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Today’s guest picture shows the world’s greatest small person in reflective mood at a party.

MatildaAfter breakfast, I waved good bye to Mrs Tootlepedal as she set off to Dumfries with three colleagues from the Ewes WRI group to take part in a competition for 15 minutes of prose and poetry readings on the theme of childhood.  This competition covered groups from the whole of the South of Scotland and was a new venture for the Ewes group who were asked to enter to represent their larger local area.

I got a text from her in the afternoon to say that the group had won the handsome trophy, surprising no one more than themselves.  However, having heard all the other entries, Mrs Tootlepedal did feel that there had been no luck about the outcome and the four ladies were quietly pleased that their hard work had borne fruit.

In her absence, I spent a second very peaceful day, lazing about the house and only going for a short walk after lunch.

I had all the time in the world to admire the blossom on the plum tree.

plum tree with chaffinchI set up the camera on a tripod at the kitchen window and sat at the table with the wireless remote to hand doing the crossword and snapping birds simultaneously.

wet feederThe rainy morning helped me to avoid any strenuous activity.  The rain stopped from time to time and the light was reasonable.

chaffinchThe rain had brought a few siskins to the feeder and they were as rude as ever….

siskinsiskin and chaffinch…though not always successfully.

The weather took a turn for the better after lunch and when the sun threatened to come out, I went for a stroll round Easton’s Walk.  We have some way to go before everything is green….

Stubholm track…but I was delighted to see a bluebell (completewith insect visitor) in the woods beside the track…

bluebell…the first of a multitude to come I hope.

By the time that I got back to the park, the sky was blue and the poplars beside the river looked very fine, both when I was looking up to them….

poplars…and when I was walking along under them.

poplarsWhen I got home, there was time for a garden inspection.  Mrs Tootlepedal is aiming for a stream of hyacinths flowing through the flowerbeds round the front lawn.  The plan is developing well.

stream of hyacinthsI inspected the potential fruit crop and was happy to see gooseberry, apple and blackcurrant all looking promising.

fruitThe sound of bees was reassuring.

I chopped a few more logs for our wood pile and then mowed the grass round the greenhouse and on the drying green.

I had one last look at the plum blossom….

plum blossom…and a blackbird….

blackbird…before it was time to welcome Mrs Tootlepedal home, have a cup of tea and set out for a visit to Cockermouth in Cumbria.

We were going to see a performance by an amateur group.of a version of the Beggars’ Opera, with music adapted from the version written by Benjamin Britten.  The reason for our interest in this show was the presence of  no less than three of my fellow tenors from our Carlisle choir among the cast.

The drive down in the evening sunshine was glorious with the Lake District hills looking at their best so the forty miles passed very pleasantly.  We brought a sandwich to sustain us, admired the blue clock faces on the handsome church beside the car park…

cockermouth church…and went into the small theatre for the show.

The small size of the stage was a definite handicap to the production which lacked a bit of pace as a result but my three choir colleagues all did their bits with enthusiasm.  I can’t say that I think that Britten’s approach to the songs suits the show and the musical director’s rather careful tempos didn’t help.  The end result was a certain lack of out and out gaeity in the satire which is probably needed to contrast with the more sentimental moments.  The cast worked really hard though and the audience appreciated their efforts wholeheartedly.

The drive home in the dark was accomplished safely and unsurprisingly, Mrs Tootlepedal was quite tired when we got back.

The flying bird of the day is a down to earth chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

Heavy breathing

Today’s guest pictures, sent to me by Bruce, shows some of the inhabitants of Gilnockie who haven’t decided how they are going to vote in the forthcoming general election.

GilnockieIt was hard to know who or what to blame.  Was it the dry spell making for dusty conditions, was it the flowers in the garden or pollen from neighbouring trees, was it dust from the end wall work which still lies in many nooks and corners of the house or was it just life?  Whatever it was, my breathing was a little below par today and I was happy to wander around doing as little as possible.

I was assisted in this by Dropscone, who brought round some of his traditional Friday treacle scones.  He had already cycled 20 miles and I was happy to have let him do the work for today.  The scones were very good.

Mrs Tootlepedal was varnishing away in the front room and in between letting coats dry, she moved some of the furniture back in during the day.  I lent a small hand from time to time.  In a startling move, some of the furniture has gone to a different corner of the room than it occupied before.  It will take me a year or two to get used to this.

The change in the weather predicted by the forecasters had begun but it was still a pretty pleasant if windy morning and i walked round the garden…

daffodils and tulips…doing a little dead heading of daffodils.  There are still plenty left though and they go well with the tulips.

daffodils and tulipsThe blossom on the plum tree is nearly at its peak….

plum blossom…just in time to catch the drop in overnight temperatures to near zero at the weekend.   We hope for the best.

In the mornings recently, teams of sparrows have been ranging the lawns pecking away and today they were adding a few dance steps to their routine.

sparrowsI went out to see if the little fishes were still swimming in the dam (they were) but got distracted by this fine clump of marsh marigolds instead.

marsh marigoldsThe sun faded away with the morning but the weather stayed dry so after lunch, I went off for a very slow walk round the Castleholm.

I paused in the Clinthead garden to enjoy the good work the gardeners have done.

ClintheadIn the absence of any interesting birds on the Kilngreen, I bought an ice cream cornet from the van there, and licked and walked as I went on.

There were flowers growing wild by the side of the road as I walked up to the Lodge….

bluebell and anemone….though some may be garden escapes.

primrose and red flower…and there were plenty of shades of green to be seen as well, both on the ground…..

golden saxifrage

A pool of golden saxifrage under the trees

…and on the branch.

leavesI looked at trees from a distance…

trees…and close to.

treeMy knowledge of tree species, unless I am walking beside Mrs Tootlepedal, is minimal but I can still enjoy their leaves.

I do know a lime tree though.

lime treeSome fallen branches among the limes gave me a chance to admire some lichen which would otherwise have been above my head.

lichenI stopped at the Jubilee Bridge in the hope of seeing a tree creeper or a nuthatch but instead I was entertained by a wren on a branch shouting energetically at the bushes below.

wrenAfter a while two other wrens, scrapping furiously, emerged from the undergrowth like rockets and disappeared.  I would like to have known what was going on.  (Wrens are very small and hard to photograph!)

When I got home, Mrs Tootlepedal and I set to work reducing the pile of cherry tree logs to firewood with the aid of our neighbour Liz’s log splitter.  While we were at work, Liz herself appeared and seizing the splitter from us, spilt twice the number of logs that we had and in half the time.  She loves splitting logs.  We stood to one side saying things like, “You won’t be able to split this large misshapen and knotty log,” in innocent tones.  That was like a red rag to a bull to her and firewood soon flew off in all directions.

I had time to be impressed by the flourishing dog’s tooth violets….

dog's tooth violets…before it started to drizzle and I went in.

I rounded off a quiet day with an even quieter evening.

The flying bid of the day is a very determined chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

The guest picture of the day is a fine crab apple tree, her pride and joy, sent to me by my Somerset correspondent Venetia.   I can see why she likes it.

crab appleBy all accounts, today is to be the last of our recent sunny spell with the temperature set to drop, the wind to rise and even talk of snow at the weekend.  In these circumstances, it seemed like a good idea to put the good weather to work.

After a quick whizz round the garden….

spirea

Mrs Tootlepedal likes this combination of colours

…and a little time spent cleaning the chain and gears, it was off up the Wauchope road on the fairly speedy bike.

garmin 23 Apr 15For once the Garmin website has reported the weather pretty accurately.  It was warm, it was sunny and the wind was conspicuous by its absence.

After the hilly pedal with Dropscone on Tuesday, I was after a much more gentle effort today.  My legs were even more insistent about this and at one stage fairly early on, were even wondering whether going home might  be a good idea.  It is never a good plan to listen to your legs so I spoke to them severely and after about seven miles, they started to play ball and I enjoyed the rest of the ride.

I had Pocketcam with me and was able to record the complete clearing of the bank below Wauchope Schoolhouse.

Wauchope SchoolhouseIt has changed the character of the road entirely.  My favourite plan on very windy days of riding up and down to Wauchope Schoolhouse in the sheltered valley looks as though it won’t work any more.

I picked up speed as I went along after a very slow start and soon found myself on the old A74, once the main artery between England and Scotland and now a mere back road beside the new motorway.  The verges were blazing with dandelions.

A 74I pedalled down to Gretna where I found that the installers of the Armco have made special provision of a nice flat bit for an old man to sit and eat a banana.

armcoI made a brief diversion into England and then headed back north, stopping to eat my second banana beside a pretty stream near Corries Mill.

StreamJust round the corner was a large field of rape.

rape fieldThis was beautiful to look at but very bad for my breathing so I held my breath for as long as possible and got by with no harm done.   My legs held up very well, helped by the marked absence of any hills and I got home in good style.

The garden was looking good in the sun.

tulipMrs Tootlepedal has been making good progress with her work on the floor and is in the process of reintroducing some furniture.  She has been working non stop for several days and I thought that an outing would be just the thing for her on such a lovely day. By fortunate co-incidence, Sandy rang up and suggested a trip to the Eskrigg Nature Reserve at Lockerbie and this is just what Mrs Tootlepedal enjoys so Sandy came down and off we went.

The reserve was looking at its best…Eskrigg

…and tempted me into taking far too many pictures.

There was a lot to watch on the pond.  There were ducks diving….

duck diver…and geese watching.

geeseOne of the geese did a duck impersonation….

goose diving…but ended up looking more like a faceless but demented rabbit.

A rough gang of mallards swept across in front of us….

mallards…in pursuit of a lone female.

This is wonderful place for seeing greater spotted woodpeckers….

greater spotted woodpeckergreater spotted woodpecker…and red squirrels.

red squirrelI took about fifty squirrel pictures but I have forced myself to reduce the number of these shots used in this post of these wonderful creatures to only two.

red squirrel…oh all right….three.

red squirrel…oh go on….just one more.

red squirreland definitely the last one.

red squirrelWe met two ladies who had driven ninety miles just to watch the squirrels.  They were very happy people.

While Sandy and I snapped away, Mrs Tootlepedal had her sketch pad with her.

Eskrigg sketchIn the end, time ran out out on us and we reluctantly left the squirrels scampering about and headed for home.

After a short break for tea, I met up with Sandy again and we went off to the Archive Centre for our usual Thursday evening session.  Mrs Tootlepedal continued to work away in the front room.  For some reason, both Sandy and I were suffering from a little tiredness and we didn’t work for too long before retiring to the  Eskdale for refreshment.

All in all, I think between us, we made the very best we could of a superb spring day and I hope that the memory of it will let us laugh at the snow if it  comes on Saturday.

The flying bird of the day is one of the Eskrigg mallards.

flying Mallard

Downhill

Today’s guest picture comes from Fiona, my Newcastle correspondent.  She has been forced to go and work in Malta for a while and is having to put up with surroundings like these.

MaltaWe had another lovely day here today, genuinely warm and with gentle winds.  I would like to have used it to go cycling but the pressing need to have a lie in wasted the early part of the morning and then the pleasure of entertaining Dropscone, who was also recovering from yesterday’s efforts, took up the next hour.  This was followed by a visit to the health centre for some regular maintenance and before I knew it, the morning had gone.

After lunch, my plan was to have a quick visit to the Moorland bird feeders and follow that with a bike ride.  As a plan, it wasn’t one of my most successful.

When I got to the road to the bird feeders, I found that teams of pothole fillers were hard at work and while this is a very welcome activity, it put paid to my scheme for a little bird watching.  Watching men filling potholes is not so much fun as spotting woodpeckers so I came home.

Once home, something in the air got my asthma interested and far from cycling, I needed a quick sit down.  This was enhanced by a good snooze and the desire for a pedal had evaporated by the time that I woke up.  I was some what recovered though and managed to mow the middle lawn and sieve a little compost so the day wasn’t entirely wasted.

In the absence of any adventures, my exploring was limited to the garden.  There was enough there to keep me fully entertained.

pink and yellow tulips

Multicoloured tulips are brightening the garden up.

tulips

Plainer ones still have plenty of ping.

tulip

Plenty of ping.

There was activity in the pond.

pond skater and frogAnd in the dam at the back of the house.

little fish in dam

I was surprised to see a shoal of tiny fish there.  Perhaps some expert can tell me what they are.

aubretia

And delighted to see the flourishing aubretia.

I always keep an eye for new flowers and although I am not entirely happy to see them in the middle of the front lawn, these daises looked very cheery.

daisiesThe marsh marigold in the pond was more suitably placed.

marsh marigoldAmong the established plants, the pulsatillas are going great guns….

pulsatillas…and the magnolia is looking better every day.

magnoliaAlthough we always nervous about late frosts, it was very pleasing to spot the first plum blossoms on the year…

plum blossoms….and even more pleasing to hear the buzzing of many bees in the garden.  They were very keen on the hyacinths today.

bees on hyacinthsbees on hyacinthsOther insects could be seen too.  Although they didn’t seem ready to spread their wings open and enjoy a little basking, I did see both a peacock and a small tortoiseshell butterfly.

butterfliesSo in spite of not getting much accomplished, I was able to enjoy the sunshine and not dwell on missed pedalling opportunities too much.

In the evening I went off to our local choir practice and had a most enjoyable sing.  Mrs Tootlepedal spent almost the whole day working on the floor in the front room and was still working in the evening and as a result, she missed the choir.  Still, her work is paying off and the floor is going to look very good when she has finished.

The only fly in the ointment of the end wall development is to be found in one of the old sandstone blocks which we saved from the old fireplace and re-used in the new one.  The plaster beside it is not drying and when our project manager came round with his nifty damp-meter, the reason for this became clear.  The old block is still very wet after years in a leaking end wall.  We will just have to be patient while it dries out but it does mean that the decorating won’t be finally finished for quite a bit yet.  The room will be quite usable though and Mrs Tootlepedal plans to start moving the furniture back in tomorrow.

Mr reason for wanting to visit the Moorland bird feeders was the lack of birds in our own garden but I did manage to find a flying bird of the day as the shadows lengthened in the evening.

flying chaffinch

Uphill work

Today’s guest picture comes from my elder son and shows one of his dogs having a grand postprandial snooze.

snoozing dogThe forecast was very good and the wind was light so it was a perfect day for a pedal and for once I had the time to take advantage of this.  Dropscone and I have been inveigled by the minister into entering a 50 mile sportive in Cumbria quite soon and the course there is very hilly so we thought that a 40 mile hilly ride of our own would be good preparation.

garmin 21 Apr 15This was by far the hilliest ride that my new knee had encountered so I persuaded Dropscone to take it very easily.  As this was a longer run than he is used to, he was quite pleased to comply.

In the event, we got round quite well, though a couple of stiff climbs in the middle of the ride caused my legs to complain a bit.

We definitely felt that we had been working hard by the time that we got back but the alarming thing is that the sportive has an extra 1000ft of climb in only an extra 10 miles and two of the climbs are steeper than anything we met today so more work is probably needed.  Hm.

I did take one picture on the way round but it turned out to be so dull that I didn’t have the heart to use it.  Fortunately there was plenty to look at in the garden when I got home.  It was really quite warm and pleasant today and the tulips spread their arms out to welcome the sun.

tulipstulipsAnd the dog’s tooth violets had come on well.

dog's tooth violetAfter lunch, I drove down to Longtown to collect two pairs of new glasses from the optician in the town.  It was such a lovely day that I took a walk round the Longtown ponds while I was there to test  my new pair of long distance spectacles.

I could see the ponds looking very green.

longtown pondsI could see flying ducks coming in to land on the river.

flying ducksAnd gorse bushes glowing in the sun.

gorseThere were quite a few butterflies about but as usual they were hard to pin down.  One peacock butterfly did a little sunbathing on the track in front of me.

butterflyIn the course of my walk, I saw three herons, one flying, one fishing and one doing some rather odd disco moves.

heronsThere were quite a lot of swallows about and several waterfowl too.  The swallows were too quick for me and the waterfowl stuck to the middle of the ponds so photo opportunities were hard to come by.  Here are a couple of shots which are representative of my efforts.

duck and swallowThe new glasses were certainly letting me see quite a lot of birds but they also seemed to alarm them too as they either swam or flew off as soon as I approached.  I saw goosanders, oyster catchers, tufted ducks, coots, herons, mallards, curlews and even a lone lapwing but in the end I had to settle for snapping first some slower moving fauna….

cattle…and finally some actually static flora.

wild flowers

Probably ladies’ smock

wild flowers

With added insect

celandine

This is definitely celandine

Spring was really springing.

spring at LongtownSpring at LongtownlichenI was pleased with my new glasses.  But even with my old gasses I wouldn’t have been able to miss the bridge over the Esk.  This is one of my favourite views.

Esk bridge at LongtownWhen I got home, Mrs Tootlepedal had returned from making the final preparations for a group presentation at a WRI competition this coming Saturday and was back filling and painting the floor in the front room.  I am looking forward to seeing her design very much.

I had time to look at some pretty flowers on the edge of the dam round the back of the house…

aubretia…before having my tea and going off to Carlisle with Susan to play with our recorder group.  We were just a quartet this week and enjoyed the music that our librarian Roy got out of his apparently inexhaustible big cupboard.  My second pair of glasses is set up to help me read music and look at computer screens.  They worked very well for the music but they are not so useful for a laptop as I am too close to the screen.  Perhaps I need longer arms.

This was the first really warm day of the year in our area and I felt that I had made good use of it.

The flying bird of the day is an oyster catcher from Longtown.  One of the many birds that flew off as I approached.

oyster catcher

Now we are one

Today’s guest picture comes from my correspondent, Venetia who went to an NGS open day yesterday afternoon.  It was in East Harptree, on the northern slopes of the Mendip Hills.  It was a little too chilly for comfort but her heart was warmed by music while she was there.

brass bandWe had a lovely day today here and I enjoyed more of it than usual as I had to get up early (for me) and go to the Archive Centre to wait for a man to come and read our electricity meter.  I waited for a couple of hours, putting a week of the newspaper index into the database and doing a crossword to pass the time and was finally rescued by Ken, another archivist.  He is one of the data miners and set about combining waiting with mining when I left.

He told me later that the meter reader came not long after I left so I am glad that the meter has been officially read.  Perhaps we can get our electricity bill sorted out now.

When I got home, there was just enough time to wave at a pair of blackbirds…

blackbirdblackbird…and say goodbye to the chaffinches….

chaffinch…before jumping into the car and driving off to Edinburgh to visit Matilda on the occasion of her first birthday.

Our route took us past the new Edinburgh to Galashiels railway and it was exciting to see how near completion it seemed to be.  It will open in September and we look forward to riding the rail later this year.

In the meantime, the trusty Kangoo delivered us to Edinburgh safely and we even found a handy parking spot. There was no time for any Edinburgh pictures today as we were in full party mode.  We were joined by one of Matilda’s aunts, Clare’s sister Catherine and we had a tasty birthday lunch with six different sorts of salad. Then it was time for the highlight of the day, the birthday cake.

Matilda's cakeAfter a few well chosen words and some amusing reminiscences, Matilda invited her parents to assist in blowing out the candle.

Blowing out the candleShe wasn’t totally impressed by their efforts but she liked the cake and literally got well stuck into her slice.  Clare, who made the cake, tells me it is a Boston Cream Pie.  This would be an excellent name if it used cream and was a pie which it doesn’t and isn’t.  But it does originate in Boston, she says.

After lunch, we settled down to watch Matilda open a pile of presents, including one from her Great Grandmother, who is 97 years older than Matilda.

Although she might not have been fully aware of what all the fuss was about, Matilda seemed to enjoy her birthday and her adult helpers certainly had a good time.  We are enormously proud of TWGSP and of her parents who are doing such a good job of bringing her up.

The glorious weather for our drive home made the journey pass by quickly and there was still enough light left for a walk round the garden to admire the flowers catching the rays.  The primulas looked gorgeous.

primulaprimulaprimulaI took one representative tulip…

tulip…and one daffodil.

daffodilTwo new blooms were to be found…..

aubretia

A purple aubretia has joined the pale blue ones.

flowering currant

And the flowering currant has opened.

The two different shades of blue grape hyacinths are growing well.

hyacinthsFinally, the magnolia rounds the show off.

magnoliaMrs Tootlepedal always says that 20th April is the real start of spring in Langholm, regardless of any official dates so it is a lovely coincidence that this is also Matilda’s birthday and it was another stroke of fortune that we had such a wonderful day of weather to celebrate this.

I didn’t have much time to stare out of the window today but a chaffinch made a timely appearance to become the flying bird of the day.

flying chaffinch

Tenor trio

Today’s guest picture comes from my sister Mary’s recent visit to Wales.  As she was with my sister Susan, a steam railway enthusiast,  it is no surprise to find that they managed to fit in a train trip.

Caernarfon April 2015 041I had hoped to get a decent pedal in before lunch today after being rather short of pedalling over the past few days but although I managed to get going quite smartly after breakfast, I didn’t get very far.   In theory, at 10°C it was quite a pleasant spring day but in practice, a brisk wind from the north ensured that that it was a pretty miserable morning.

Things weren’t helped by some light rain which started as I got up to Mosspaul.  I didn’t have a visor on and my glasses were soon verging on the useless so instead of heading over the hill and down the other side, I cut my losses and turned and headed for home.

The brisk wind meant that I had averaged a measly 10½ mph for the 10½ miles up to the top of the hill but the same wind meant that I came back at 21 mph which made me feel a lot better about the whole outing.

There were no birds at the feeder when I got back so I went on a flower hunt instead.    I found a couple of new ones…

dogs tooth violet

The first of our dog’s tooth violet or Erythronium dens-canis has appeared

pansy

A gorgeous pansy

..,.,and enjoyed a couple of old friends.

dicentra

I like the colour of this dicentra against its foliage

primula

I have been trying to get the right light conditions to show this primula off at its best.

Mrs Tootlepedal had been off to sing with the church choir and when she got back, she busied herself with the task of putting everything back into the upstairs room.  The effort of moving a lot of things out and then having to move them all back again is considerable and the only consolation is that she has been able to throw quite of lot of stuff which she hadn’t realised that we still had.

There is still decorating going on downstairs…

painting… but it is nearly finished.  Then we need the electrician to finish and we will be nearly home.

After lunch, we went off to sing with our Carlisle Choir after its two week Easter break.  The tenor ranks were very depleted by illness and people skiving off to rehearse for a musical that they are performing on Friday and Saturday with the result that myself and two ladies constituted the entire tenor section pitched against about 60 sopranos and altos.

Surprisingly, this turned out to be really good fun, partly because we could hear ourselves sing very clearly and couldn’t get away with anything less than our best and partly because the accompanist felt very sympathetic and gave us some good quality help round a couple of tricky corners.  All in all, we sang fit to bust (but always tastefully of course) and we felt that we had upheld the honour of the tenor section very well.

The weather had taken a turn for the better in the afternoon and it was a lovely evening by the time that we got home.  There were even some birds to watch.  On the feeder….

sparrow

A visit from a house sparrow.

goldfinches

A pair of goldfinches appeared again.

….in the air…..

chaffinch…and on hedges and bushes all over the garden.

blackbirdsMrs Tootlepedal had put a venison stew into the slow cooker before she went to church and it made for a tasty evening meal.

On an  editorial note I am keenly aware that the building works and my knee operation have meant that we have been very much confined to barracks for the past four months and as a result, my daily life and thus my diary too has been quite circumscribed.  I would like to thank those regular readers who have had the patience to stick with me in these tedious times and all who take the time to make the comments which I enjoy reading.  I hope that as the weather gets better, when the building works finally come to an end and as my knee continues to improve, then we can get out and about a bit more.   I might also be a little less tired so that the quality of the writing, which has been decidedly stodgy of late, may improve too with a bit of luck.

The flying bird of the day was an evening chaffinch.

flying chaffinch

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