gallery, cafe & apartment

Archive for the category “General”

Hello summer, goodbye…

Well, summer has been and gone since the last blog – although I never intended there to be such an interval, but so it goes.  So what’s been going on?

The last rose[hips] of summer...

The last rose[hips] of summer – from a Scottish rose…

The ‘main event’ was obviously the independence referendum and as an on the record ‘no’ I’m obviously pleased that you won’t be needing a passport if you come up from south of the border.  It was an interesting campaign that got quite heated at certain times and certain places.  It reminded us why Gordon Brown was once a power in the land [and is still widely respected this side of the border].  And it gave the Prime Minister the opportunity to display true statesmanship in the wake of the result by fostering reconciliation.  And he totally blew it with a petty partisan speech aimed at his own right wing which alienated the ‘no’s’ as well as the ‘yes’es’, reneged on recently made promises, blabbed about ‘the Queen and I’ and ably demonstrated why if it had all been about ‘the effing Tories’ we’d be running the saltire up our flagpole as I write.

And it goes on.  We’re all in this together, but we’ll reduce spending on the poorest in society so that we can give tax cuts to the well off.  Benefits must be frozen as it’s unfair if they rise more than the wages of hard working families.  Given that benefits have been frozen at 1% for two years and ONS figures show average wages only increased by less than 1% once in the past 15 years I’m having trouble with the maths on that, unless we’re talking about the public sector, which the Tories have been vilifying ever since Cameron was elected leader, who have had pay frozen .  So there you are, a hard working tax payer in the public sector with no wage increase for the past few years, David and Gideon’s diktats make you redundant and now you’re a benefits scrounger who isn’t deserving of an increase in income either.  This way to the low wage economy…

And just to add insult to injury we have human rights: well, at least for the moment we have them…  Apparently as we are British we don’t need the European Convention on Human Rights, we can have our own British version.  They just don’t get it – or if they do, they don’t care.  You either believe in universal human rights or you don’t.  And if you don’t then have the guts to say so.  And if you do, then how about principles rather than expediency.  Oh, sorry, this is politics…  Human rights are not a menu where you can choose what you want, when you want it, and who you want it for.  They are all for everyone all the time.  And the whole point of an international convention is that individual signatories cannot change it as and when it suits them.  A “British Bill of Rights” sounds grand [how about a written constitution then …] but any future government with a working majority can rewrite it as they want, and without any forewarning such as inclusion in an election manifesto [much as the recent changes to the NHS.  Now THAT’S mission creep…].

I’m reminded of the words of a Bruce Cockburn song written over 30 years ago* – when I saw him perform it about ten years back he said it was still as relevant as when he wrote it.  Still is…  “It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first, But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse”.

And remember.  If, on 7 May next year, you go to bed with David Cameron, you wake up with the Tories – Gove, Gideon, Shapps, IDS, Grayling, every last one of them.  And they’ll probably charge you for it…

*The Trouble with Normal.  I’ve added a link.  If you look at the lyrics it really could have been written yesterday.

Currently listening to: Blues Run the Game – Jackson C Frank.  [Thanks to the wonders of Spotify.  Other music streaming services are available]. A song I first heard as performed by the late great Jackie Leven at The Troubadour in Earl’s Court


The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming…

As stated before, when it comes to Scottish Independence, I’m a ‘no’ vote – as a republican federalist I don’t agree with independence, although I don’t agree with the status quo either [and neither am I an admirer of their music!].  Even so, I continue to be amazed at the ineptitude of the ‘no’ campaign.

In today’s paper [The Observer, since you ask – other newspapers are available] was a 12 page booklet, entitled All the Facts you Need, which I assume is Better Together‘s belated riposte to Scotland’s Future, the 620-odd page tome from the yes to independence campaign.  If we ignore the fact that the cover seems to have ripped off The Guardian/Observer style manual in appearance, I noticed one very odd item within.

On page five, Jobs and Economy, is a section Save our shipyards.  It features the paragraph and image below.

Strange goings-on on the Clyde… [Source: All the facts you need: Better Together]

The ship at the bottom is clearly one of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers [the largest ship in the Navy’s history] – the double superstructure gives it away.  But what of the other six vessels, which presumably represent the “6 Royal Navy frigates” mentioned.  Without getting too geeky, and suggesting too much of a misspent youth, they looked odd to me: they looked like something from the old Soviet Union.  So a quick google for Soviet corvettes led me to strangely familiar pictures, which turned out to be Tarantul-class corvettes: the best is that below.  Does the outline look familiar?

Soviet-era Tarantul III class Corvette – made in Scotland, apparently…
[Source http://www.militaryimages.net ]

I know that uncle Alex has somewhat unwisely said that he ‘admires’ Vladimir Putin, but surely Better Together isn’t suggesting that an independent Scotland would start building warships for the Russians??

Currently listening to: the sound of my own disbelief…

Procrastination [or why no blog update for weeks!]

It’s been a while since I did a blog post as I’ve been busy keeping the Facebook page updated daily with the doings of the gallery and cafe.  It’s also sometimes difficult to know whether to write certain things on the blog, being as how it is the face of OldByreSkye which is a business, rather than a purely personal affair – hence the procrastination.  That said, the blog is now part of a greater web presence [albeit still on WordPress] so perhaps we can have it that the owners [or at least one of them] can sometimes be a bit eccentric or opinionated.

There is an increasing amount of heat, but not a great deal of light, around the independence debate.  [What do you mean, what independence debate!].  We’ve have had the inevitable currency spat as the nationalists run scared of proposing a central bank for Scotland, and the ongoing positioning as to whether a currency union would be possible. [Stop press: it’s just a negotiating position really; oh no it isn’t;  oh yes it is…  it’s pantomime season again!] There have been scare stories about pretty much everything by now, some of which [such as denying dual nationality and elements of security/intelligence sharing] simply beggar belief, as the government mouthpieces suggest that an independent Scotland would instantly drop to some second tier of relationship with the remaining UK, if only out of spite.

Northern lights over OldByreSkye – more light and less heat than the independnce debate...

Northern lights over OldByreSkye – more light and less heat than the independence debate…

In British politics the old post-war consensus that gave us the NHS, welfare, and social housing has broken down. Instead we have the apparently all-conquering advance of neo-liberalism, with it’s flag wavers in the media, which is entirely beholden to the market, the small state and a subservient workforce – until the market fails to produce and market forces can’t be allowed to prevail and we bail out private companies that can’t be allowed to fail and who promptly behave as though nothing ever happened even though we, the people, theoretically own them.  [In the US we’ve also seen neo-conservatives [neo-cons], although that seems to have been a cover for right-wing American global hegemony.  What we haven’t seen is neo-socialism, New Labour being soft neo-liberalism, but neo-liberalism regardless, with the use of the word ‘socialism’ in the UK becoming akin to ‘communism’ in McCarthyite America.]

But in Scotland the post-war consensus didn’t break [and you can still be a socialist!], or at least that’s what Scottish cultural mythology tells you.  The neo-liberal tories rejected the consensus, but were, in turn, rejected after the Thatcherite experiments, and the increasingly neo-liberal centre and centre-left have lost ground to the nationalists who have progressed from being characterised as “Tartan Tories” in the early ’70s, to something more akin to “Old Labour in a Kilt” [a gross oversimplification but a good soundbite, and Alex Salmond shows evidence of being every bit as much in thrall to the rich and powerful as Harold Wilson ever was…].  So it is easy for a social democratic party, which is what the SNP broadly is, to gain traction, especially if untainted by long years in government and with a large and noisy neighbor to point at for all the ills of the world.

I have no real ax to grind for independence as I’m a ‘no’: being a republican federalist I can’t see much point in swapping one broken system for another.  I would favour the elephant in the room, the one missing from the vote, namely devo max [and the same for the other devolved administrations and the English regions: but how do you get there from here?].  Salmond didn’t want it on the vote as it would have killed any chance of a ‘yes’ vote stone dead.  Cameron didn’t want it as it would have meant a properly formulated, morally binding, policy post-referendum and the coalition doesn’t do those…  If the poles are to believed, we stagger onward towards a close ‘No’ that will not be decisive enough to settle the issue for a generation [a generation is normally taken as 25-30 years depending on who you ask] but may still be taken by opportunistic politicians as a vote for the status quo.  So we may well end up where we started: ouroboros, the snake that swallows it’s own tail…

Currently listening to: Won’t be Long Now –Linda Thompson [it won’t be – less than six months now!]

All change please…

[belated] Happy New Year, and welcome to the new look blog/website.

We really needed to a proper website up for the first full year of business for the gallery/cafe.  Unfortunately the old WordPress ‘theme’ [PianoBlack] although very nice for the blog didn’t work for a website, as when you added extra pages the navigation was hidden away up the top right, almost invisible.  So we’re trying a completely different theme – Bold Life – as none of the other [free] black themes worked either.

As you can see, we now have a static home page, and specific pages for the blog, as well as linking to the online gallery and accommodation, and a proper contact form.  There is still quite a lot of tweaking to do, and it’s not entirely impossible that the whole theme may change again before the end of the month as we either get used to it, or not…

Currently listening to: The Time Has Come – Christy Moore [who I saw live in Baltimore, Co Cork, in 1986, as you do…]

Season’s Greetings

Season’s greetings to all the followers of the OldByreSkye blog, and anyone who just stumbles across it.

Season's greetings

Season’s greetings.  Bring back the snow and take away the gales!

It’s been a stormy week.  If you follow us on FaceBook you will know that we’ve been off-line since Monday.  There was a brief power-cut in the gales on Saturday night, and then on Sunday night we lost power again, for eight hours when the local sub-station was hit by lightening, and the resultant power-surge fried our [and a lot of other people’s] router. On Wednesday night/Thursday morning we had ferocious gales again and we got up at three in the morning and went downstairs as it was too noisy to sleep.  Although last night was quiet it’s blowing again tonight and the forecast shows no respite.  No snow but lots of brief hailstorms among the rain, which is when we get the lightening.  The image was taken earlier in the month when we did have some snow!

Currently listening to: Winter Songs – The Albion Christmas Band

Progress, progress…

It’s been a while since I posted anything on how the gallery build is progressing [although if you follow us on FaceBook you will have seen more recent pictures: if you don’t, sign up immediately!]  Things are progressing apace.  The outside isn’t that far off being finished.  The extensions have their larch cladding and roof flashings.  The new door has been cut out and the old garage doors have been blocked up [quite literally] and await the final coat of plaster.  It’s all looking rather smart.  Inside is still largely just a shell, although the extensions have already been insulated. Next major step is the floor in the ‘old’ building, which has to be built up so that it can be insulated – the ‘new build’ has insulation under the concrete base so just has to be raised up to meet the new section.  The old concrete floor is somewhat less than even and there has been much muttering and drilling out and smoothing over, but it’s looking good, even if I did go skidding over the floor last Saturday as I didn’t know there was a patch of wet concrete!


All looking good: but what is the piece of wood doing on the extension roof?

At the top of the drive the dreaded SDB2 is taking shape.  Taking shape rather quickly, as in one day it has gone from being something on a plan to being ready for tarmacing, following the addition of 100 tonnes of crushed rock of various grades and some nifty work with an excavator. Whereas before it was a concave slope with an awkward lip at the top it now has a wide flat junction with the road.  Our builders got their van up it second go before it had been rolled – I tried it in the Jimny [in four-wheel drive] and glided serenely to the top.  Since it has been rolled it’s been fine – they’ve been driving in and out all day today.  It gets tarmaced on Thursday. I then need to quickly put some marker stakes up as it’s a steep drop if you come off the edge!  The fence will go up in a couple of weeks when the soil has settled.


Now, if I just reverse a little bit more, there’ll be a large pile of stones and no digger…

We’ve started some planting around the finished end of  the car-park although the final layer of gravel has still to be added.  Time to start ordering the fixtures and fittings: after all, it’s only money…

Currently listening to: The Vice of the People – The Albion Band

On the road again…

So, we’re at the annual Clan Donald Craft Fair down at Armadale in Sleat on Saturday and Sunday, the largest event of its type on Skye.  Sleat is the south-western ‘arm’ of Skye, so that’s a 100 mile round trip each day…  We’re in marquee B if you’re around.  Then on Monday, just for relaxation, we’re at the Craft Fayre [sic] in Waternish.  Don’t forget to visit our Zenfolio gallery to see the full range of images available to order.

Highland cow

Handsome beast am I not? If you visit the OldByreSkye stall you can buy my portrait. McMoo.

Currently listening to: Nothing Can Stop Us – Robert Wyatt [augmented version with Shipbuilding, which isn’t on the original album]

Leica rangefinder, but different…

If you’re not interested in camera talk [or bad puns], look away now – you have been warned [although it’s too late for the pun…].

As it’s nearly my birthday I decided to buy a new camera, to join the other 14 that I own.  It’s not a replacement for my Pentax K5, which is the current workhorse, but rather something to bring one of my old systems back to life.  By the end of the days when I shot on film I had three systems that I had built up over the years: a Bronica 645RF ; Pentax MZ-5n and MX [35mm SLRs and xx lenses] and a Voigtlander Bessa R2 and T [35mm rangefinders and five lenses].  The Bronica, which was a flawed masterpiece sits sadly in its bag, where at least it doesn’t gather dust.  The Pentax system converted to digital although nothing of the original system remains in use.  And then there was the 35mm rangefinder system with five Leica M mount lenses – 4 Voigtlanders from 15 to 75mm and a Leica 135mm f4 Tele-Elmar bought off eBay for about half its market value. So it is the latter system I’ve brought back to life.

Panasonic LX3 vs Ricoh GSR with 25mm f4 Voightlander Snapashot-Skopar

Panasonic LX3 – fixed 24mm f2 – 60mm f2.8 [35mm equivalent field of view] vs Ricoh GSR with 25mm f4 Voightlander Snapshot-Skopar – over 6 times the sensor area of the LX3…

Sadly, digital rangefinders are out of my league as there are basically Leica or nothing.  If I still had my old job in London I could probably stretch to a reasonable second-hand M8, but not now.  So I’ve bought a Ricoh GXR with an A12 -M module as they are going cheap at the moment [which probably means they’ve been discontinued].  The original GXR was an interesting, if flawed concept, in that the ‘camera’ body isn’t really a camera at all: it just houses the controls, LCD screen and most of the electronics.  The lenses came in sealed modules with the sensors onboard. The idea was that you could keep the small camera form by putting small sensors behind long zooms, and lager sensors on short zooms or standard lenses, and the sealed units would be impervious to dust.  In practice you ended up paying over the odds for the lenses – what really needs to be changeable  in digital cameras is the sensors and the electronics to run them as the turnover on camera models in any given market position other than very high-end is around 18 months, if that, driven largely by an increasingly meaningless pixel count.

But the M Module is different – it mounts M bayonet [the Leica rangefinder mount] lenses. The M module is interesting in that unlike using adaptors on [mainly] micro 4/3 cameras, the sensor is optimised for M mount lenses, which having been designed with a short registration distance can cause problems on digital sensors.  The sensor isn’t ‘full frame’* so the angle of view is reduced to what it would have been on 35mm – it crops the useable image circle.  This does mean, however, that the edges of the lenses which have less resolution aren’t used, and there is no light loss at the corners (vignetting) which is common on very wide-angle lenses, especially for rangefinders.  If you want vignetting it’s very easy to add when processing an image.  There is also no AA** [anti-aliasing] filter on the sensor, which increases sharpness.

So what’s it like?  Well, it’s not a rangefinder, but….  The lens module glides smoothly and solidly onto the magnesium alloy body, and the whole thing has a reassuring solidity about it – it’s not a budget product.  It fits nicely in the hand with all the controls easily reached.  Many of the controls can have specific functions assigned to them which is especially useful as the zoom switch is otherwise redundant on a manual focus,  prime  lens mount.  The control menus are logically laid out and easy to scroll through.  In fact the whole control interface is  quite exemplary and was very easy to get started and to explore the deeper depths of the possibilities offered.


Same size sensor: Pentax K5 with battery grip and 50-135mm f2.8 vs Ricoh GXR with VF-2 digital viewfinder, Leica 135mm f4 Tele-Elmar and IUFOO lens hood. I have no idea why Leica used to give its accessories such strange names…

The accessory viewfinder is expensive, but very necessary as the rear screen is all but impossible to see in bright sunlight.  It can be tilted through 90 degrees as well, so is good for low angle shooting.  As focusing is manual there are various software focusing aids.  The one I’ve been using increases contrast, particularly at the edges of objects – with a shallow depth of field you can ‘walk’ the line of focus across the image, and with the wide-angles I usually zone-focus anyway as per rangefinder days.

As you may have worked out, I like this camera a lot.  Whether this continues will, of course, depends on how it performs optically when I start trying to make commercial quality prints from its output.  It’s not meant to replace my K5, rather offer a more portable system for when I don’t want, or need, to carry a heavy camera bag [much as my old Bessa] but it still needs to be able to sing for its supper, as it were.  I’ll post a second report when I’ve done some serious shooting.

*’Full frame’ in digital terms is a sensor the same size as a single frame of 35mm film [24 x 36mm].  It’s an irritating term as all sensors and film are ‘full frame’ – the sensor covers the frame.  Most digital SLRs are APS -C [23x15mm], which is Advanced Photo System (Classic), another film format.  ‘Full frame’ is much smaller than my Bronica rangefinder [60x45mm] and my old 617 panoramic camera [60x170mm], so what’s ‘full’ about it?

Currently listening toShining Brother Shining Sister – Jackie Leven

Follow your leader…

I’ve been a member of LinkedIn for some time now [other social networking tools are available…].  It’s useful for keeping up with old colleagues without the intrusive, domineering style of FaceBook.  Recently, however, they have started sending regular emails suggesting that I might like to ‘follow’ some LinkedIn Influencers, or ‘thought leaders’ as it subsequently calls them.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I get quite tetchy when someone seems to be telling me what to think.



Especially as the cast of these leaders is somewhat depressing and all to predictable.  Obviously, we have LinkedIn’s own CEO, whose name I can’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up.  Among the others we have the new age guru and shameless charlatan Deepak Chopra.  Another recent email informed me of the The Things He Always Carries.  Items listed are a biosensor manufactured by a company he works for as an adviser, a gizmo that ‘automatically puts the user into a meditative, relaxed, dream, sleep, creative or altered state of consciousness’ (whatever) that, yes you’ve guessed it, he helped to develop, and an iPad, which becomes a shameless plug for his app and website.  Basically, the things he says he carries are things he can sell you.  Just as well, as he doesn’t always seem to carry money….

Clicking the link for further shameless self-publicists Thought Leaders gives a screen including our own David Cameron, who may be Prime Minister, but who hasn’t obviously had an original thought in all the time he has been in the public eye, beyond that he should lead the Conservative Party.  And so it goes on.

It appears that to be a ‘Thought Leader’  your ideas don’t need to be proven, your thoughts don’t need to be original or even well-formed.  You just need to be a brazen self-publicist and to have made it into the new self-appointed power-elite, whereupon riches of all sorts will flow to you because you obviously deserve it: much the same as the power-elites of every other generation.  Such people can’t tell you how to succeed as they don’t really know how they did it – luck, connections, whatever: you can’t replicate it to a formula.

It’s a nice gig if you can get it, but it doesn’t mean that I want to listen to you, or that I should hold you in high regard.  At the moment the web is awash with massively valued companies that don’t actually produce anything of real value and whose only real commodity is access to their members, and often what their members might reasonably regard as their own property, such as images they have produced, or copy they have written.  If anything is less likely to make me want to engage as part of a community, it’s their suggesting that I should pay attention to modern-day snake-oil salesmen.


Since I started this post [and agonised over whether to post it] another leader from another time has passed on.  I will not comment directly on the late Baroness’s politics, suffice it to say that we did not often see eye to eye, and that as time has moved on I have moved progressively further from such a line of sight.

Much has been made in some circles of the public  ‘celebrations’ at her death, although detailed reading seems to result in reports of  numbers similar to those found at a Scottish Second Division match – as long as somebody remembered to take a dog along.  I don’t celebrate anyone’s death – perhaps if I had been raised under a totalitarian regime I would feel differently, but I didn’t, and neither did anyone else born and raised in this country for many generations.  And in any case, there is too much to celebrate in simply being alive.

In some ways though, this response had become a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Margret Thatcher had become a symbol of many things to many people, and symbols can be very powerful things.  Over the years I have probably met more people who said they would celebrate this passing than were anywhere near the streets on Monday night.  A generation has grown up hearing these things: some of them, although having no direct experience living through the eighties, believed that this was an appropriate response.   If you repeat something often enough people may start believing it, especially if their opinions are still being formed: and the self-righteous indignation of the self-appointed keepers of the flame playing to their own demographic simply makes matters worse.

Those on all sides of the political fence, including those who sit on it, should take a long, hard look at themselves and think of the ramifications of their sloganeering and the law of unintended consequences.  There is a society out there that deserves, and increasingly expects, better.  What you say three times isn’t necessarily true – and history is full of boojums…

Currently listening to: Deserters – Oysterband [All That Way for This…]

A new benchmark

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then, to coin a phrase, I’ll begin…

There’s a lot of waste wood around the property at the moment, some left over from the work on the annex, some from the ongoing work on the garage, and some from old fencing that was dumped behind the garage.  It’s a good supply of kindling for the woodburner but I have designs on some of it – I need a larger workbench for the studio for which I’ve started to cut wood.  But today’s project was a different bench – a bench seat for outside the house.

Kit of parts – either that or a bench dropped from a great height...

Kit of parts – either that or a bench dropped from a great height…

I’ve been designing a simple bench in my mind for years, for the leftover wood from the deck I built years ago back in Greenford but never got around to building it.  It’s a more practical life up here on Skye, so I set to work yesterday sorting out timber to experiment with.  I did, however, have one disappointment.   Out of interest I did an online search for bench plans and found that my fledgling design already existed.  Not only did it exist but it even had a name: it’s an Aldo Leopold bench.  No, me neither.  But perhaps I should have.

Leopold, it turns out, was an early player in the American environmental and wilderness conservation movement, becoming professor at the University of Wisconsin. Here’s a quote from A Sand County Almanac, a collection of his writing published shortly after his death in 1948.  “… a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”  And amen to that.

By a  happy co-incidence with my discovery of Aldo Leopold we also recently discovered that 2013 is The Year of Natural Scotland [don’t know how I missed that!].  The more observant of returning readers may have noticed that I’ve added their logo to the blog’s banner.

Anyway, back to the bench.  It’s a very simple design that can be made from a few lengths of solid timber [the original spec seems to be 8″ x 2″ by enough to finish] a few screws and coach bolts: all things that have been found lying around rural properties for generations.  It’s true to the original conservation ethos that the timber has been reclaimed. Unfortunately I couldn’t reclaim quite enough 8 x 2 so the back is made from two pieces of  3 x 2, which gives it a lighter look, although weakens it a little.  There’s a very slight lateral wobble [although no worse than many commercial garden benches!], so I may make a few tweaks – maybe a stretcher on the rear legs.


The finished (for the moment) result

As there is an environmental flavor to this post I also can’t help but note that today the Scottish government has given consent to the building of a wind farm off Aberdeen.  This is in plain view of the controversial golf complex being developed by American egocentric and bewigged buffoon Donald Trump, and which he has been opposing as it “will spoil the sea view for the golfers” and “will definitely be the destruction of Aberdeen and Scotland itself”.  This is the same golf course that was built on, and destroyed, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Sorry Donald, your opinions on anything related to the environment are as valid as what ever it is that seems to have gone to sleep on your head.  And less intelligent.  Goodness knows what Aldo would have thought…

Currently listening toTraces – Karin Polwart

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