Thursday, 29 October 2015


In the middle of September, just a few days before the scare of the big op, I ventured out to a hidden wilderness where I collected large amounts of ripe blackberries. The resulting pie was stunning.

Well, I decided to repeat the process of delicious pie making, as a neighbour had given me a bag of apples off his tree. The first pie was great. Real apple pie with a dusting of cinnamon. But the idea came into my head that apple and blackberry would be a great combination. So late on in the season I had doubts that there would be any usable blackberries left, but to my great surprise and delight many of the stems still held little clusters of ripe berries.

Preparation done and the pie was slid into the oven. Once again I decided to make it out of gluten free pastry, and to avoid a soggy bottom I blind-baked the pastry first. As a thank you to my neighbour I created two pies so I could hand one over for him to enjoy.

Need less to say once again the result was mouthwateringly delicious. Apple and blackberry is a winning combination.

As a slight aside to this weeks blog, I thought I'd share with you the stunning spectacle of the birch that sits in my garden. At this time of year its leaves have turned a golden colour, and as the sun starts to set and hit the leaves, they literally glow.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


It's October 21st 2015. Ring a bell? Maybe this photo will jog your memory...

This is the dashboard console of a very famous DeLorean car back in 1989, belonging to Doc Brown, the nutty inventor in the Back to the Future films. Just now there's obviously a lot of chat about the predictions made in the film, and what out of those made it in reality.

Hoverboards were the big one, and though that's not really happened, Arx Pax claim they have made a genuine working model. But it will cost you around £7,000.

There's quite a few small devices from the film that have become real technology though, such as fingerprint identity for opening locks, video calling, such as Facetime and Skype and wearable eye tech such as the Google Glass.

But I recall back in 1989 I had one of the first so called mobile phones. It earned the nickname The Brick, due to its size, shape and weight. This was a step forward, as its predecessor was a phone with a cord that connected to a battery pack the size of a large hardback book. However, even though we had mobile phones, albeit cumbersome, at the time when the film came out, they never appeared in the movie version of 2015. Maybe the makers thought they'd never catch on! More likely because, although the film was released in 1989, they time traveled from 1985, and phones were not around then.

Tablets appear though, and even drones, as we see someones dog being taken for a walk tethered to a drone. So what about predicting what might be around in another 30 years? Well, hopefully I will be for a start, but a group of forecasters have had a go.

An invisibility cloak is a popular one, and living in cities that respond to the environment. Scarily they predict that AI, artificial intelligence, will play a prominent part in our lives, and almost everything about us will be monitored 24/7.

We'll have hoverboards at last, driverless cars, be able to 3D print pizzas, and poverty and hunger will be eliminated, I assume because of the 3D printed pizza.

As technology becomes more a part of us, they predict that it wont be just our phones we'll be able to upgrade, but also ourselves.

Presumably only if you sign up for a 24 month contract.

Friday, 16 October 2015


Autumn, or the Fall, depending on where you live, always draws me toward one particular place in Scotland; Dunkeld. It's wide variety of different tree species guarantees at this time of year to present an artists palette of colours.

For almost the whole year I have been trying to get away on a Highland camping trip with my two closest friends, Pauline and Andrew. But this year has been predominantly about hospital trips. Originally we had planned an escape at the end of April, but the recovery from a foot operation proved to be longer than expected. Then I went to the States, and, well, you know that story.

So I am still in recovery mode at the moment, but it is the school holidays once again, and as Andrew is a teacher there was another small window of opportunity to have an adventure.

Dunkeld here we come.

We decided, mostly for me, that we would set up camp at a local campground, leave the majority of our kit, then wander the local trails over the Sunday and Monday.

The first day was grey overhead, and the colours of the turning leaves were muted in the flat light. Occasionally the sun threatened to burst through, but it never did.

As we left the village we meandered through the grounds of the cathedral, half of which dates back to the 1400s. Historic Scotland claim it to be Scotlands most romantic cathedral. Though one half is in ruins, the other half is in good order and a working church.

A saunter along the banks of the River Tay took us under the mighty canopies of oak and sycamore, the ground carpeted in their crispy orange and red leaves. Our little route took us round the back of Dunkeld along a path heading for the Loch of Lowes, before dropping down into Dunkeld town from the north.

Loch of Lowes is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, and is a protected wildlife sanctuary. Though it was the wrong time of year for us, in the summer months Osprey fish in the loch. More excitingly a beaver has taken up residence recently.

Instead of cooking our supper in camp we opted for a meal at a local pub called the Taybank. Over a hearty meal and a few glasses of wine we put the world to rights.

The following day there was not a cloud in the sky as we trudged off on a longer walk, albeit just four miles round trip, up the nearby 1,000foot Birnam Hill. Through woods of oak, sycamore, beech and birch we gently climbed the path to the summit, the sun creating shafts of glistening light through the surrounding forest. For me it was unusually tiring, and my legs have most definitely lost their strength over the past few weeks as they trembled on the descent.

However, this was not that much of a problem, as Pauline and Andrew, particularly Andrew, were usually far behind having found yet another subject to photograph from every possible angle. The path down was steeper, through open stands of larch trees, their needles cascading down like a fall of golden snow.

From the bottom of the walk we made a small detour through the village of Birnam and over to the bank of the Tay, to see the Birnam Oak. Thought to be 300 years old and a remnant of the old Birnam Wood, celebrated in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. It is said he gained inspiration during a tour to this area in 1599.

This had been my first foray since going in for surgery, and though I was distracted by the poor level of fitness and occasional dizzy moment, it was good to be back in the foothills of the Highlands.

Thursday, 8 October 2015


I thought this week I'd continue on from the previous blog and take another look at the place where I live, Portobello.

There was a time when Portobello was the destination for thousands of holiday makers, primarily from Edinburgh and Glasgow, but its hey day was most definitely back in the 19th century. It became part of Edinburgh in 1896. From 1846 until 1964 Portobello boasted a large open-air, heated swimming pool, where if you found yourself in some difficulty, you might be rescued by the lifeguard who would go on to be the worlds most famous secret agent, none other than Sean Connery.

For 50 years, until 1917, we had a pier that extended 1250feet out into the sea. There are proposals to possibly rebuild the pier.

Back even further into the 18th century and it was a favourite haunt of less desirable visitors, that of smugglers and some seamen. One such was George Hamilton, who served under Admiral Edward Vernon during the capture of Porto Bello (the literal translation being "Beautiful Harbour") in Panama in 1739.  Hamilton settled here and built a small cottage, naming it Portobello Hut.

But my research uncovered even more surprising facts, though for that I had to go even further back. To 1296, and the eve of the Battle of Dunbar. Back then the area now known as Portobello was just an expanse of open moorland. The Figgate Burn flowed the two miles from Duddingston Loch to the open sea, giving the area it's original name of Figgate Muir. It was on this moor that William Wallace mustered his forces for the Battle of Dunbar. They were defeated by King Edward and it effectively ended the war of 1296. It would be later that year that the Stone of Scone, upon which the kings of Scotland had been crowned, would be taken to England.

Amazing to think of the place I call home playing a part in such significant changes for Scotland.

400 years later, in 1650, and a secret meeting was held here between Oliver Cromwell and the Scottish leaders in his campaign against the Scottish. He died eight years later. He would later be accused of genocide against the Catholics of Scotland and Ireland.

Forward almost another 400 years and here we are today, with a Scottish parliament, a desire to be independent from England, and the Stone of Scone returned home.

Portobello has been a gathering place of hordes of military; been a hideout for smugglers; manufactured pottery, soap, mustard and even the bricks that built a formidable power station that would generate Portobello's electricity needs until 1977.

Now the only hordes of people that gather are sun worshippers, and the only seamen are the hobbyists in their kayaks and dinghies. 

But it remains a "Beautiful Harbour".

Thursday, 1 October 2015


It has been an interesting week here in Portobello, the seaside suburb of the city of Edinburgh.

Here we are at the start of October and we're getting temperatures of 20 degrees (68F). After a poor summer this has been a welcome change.

This encouraged large crowds to gather on the beach to soak up the late rays, for sporty types to take to the calm waters and for a historic event on Saturday 26 September.

My friend Pauline owns a kayak and most days after work she was out on the sea, paddling up and down the one mile long beach shoreline. The local sailing club also launched an armada of all varieties of boats, from little sail dinghies to large rowing skiffs.

Then there was an historic moment on one day. Across the bay from the beach, eight miles east of Edinburgh, is a coal-fired power station at a coastal town called Cockenzie. Construction was completed in 1967 but was closed down in 2013. Last year demolition work began and at midday on 26 September, explosives wrapped around the base of the two towering chimneys were detonated and they collapsed in spectacular style, in front of an audience that literally covered the beach. Thousands of people came to watch. It looked as if it was happening in slow motion, so huge are the chimneys. Slowly they leaned toward each other before kissing at the top then destroying each other as they came together. I filmed the spectacle and you can see it by clicking on this link.

It has been suggested that so dominant were the chimneys that migrating birds used it as a landmark. Time will tell if this affects our feathered friends in the future.

Finally, on Tuesday, we were treated to a "super moon". This is when the moon is closest to the earth, but on this occasion there was also a lunar eclipse as the earth came between the sun and the moon, creating a sunset-red colour on the surface, hence the name "blood moon". But there was another consequence for this close proximity of the full moon the following morning. To my great surprise the sea had receeded to twice it's normal distance.

I was able to walk out to an orange bouy that normally looks far out at sea. As the tide reached it's lowest point it revealed three large wooden posts.

Research so far has not unearthed what they were in the past. Some have suggested they are the remains of an old pier for a leisure craft called the Skylark in the 60s, but this took place further along the beach. Some think they may be old supports for when sewage was pumped directly out to sea, but I doubt they would have been made from timber. The mystery continues and conditions are predicted not to come together again to create these tides until 2033, the last being in 1982.

The warm sunshine continues, a perfect remedy as I continue the recovery from my scare last week.