look at a grassland near you. Lots of plants in flower, the grass 'heads' all developing too, so much detail if you hunker down and take a good look! Today's blip was taken this morning in bright sun in Stirling's King's Park, well away from the bits where the ecology is ruined to suit the golfers. A beautiful mix of vegetation is on display: the white 'umbrellas' or umbals of pignut, the leggy stems and sunny yellow flowers of the field buttercup, the seed heads of wild sorrell and one of the plantains and the cobalt blue shining starlets of the speedwell flowers scattered throughout. And that's without starting on the grasses.
Go out and find some uncut grassland this week and give yourself a visual treat!"
Here's the picture of the scene that was floating my boat!
Saturday, 9 June 2012
Friday, 8 June 2012
For last night's blipfoto entry, I felt I wanted to share with you, especially if you live outside of Scotland, what the old Scottish word "dreich" actually looks like. "Dreich" means wet, overcast, cool and generally unattractive, particularly in respect of weather!
You can read more here.
Thursday, 7 June 2012
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
When it comes to road signs, I am, not surprisingly given the primary focus of this blog, quite interested in those related to protecting both wildlife and motorists from unwanted interactions. In most cases, this is primarily to protect the wildlife. In some instances, however, such as deer, there are potentially serious, even fatal, implications of accidental comings-together, both for the animal and the vehicle's occupants. In this series of Signs I Like" posts, I've previously included the funky signs in the Outer Hebrides, warning of otters crossing the roads at "pinchpoints" such as coastal causeways.
Today, the sign I like is on the business park where I work in Stirling where it points out the likelihood of encountering ducks crossing the road. It is particularly important at this time of year as female mallards walk their large broods of ducklings from their hidden nest sites across the business park, down to the small pond at the entrance to the business park. We had a mother duck walking her family of eight suckling past the office window last week - very sweet!
I took this photo in the pouring rain - very appropriate weather for ducks!
Tuesday, 5 June 2012
Monday, 4 June 2012
Here's my blipfoto entry for today - it shows some globeflowers, magnificent giant buttercups: Breathe In And Out... on Blipfoto :: Britain's biggest buttercups :: 4 June 2012
Here's a wee experimental blog post. As well as running (and recently failing to post in) this blog, I recommenced in May my submission of a daily photo to my account, named "Breathe In And Out" on the blipfoto daily photo micro-blogging site. As well as sharing it on Twitter and Facebook, as I have been doing to increase the number of hits, I'm going to share it here too, just see if any of you are interested. That way, at least I might avoid the month-long gaps such as the one that this post brings to an end! I'll experiment with the best way to share these, but for now, here's a link to yesterday's blipfoto entry: Breathe In And Out... on Blipfoto
Sunday, 29 April 2012
|A stool, a box of harmonicas, two guitars and some mikes|
|A solo set of three numbers by James Grant before...|
|Speirs and Grant in full flow|
|Fraser Speirs giving it large on the moothie last night...|
|This is what a proper harmonica player's gig box looks like!|
He seems to have been a remarkable character, who kept cycling until the age of 92, managed to remain living in his own home until his last year of life, and was still attending Bolton Wanderers football matches in his final weeks of life. We can only speculate to what extent his active cycling life helped him to maintain his admirably active older life (but it does seem likely to have helped, doesn't it?).
The title for this blogpost comes from a quote from his writing, used in the Guardian obituary, and a wonderful piece of prose. Reading this the day after two major cycling mass-rides (Pedal on Parliament in Edinburgh and The Big Ride in London), campaigning for better, safer cycling facilities in Britain, I'm sure this lovely prose will ring a (bicycle) bell for many:
"To me a bicycle is a machine of magic ... taking me on to the ways of satisfied happiness; giving to me the good friendship I enjoy with others, and to share with me the delights and ecstasies of the outdoors. It gives to me the pleasures of mingling the past with the present ... always discovering ... always learning. Above all it gives to me also, memories to cherish and store inwardly, as I wheel my ways on joyous days ... such a day has been today.
|Cover of a Winstanley classic|
|A great title for a cycling book!|
Sunday, 15 April 2012
Last June, I blogged about a local link to the Titanic disaster, namely a sign on a fence at a house around the corner in the King's Park area of Stirling, marking the former home of the ship's Sixth Senior Engineer, William Young Moyes.
The date of that blog post, in June 2011, was the 100th anniversary of the launch of RMS Titanic from the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. After several months of fitting out the ship, the Titanic's maiden voyage ended in disaster and tragedy following a collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic on 14th April 1912, the sinking of the supposedly unsinkable vessel by the early hours of Monday 15th of April resulting in 1517 deaths among the passengers and crew, including Stirling's William Young Moyes.
I find it sobering to think that, had the Titanic run head first into the iceberg, rather than steering around it and receiving a fatal blow to the side, she might actually have survived, with fewer of her watertight compartments ruptured, even although she was travelling at her top speed (was it 22 knots?) at the time. According to the Wikipedia article about the sinking, liner collisions with icebergs weren't uncommon. Indeed, in 1907: "SS Kronprinz Wilhelm, a German liner, had rammed an iceberg and suffered a crushed bow, but was still able to complete her voyage." And that ship wasn't being claimed as unsinkable.
I've posted another photo of the Moyes memorial sign above, taken this week, with floral tribute. We'll raise a wee glass tonight to the memory of Mr Moyes and all the other poor benighted souls who perished 100 years ago today.
Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Oops! For various reasons, I haven't blogged since two months ago yesterday. That's a darned poor way to keep your readership and a terrible way to make friends and influence people. Received wisdom is that, if you've missed several weeks of exercising, the return should be brief and gentle to begin with. In order, therefore, to exercise my under-used blogging muscle in the recommended manner, I would like to share this fun blackboard sign from our local BeanScene cafe-bistro.
The place is staffed by lovely, enthusiatic young folk, and this chalked encouragement buzzed with energy (or is it just caffeine?). And the dinosaur skull looks anatomically accurate for a T-rex (or Saddosaurus if you'd prefer), which pleases me!
Thursday, 26 January 2012
On one of his visits to Stirling in 1787, Burns stayed at the Golden Lion Hotel (which is still in business today) where he (mischievous lad that he was) engraved a short poem (known thereafter as The Stirling Lines) on a window pane in the hotel:
Friday, 20 January 2012
Queen (who else?): "Bicycle Race"
|Take one, get one free?|
|Look at the shiny-shiny! Didn’t the guys do a great job?|
|My Old Specialised Expedition hybrid undergoing a facelift|
I stuck on a set of Shimano SPD mountain bike pedals, Continental innertubes, a pair of Schwalbe Marathon touring tyres and some funky and surprisingly cheap SKS Beavertail mudguards (which needed some amendments with a hot needle and some zip ties) and I now have a tough utility bike with a rack(which I had fitted previously) and mudguards that’s ready for most of my non-training cycling needs – unglamorous maybe but helluva useful.
Enjoy your own bikes in 2012!
Friday, 13 January 2012
Monday, 2 January 2012
And so we’ve finally reached the end of our year-long attempt to find wild food from our local park, the King’s Park in Stirling, every month of the year, and to produce some edible (or drinkable!) produce from what we collected. And, if you’ve been reading my intermittent (and usually extremely late) posts on this project through 2011, you’ll know that we managed it. Furthermore, some of what came out of the efforts was surprisingly tasty and we’ll be revisiting a number again next year. There were some good “do-ers”, available throughout the year or appearing as expected, when expected, such as the ever-available jelly-ear fungus, and the ever-reliable wild sorrel, elderflower and raspberries, the latter two of which we’ve been gathering for many years from the Park.
- using 30 plant species (including 12 wild plants) in a wild spring green soufflé
- discovering the nectar of the gods that is honeysuckle cordial (more please, more!)
- wild garlic and walnut pesto and, for that matter, hazel and beechnut pesto too
- the golden honey smell of lime blossom on one warm July morning
- finding previously undiscovered wild plum, greengage and crab apple trees and bushes
- making new ‘things’ like sloe and apple cheese, and Autumn’s end jelly (my own creation!)
- coming home to O’s chardonnay jelly with wild raspberries, a real warm summer’s evening treat after a long day sitting about in a green room at BBC Scotland with the Heart of Scotland choir, waiting to be filmed with John Barrowman (two new experiences in one day!)
It’s an interesting pattern, showing that there’s real variation of opportunity. The weather also had a significant effect on this. In January, for example, everything was frozen solid during the most extreme winter for decades, including the jelly ear fungus that was our only successful find that month. By April, lots of fresh greens were available, but by July, many had disappeared or matured into poorly-edible fibrous toughness; edible blossoms had appeared by summer though, and Autumn was full of nuts, berries, hips and haws. The extremely wet Autumn greatly shortened the season for, and the crop of, blackberries – many went mildewy or rotted quickly.
There were a couple of opportunities for which we ran out of time– the first, I’ve tried before and which is a little underwhelming, would have been acorn coffee. I still have some left from last year, and it is a bit like a malt drink with most of the flavour removed. The other failed opportunity was to try to make the drink, dandelion and burdock, made from the long roots of both plants in autumn after a summer of storing energy and flavour. Maybe next year!
Aha! Finally, it’s December and we only had to find one more wild food source this month to complete our year-long project. This December’s weather is somewhat different to last year’s. On the 22nd of December, I checked with the Twitter blogger ‘Stirling Weather’ who posts tweets on, well, you work it out. They confirmed that the temperature that day in 2011 was a full 20 degrees Celsius warmer than the same date in 2010. Thos extreme winter temperatures in December 2010 were maintained into January 2011, making our wild food searches somewhat problematic. As I reported though, we did manage to find jelly ear fungus that saved the project foundering before it had barely begun. And so, as we reached December, jelly ear fungi once again proved to be a reliable source of winter wild food. We cooked them with some ordinary white field (supermarket) mushrooms and included them in a pasta dish:
|A final use for jelly-ear fungus– with commercial white mushrooms in a pasta dish |
|Wild sorrel and ivy-leaved toadflax in vegetable soup|
So, with November, we were nearly there for a full year of wild food from the Park. If you’d asked me in January if November was likely to yield much wild food, I suspect that I would not have been hopeful of finding much beyond some meagre greenery and a few jelly ear fungi. But, as you’ll see, a long extended tail of a mild Autumn left us with a relative cornucopia of delights in November... which does make for a more interesting blog!
In a previous attempt to use the wild food in our park, we tried to make some hawthorn jelly sweets using a recipe in Roger Phillips’ ‘Wild Food’ book. On that occasion, the haws (collected late in the season) were rather sparse and quite dry and the resultant sweets were a bit of a disappointment. This year, we were able to pick them a bit earlier, so the moisture content was higher. But there was, again, quite a poor hawthorn harvest in King’s Park’s. So, we supplemented these with hawthorn berries, or haws, from East Lothian, where the hawthorn bushes were so red this year with big, plump haws that they looked more like cherry trees. On a visit to see family, I collected a couple of kilogrammes of hawthorn berries from the Longniddry-to-Haddington railway walk, which is lined for much of its length with hawthorns and which, in October this year, was distinguished by dense, bright red drifts of haws. This photo is a bit out of focus but it shows the lovely, fat, red hawthorn berries:
We did a bit of both – here are some hawthorn jellies produced in silicon moulds:
and here’s the process of forming it into a sheet and cutting it up (free tip: kitchen scissors proved more effective than a knife):
Just as with the start of this project in January and February, when we were able to harvest jelly ear (or Jew’s ear) fungus, even in the coldest weather (when everything else in the Park was frozen solid between -10° and -20° C for weeks), as the rest of the wild food harvest began to dwindle in November as winter approached, so we were able to collect many large, freshly-emerged jelly ear fungi from dead elder trees or broken-off branches. We used them with some of the wild chanterelles we collected earlier (not from the Park) in a potato and wild mushroom ‘au gratin’ dish from Roger Phillips’ ‘Wild Food’ book. Finely-sliced potatoes are layered with wild mushrooms and garlic in a casserole dish, cream poured over the top, parmesan grated on top and the lot is baked in a hot oven:
The jelly ear fungi, although quite tasty, have a tendency to rubbery chewiness when cooked (we normally cut them up very small), but prepared this way, they were quite tender.
One of my favourite discoveries this year has been a large area of wild garlic in a relatively inaccessible corner of the Park, and the riotously-tasty wild garlic pesto we made from some of it in April (here). I’ll definitely be making more (much more) in 2012, now that I know we have such a large local supply of wild garlic. That experience made me keen to explore other possible pesto ingredients from the Park. One of the key ingredients of ‘true’ pesto is pine nuts. Obviously, that’s a difficult wild food ingredient to source locally but I couldn’t help thinking that the few beech nuts (or ‘mast’) that we started to find in the Park from late September were very like pine nuts in look, texture and even to some extent in taste. Now, as I wrote about in the September wild food post, most of the beech mast cases we looked at were empty or contained hollow beechnut cases but a few had little beech nuts and we began to collect them, along with the few hazelnuts we could find that hadn’t been snaffled by the darned grey squirrels. Comments on Twitter by TV gardening broadcaster Toby Buckland and in the Guardian newspaper’s nature diary suggested that 2011 was, at least in the south of Britain, looking like a classic ‘beech mast year’, with a prodigious crop of beech nuts. I had high hopes, therefore, of a great opportunity to make lots of beech nut pesto but, by late November, our local crop proved to be thin pickings, it was obvious that we weren’t going to find any more and we had to make do with a small dish of local beech and hazel nuts supplemented by some shop-bought hazelnuts (boo – the best-laid plans and all that):
|Our meagre catch of local hazel and beech nuts |
Beech and hazel nut pesto certainly looks the part...
And it was pretty tasty on cracked-back-pepper oatcakes. Next stop, some pasta.
We managed to gather a few remaining sloes from the Park but, on my East Lothian visit, I also found a blackthorn bush that yielded nearly two pounds of sloes (and that was only a small part of the crop). Then, at the eleventh hour as far as this particular harvesting opportunity is concerned, I discovered a little crab apple tree out in the middle of the Park’s golf course. All but three of its crab apples had fallen and been removed (actually only the day before!) when the greenkeepers sucked up all the leaves along the edge of the fairway with their leaf and (crab apple) sucking machine. But I picked those remaining three (and watch out next year!), and with some of the few apples our garden’s apple trees managed to produce, we used the sloes to make a sloe and apple cheese using another recipe from Roger Phillips’ ‘Wild Food’ book:
Amazing sticky red sloe and apple cheese goo!