Well I'm glad Christmas is done, I have no objection to the holiday as such, and I'm sure lots of people find it a nice time to get together with Family, even if there are lots who don't like it for the same reason. Not being of a particularly religious bent I'm still happy to celebrate the winter solstice around the 21st and 22nd of December. The fact that it starts lightening later in the evening after 10 Dec is welcome, although I admit to not realising until recently that it still keeps getting darker in the morning until 2 January, so through most of the Christmas festivities the mornings are still getting darker whilst the evenings are getting lighter. Of course the actual lightness is all dependent on cloud cover and moon-rise etc, and in the UK it snows more often in Easter (April 16th this year) than Christmas. And in practical terms, when I was working in Edinburgh in Winter I would often not see the Sun for weeks at a time if the weekends were cloudy.
I do seem to have added to some of my habitual temporal confusion (not knowing what day it is) by taking up the 5/2 'diet' and retiring. Now I have a cycle of 5 and 2 days, but the 2 isn't Saturday and Sunday, but Thursday and Friday. That in itself doesn't matter, but I have caught myself thinking of them as the weekend. Real week-ends are notable by there being more people about. Public holidays are generally only marked by the difficulty in contacting some businesses and more tourists on the roads.
Life goes on and fortunately there are always things to do, fix, hit with a hammer or chop into smaller bits. The 2nd of January was relatively dry and not frozen, so a hole was made in the garden for an impending tree delivery, Hazel I think, and Fiona had made good progress downward some 9 inches before finding a stone. I went and found my pickaxe and a pry-bar only to discover the offending article was a tad larger than expected and locked into place with a clutter of bricks and rubble. This is something we often encounter, the garden being the footprint of six cottages previously attached to the house when it was part of a row of eight. I can't really complain as I get a free barrow-load of bricks every few feet of shallow trench. Any depth usually results in literal tons. This time however the hole was rather narrow and the offending rock almost, but not quite deep enough to ignore. Eventually I had to widen the hole to unlock the rock intending then to lift it out. Bit of a problem, too heavy, too deep to reach around it and no lifting gear. Then of all things an ancient story came to mind, The Donkey in the Well. Similar the the Ass in the Minaret (and less painful than the Minaret in the Ass) The story goes that the owner of the donkey couldn't lift the donkey out, so he has the bright idea of putting it out of its misery by dropping rocks on it. Not the smartest answer since the well would then be seriously contaminated, but it may be apocryphal. Anyway the story goes that he keeps missing the donkey and the donkey keeps stepping up on the rocks until it can get out.
So I dropped all the rubble I had extracted back in the hole, and kept wiggling the rock until it was at the top and removable. I was then able to extract the rubble, mostly bricks, and present Fiona with a deep enough hole for the tree, and enough bricks and rock to build a small wall around it. The rock? A 14" x 14" x 12" piece of shaped masonry that would not look out of place in a castle wall, as to what it was doing there.... I wonder, are they are missing any bits from Stonehenge?
Talking about the wonders of nature, well we weren't but that won't stop me, We had visited Ian and Angela in Norfolk a few months back. He has a fondness for bird-watching that rivals Fiona's and took us to a part of the Wash, Snettisham, where the wading birds, largely Knot I think, gather as their other feeding grounds are inundated by the tide. They gradually gather on the highest bit which still has mud to probe until it too goes under. This effect is magnified at the high point of spring tides, and so when the birds are eventually displaced they all fly off at the same time, and if you time it right you get a blizzard of birds heading inshore. There are so many they can't all avoid getting a bit closer to the humans, so the sky goes dark. I only had my IPhone so the picture's a bit rubbish. This one was not the greatest density by a long shot, but the others were either too dark or moving too fast. The actual experience was like a dark meteor shower, where you just hope there isn't one with your name on it. The experience was well worth the early start and fortunately Ian had enough expert knowledge to predict the highest tide in several months, so we timed our visit to that. The weather was fair to wet, that is to say that sometimes it was fair, if a bit chilly, and other times we would probably been dryer under a shower as there the wind doesn't drive the water horizontally from all directions, and there isn't a shower head that big. Perversely we went for a walk around a small loch.
A circular walk.
A long circular walk.
In the most unbelievable rain, more like a small sea with slots in. Waterproofs? yes, well I was wearing an anorak but by the time the serious stuff was looking useful, and I was thinking I'd better get the plastic trousers out of the rucksack, we were hit by a squall and it was too late, so we just squelched around. The wildlife made it all worth while though, and I know there was at least one cameraman waist deep out there, so I didn't feel too bad.
One thing I did notice was the number of variables the wildlife camera people must use to calculate the best time for good pictures. Apart from the high tides, there's the time of day, feeding patterns, atmospheric pressure, breeding seasons of birds and invertebrates, light levels, wind direction, cloud cover, human activity and, bearing in mind that there have been cases of cars being swamped, can you get back out safely? After a safe escape without too much damage to the car, we had an unforgettable experience and Fiona bought Ian's telescope, about which she has been making happy little squeaking noises ever since. I exaggerate slightly for dramatic effect.
Since a warm, wet, and somewhat windy Winter has been obstructing much of my out-door activity I have been able to get the latest Magazine out, as mentioned in the last epistle, and sorted the Air Source Heat Pump I've been helping a neighbour with. The circuit board proved to be dud but the primary fault was that there wasn't enough refrigerant in it, by about a third. As far as I can tell it had been filled warm, so it wouldn't all go in. A common fault apparently, but you only find that out when you know who to call to fix it. All working well now, and paid for by the supplier.
Incidentally the engineer said that the system was very similar to car air conditioners and that although they use a different formula of refrigerant, they only need 'topping up' if there's a leak. Worth thinking about if you have to go back every couple of years.
Another wet-day activity has been scanning, copying and proof reading Mum's stories, The computer has the ability to transcribe the text on a page into digital form, OCR, being Optical Character Recognition I think, which is faster than my typing, although the punctuation can take a bit of a hammering. The stories were mostly written for children at assembly in school and for bed time reading. The stories came in a variety of forms from audio CD to hand written drafts. Most had been digitised by Brenda but there was one longer one, The Witch under the hill, which took a little longer. You can find them at http://wardrobestories.homestead.com/ I rather like them, but I might be slightly biased.
There are bound to be some typos still there, so feel free to tell me about them. Some will be harder to remove than others, and I'll be adding some of John's pictures as I didn't discover them 'till late in the process.
My collection of memorable (to me) sky photos continues to expand, it is just for my own entertainment, but for some reason I remember cloudscapes. Something to do with the preservation of ephemera perhaps.
At some point in our wanderings, I think it might have been the National Museum of Scotland a small sign caught my eye. I'll leave you to work it out, but if you hover your cursor over the picture on the left it'll tell you what it was.
Ah well, time for tea. The weather is closing in again and while it was actually warmer here than the South of France, Athens or Naples for the last day or so, I think it is due to revert to more normal wintery showers, gales and the like shortly. The abnormality was mainly down to a warm bulge caused by the jet-stream over us and a cold reversal to the east going down to the Mediterranean. Global warming is having some rather strange effects, and no doubt the new administration in the U.S. of A will blame it on the Chinese. Still, there's one good result, because of the Donald we are having to expand the language and need new words. I mean 'very very very stupid' doesn't really work does it? The actual word Trump would do I guess.