gallery, cafe & apartment

Archive for the tag “country life”


I have almost got another blog post ready, but I felt like a quick eve-of-poll rant.  We haven’t got any local elections around here, only the European elections, but there’s plenty in politics to rant about even without elections.  I could rant about Nigel ‘Phony’ Farage, the privileged, privately educated, stockbroking, pinstriped, self-styled man-of-the people, Toad of Toad Hall, but it’s too easy.

No, my current bête noire is that current favorite insult of the neo-liberal – ‘anti-business’.  George Osbourne used it as his ‘killer’ argument against UKIP and Labour in a speech to the CBI today.  Almost every time a government minister is up on their hind legs they are calling anyone who disagrees with them ‘anti-business’, a level of name-calling debate that they should have got over in the playground.

Of course, calling people ‘anti’ something is a very old trick – it’s a negative so it is supposed to put you on the back foot. You are supposed to say ‘oh no, we’re pro-business, of course we are’, as the rights of  “hard-working people” are brushed under the carpet of zero-hours contracts, enforced ‘self-employment’ (so the real employer is spared the hardship of national insurance payments), tax breaks and child protection services sold off to the sort of companies that bill us for looking after non-existent prisoners, assuming they haven’t lost them in the first place.

OldByreSkye – apparently we may harbour "anti-business" sentiments...

OldByreSkye – apparently we may harbour “anti-business” sentiments, despite being a business…

So here’s a thought.  If someone says you’re anti-business, don’t say ‘we’re pro-business’, say ‘We’re actually pro-people’, because people are what makes business work: ALL the people from the bottom up.  Remind them that it’s normal for there to be risk if you make an investment and you can’t expect the public purse to make it better if you lose out.  That drug companies were founded to make drugs, not fortunes for city financiers and hedge funds.  That if you need paying more than a million pounds a year to make you feel secure and valued then you might not need more money, you might just need counselling [and you can afford to pay your taxes].  That it’s rational to expect a safe working environment.  And if being pro-business means that you are anti-people, anti “normal hard-working people” [to quote just about every government speech since they hit on that particular divisive wheeze] then maybe, just maybe, you’ve got the model wrong…

Currently listening to: Ziggurat – Steve Tilston.  A Pretty Penny should be played as background music every time a banker is interviewed on television.  And Nigel Phony should be made to listen to Speaking in Tongues until his ears bleed…


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

On the road again…

So on Monday evening after work I finally got out to take photos and DO NOTHING ELSE for a few hours.  I took myself off to Talisker Bay in Minginish.

A few words for the uninitiated [Sgitheanachs can move along: nothing to see here…]. Talisker Bay lies about five miles from the Distillery that shares it’s name – the distillery is in Carbost, on Loch Harport, although it was on the Talisker estate, hence the name.  The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of two rare species of Burnet moth and the geology.  And the geology gives us black and white sand, which opens  interesting photographic possibilities.  Also, as it faces due west into  The Little Minch you get spectacular sunsets.

Talisker Bay sunset

Terminal Beach*.  Landscapes on drugs: surreal colours in the sunset at Talisker Bay…

And so it proved.  I was a little late arriving, not least because the road down Glen Oraid faces directly into the setting sun and I had to stop and clean the windscreen and drive slowly as I was completely dazzled despite sunglasses and a peaked hat pulled right down.  It’s a twenty-odd minute walk to the beach and I got set up just as the sun was setting.  The tide was receding as well, even faster than my hairline, so more sand was being uncovered which was what I wanted.  That said, the extreme contrast between the sky and the beach, even after sunset needed a three-stop hard grad neutral density filter to hold detail in the sky [yes, there is post-processing as well, but best not to burn out the sky, or there’s nothing to process] in addition to various ND filters to add different effects to the sea.

Making tracks: drainage at Talisker Bay

Making tracks: drainage at Talisker Bay

Sometimes the most pleasing images are at your feet.  A the sun sank lower below the horizon, I decided to concentrate on the beach and take the horizon out of shot. The lighting was also influenced by a very bright moon over my shoulder.  And here you can clearly see the thin layer of white sand on the black sand base, picked up in the low light, like the trail of some ancient sea creature returning to the waves.  They will both be available as prints i the gallery very soon.

*The Terminal Beach is a short story [and a short story collection] by the late JG Ballard.  The terminal beach in that case is at Eniwetok [now Enewetak], which was used for nuclear bomb testing by the US, including Ivy Mike, the first hydrogen bomb detonation.  I like the title for the image, although in my imagination the colours fit better with the mood of the shimmering land- and waterscapes of The Drowned World.

Currently listening to: Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear

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

Mind the Gap

We have had a gap in our lives this past week.  A big gap.  A big gap where the bridge across the Allt a’ Mhulaig (the burn that runs across the front of the property) used to be.  As part of the work to convert the garage into the cafe/gallery we have had to replace the bridge, as the builders didn’t think it could be trusted to bear the weight of the cement and aggregate delivery lorries given that we didn’t know exactly how it was constructed, other than that it appeared to be a cast concrete slab sitting on concrete piers.  So, in short order, it was demolished.

Mind the gap

Mind the Gap

Demolition revealed that replacement was a good idea.  You would expect to find some reinforcing mesh in a concrete slab such as that which formed the bridge.  The only signs of any steel whatsoever was what appeared to be a car or trailer chassis that had been set such that it sat on the concrete piers on either side, but otherwise did little to hold the slab together and help resist the tensile forces that cause such structures to fail.  Truth be told it was an accident waiting to happen and is best buried under what will be the car park…

Te Gap Filled

The Gap Filled

As you can see, the new bridge is formed from culvert piping with concrete on top.  What you can’t see are the two steel girders sitting on the piers a lorry axle’s width apart, and the steel reinforcing mesh that was missing in the old bridge.  In due course we will think about putting up some form of side rails, when the rest of the building work is done, and we are landscaping.

The concrete was poured last Thursday: on Friday morning there was a set of cat paw prints leading across the bridge away from the house.  Piano was in the house all the time: Puzzle was in the house all the time.  If anyone in Ose sees a cat with concrete boots on, let me know.  Piano says cats with concrete boots sleep with the fish (and not from a Whiskas tin…)

Currently listening to: Ashore – June Tabor

Skye at night


What the hell are they doing in Staffin?

First a note on the main title.  I actually started this post shortly before the death of Sir Patrick Moore . For those of you outside the UK, Moore presented 703 episodes of The Sky at Night, starting in 1957, making it the longest running television programme with the same presenter in history.  He was Britain’s greatest ever populariser of astronomy and a gloriously eccentric figure. I can’t claim to know if he would have objected to my appropriating the title or invoking his name, but as he was quite happy to send himself up, I somehow doubt it…

The night sky on Skye is a joy to behold on those occasional clear  nights, an astronomer’s paradise.  If you look up the milky way (our home galaxy, seen edge on) is clearly visible drifting across the 3000 or so stars that might be seen unaided*.

Admittedly if you look up normally you are, if there is sufficient light, far more likely to see  drops of water falling towards you at between something like 3 to 8 metres per second (larger drops fall faster, but break up at around 8 metres per second apparently), and more of them than Patrick Moore ever saw stars through his telescope.  They may still be accelerating too, as if the cloud base is just above the chimney pot they won’t have reached terminal velocity.  There again, they are  just as likely to be coming at you closer to the horizontal at somewhat greater speed…

What got me started on this is that NASA recently released new images of the earth at night (the so-called ‘black marble’), composites of cloud-free night images of the earth taken by the Suomi NPP satellite.  I’ve downloaded the ‘big’ image, the Google earth version, and very nice they are too.  Here’s the extract covering Skye, slightly enhanced.

Skye at night

Skye at night © NASA

You can clearly see the bright light of Portree in the centre, and the lesser lights of Broadford and Kyleachin lower down. We’re not far from the fuzzy blob that is Dunvegan (and you can take that description how you will!)  All is as you would expect.

However (there’s always a however – although preferably not at the beginning of a sentence!) when The Guardian (along with other newspapers) published the global image as a centre spread on 7 December it had a few detail images, including the UK, that were not drawn from the ‘Black Marble’ set, and actually date from 27 March.  The quality isn’t as good, but the brightest light on Skye seems to be coming from Staffin.  Staffin is a small village, yet in this image is almost as bright as Inverness, the ‘capital of the Highlands’ on the extreme right. So what the hell are they doing up there??

Skye at night3

What the hell are they doing in Staffin? © NASA/AP

*This is the normal figure given as the approximate number of stars visible to the naked eye from one non-light polluted spot on the earth’s surface on a cloudless, moonless night for someone with good vision.  There are a lot of qualifiers in there, and I don’t know if this includes other visible objects such as galaxies and nebulae, so if you want to argue about the number go somewhere else…

Currently listening toMule Variations – Tom Waits (which, not at all co-incidentally, includes the marvelously paranoid spoken track ‘What’s he building’)

More ramblings, naturally…

So summer treads wearily towards autumnal slumber as the nights slowly lengthen again.  There’s heather down the moor (I know her well!) – according to the locals it’s flowering better than they can remember.  It is as if nature has taken a dry brush loaded with purple and dragged it over the rough-toothed landscape, leaving a trail of gloriously subtle colour.

The swallows in the woodshed fledged successfully and have been wheeling around the house since.  I had a pleasant surprise the other evening on my nocturnal rambling around the property looking for an absent cat.  I shone the torch in the woodshed and a couple of bleary-eyed swallows stared back at me, so it seems some of them are still coming back in the evening to roost.  As did Piano, the absent cat (eventually).

The list of Byre Birds has been added to.  The summer additions are Blue tit, Bullfinch, Cuckoo, Dunnock, Grey Wagtail, Redpoll, Reed bunting, Sedge warbler, Song Thrush, Whinchat.  The Dunnock was obviously an oversight on the last list, and I did actually see a cuckoo before they went south again – there was one calling from the telegraph pole outside.  There has been a definite change in birds visiting the feeder and generally around the garden with this year’s fledglings.  We finally had some blue tits show up (there are loads around our neighbours up the township road, but they have their own woodland), and you can’t move for robins at the moment, although that will change when their red plumage starts to show.

Yesterday we had a special visitor.  Just after lunch I looked out the window. and there was a female sparrowhawk on the back lawn, plucking a pigeon (the females are much larger than the males, which could never take on a pigeon!).  Needless to say, while I was grabbing my camera it disappeared into the bushes, taking the pigeon with it.  When I went out there was a large pile of feathers and a head on the lawn, and a sudden clattering in the bushes as the sparrowhawk flew off.  The cats investigated the carcass – Piano pawed at it but lost interest when it didn’t move.  But an hour later it was gone, so I assume the hawk came back and moved it while my back was turned.

Bad hair day

I don’t know why, but there seem to be a lot more highland cattle visible at the moment – maybe they’ve just been moved closer to the roads I frequent; maybe it’s a seasonal thing and we just haven’t been here long enough to know.  Anyway, I’ve been wanting to take some photographs of them, so it’s given me some good opportunities…

Currently listening to: Shleep–  Robert Wyatt.

A room of one’s own

I haven’t posted on  the blog for a while.  Don’t worry – I still love you all, but things have been a little busy of late.  I’ve got a number of posts almost complete, so I’ll be all over the web like a rash next week.

The main recent development is that we’ve got the builders in (after our travails with building control) – and very good they seem to be to (I’ll name names when things are finished!)  As I wrote way-back-when, one of the strands of the new business will be a holiday let, formed from the annex at the end of the house that used to be the B&B accommodation.  The upstairs bedroom was repainted and refurnished some time ago (and two relatives have already slept in it!), but the main job is knocking through the downstairs bedroom, breakfast room and en suite to give an open plan lounge/diner/kitchen.  This has meant putting in two stand-down beams and doubling-up some of the joists as well as the associated plumbing/electrical/general refurbishing work.  It’s looking like a really good space – with the walls gone it’s triple aspect so it’s nice and light.

A rom of one's own...

A room of one’s own.  Piano inspects the site works.

The kitchen and flooring will be delivered on Monday.  We already have the fridge/freezer and washer/drier – the compact dishwasher and hob and oven will be built in.  And we’ve also got the TV, hi-fi, sofa, bookcase, floorlamp. supply of books, CDs, videos, cuddly toy, conveyor belt…  We might yet be open for business in September: Christmas/New Year bookings anyone?

Currently listening toGlorious fool –  John Martyn.  Perfect to recycle for the Republican Party’s adoption of Romney/Ryan…

Streaming cats

The perils of Piano and Puzzle: part 4

[Maow – about time too.  Our public needs us!]

It has come to my attention that “The Perils of” series are the most popular posts on this blog.  I haven’t told Piano and Puzzle this.  As cats, they already know that the world is theirs, so the blog must be theirs as well.  We all know that the interweb is made of cats, so it is only natural that they should contribute to this dominance of human affairs.  So here’s some more…

Piano walks on water

Piano walks on water…

Piano and Puzzle have been taking advantage of the effects of the prolonged dry spell.  The burn at the front of the house [it has a name – the Allt a’ Mhulaig] is so low that the boys can walk across, or even along,  it without getting their paws wet.  Hanging around the burn is not, however, without risk.  A few weeks ago we were calling them in for dinner – they had gone up to the agricultural shed next door to play at farm cats – when there was a commotion just out of line of sight.  Suddenly Puzzle emerged at full speed and flew across the branch of the burn that runs at the side of the house, pursued by a very irate mother duck, head down, charging, and literally in a flap.  Puzzle in full flight is a sight to behold.  He does not arc gracefully over obstacles, but rather throws himself into the air, legs akimbo, like superman doing star jumps.  To his credit he didn’t high-tail it into the house but stopped and turned and might well have gone back for another look had we not been there.  Of course, there were ducklings everywhere as they scattered.  I even found one half way up the drive, and their mother was charging round calling for them for some time.  We didn’t see them again for a few days, but I did eventually see here on the burn with a full complement of young.

[Maow – I’ll stick to the tinned stuff in future!]

All safely gathered in

Despite their avian encounter, Piano has had some success in catching birds.   He’s brought us home a greenfinch [bless] and also caught a juvenile blackbird in the back garden.  Three times.  In an hour.  He brought it back alive: I rescued it [in exchange for cat biscuits].  Then he caught it again.  I rescued it again [in exchange for cat biscuits, again].  Just under an hour later he came trotting across from the far side of the property.  With a very much alive juvenile blackbird in his mouth.  It could have been a different bird, but the way it relaxed as soon as I had it in my hands suggested a certain air of familiarity.  He didn’t catch it again [or at least he didn’t bring it home again!] but in any case there comes a point when natural selection has to take its course [or you run out of cat biscuits].  You might be able to buck the market, but you can’t buck Darwin.

Piano has also developed a taste for voles, literally.  The garden seems to have been at least partly restocked with small furry scurrying things after the boys early season hunting successes, and in any case with them ranging further afield there is always quarry out there.  Both of them bring their catches home, but of late, Piano has started eating the voles after he’s finished playing with them.  Not that he’s underfed or anything, but everything goes…

[Maow – crunchy!]

Currently listening to: Trophy Night – The Best Of – Weddings, Parties, Anything.  Melbourne’s finest…

Stirrings in the woodshed

There’s something stirring in the woodshed.  As I mentioned in a previous post, we had some swallows building a nest in the woodshed.  I’ve been watching them fly in and out, but not much seemed to be happening with the nest, so I decided to risk going in to have a closer look.  And three little pairs of eyes looked back at me.  Their eyes are fully open so they must be at least 10 days old (I think), but the feathers are still fairly rudimentary.  Incidentally I can only tell this from the quick burst of pictures I took: I’m leaving them in peace again now.  The fun will start when they leave the nest.  They tend to start hopping and fluttering around the nesting area before they can fly properly and then return to the nest, so there could still be danger from Piano and Puzzle.  For now, their parents perform a valuable service for me: if I see them dive-bombing something it’s a good bet that one of the cats is hiding in the long grass!

swallow chicks

Something stirring in the woodshed

Currently listening to: The Reckoning– Steve Tilston

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