Still plenty to do

Today’s picture is of snow in North London. On a nice day, my sister Mary likes to have breakfast outside in this cafe at Kenwood  but not yesterday as you can see from her picture.Snow in Kenwood

Mrs Tootlepedal started the day with what would have been a well deserved lie-in if she hadn’t got up in the middle of the night to watch the final of Strictly Come Dancing on the BBC I-player. In the end, we rose late and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in her case and a more interrupted one in my case as I saw a redpoll at the feeder and jumped to get the camera.

redpoll goldfinch

..other birds were available too, as they say in the announcements..

 

greenfinch
Greenfinch

…a regular visitor now

brambling
Brambling

I am trying to get a grip on my sparrow recognition…

male and female house sparrow
Male and female house sparrow (I think)
millenium bridge
Mrs Tootlepedal crossing the Esk

 

After lunch, we gathered ourselves together and went out for a walk round the Castleholm. It was another lovely day as long as you were in the sunshine. In the shade, it was absolutely freezing.

 

 

scots pine

 

The Scots pines along the bank of the Esk were looking magnificent in the sun. I was very good and didn’t take any pictures of passing seagulls at all so we got round in good time.

 

Buccleuch centre

 

On our way home, I was struck by the very pink light on the front of the Buccleuch Centre which gave it a rather Californian look, I thought.

 

 

 

genial host
Bob greets a guest

 

After a refreshing cup of tea, we set out again to a soiree given by Bob and Nancy to celebrate 30 years in Caroline Street. This was a well attended do and we had to fight to get near the excellent feed that had been supplied. Bob cooks a mean meringue so I took care to have one or two of these.

 

guests
Mrs Tootlepedal in conversation

 

The guests were a fine bunch and the brandy was excellent too so it was with quite a wrench that I tore myself away to get home in time for my tea of mince and tatties.

 

 

 

concert
Mrs Tootlepedal and the choir's conductor, Tony Peacock

 

The reason for the rush was that we were going out in the evening for a concert at the Buccleuch Hall given by the choir Mrs Tootlepedal sings in when she is not being an evil witch. This was a most enjoyable Christmassy affair with jolly songs, carols for the audience and the Langholm Junior Brass Band in attendance.

 

I leave you with pictures of my favourite birds. I like them not just for their vivid colours but also for the fact that they are very good at standing still. This makes them easy to photograph.

goldfinches

goldfinches

 

I don’t know what was so interesting over there. In the course of the day, I checked to see how the worms are coping with the very low temperatures and I can report that they are still alive and wriggling.

Just one last bird…

chaffinch
A female chaffinch

 

It’s behind you

Today’s picture is of us getting ready to venture to Longtown after 2 ins of snow had fallen in the early morning.ready to go

It was a bit of a double edged feeling to look out of the bedroom window to find the town beneath a beautiful mantle of gleaming fresh snow. Mrs Tootlepedal had to go to Longtown to pick up some flowers she had ordered for presentations after the Panto so I walked up to the High Street to see what the A7 looked like. It was in a very good state considering the weather so I went home,  brushed  the snow off the roof of the car and we set out.  In the event, there was nothing to worry about and we made the journey without incident or alarm.

The birds were queueing up at the bird feeders so perhaps they sense that the weather is set on this cold course. The bramblings are now regular visitors here and in neighbouring gardens as well.

brambling

brambling

The one above is perching on the feeder for the new bird food we bought. Demand for this stuff seems to be picking up as you can see from this sparrow waiting its turn.

sparrow brambling

All the feeders were busy all morning.

goldfinch sisikin

My daughter Annabel has pointed out that one of the siskins and one of the goldfinches in recent pictures have been wearing tags but it not these two as far as I can see. I don’t know who would have tagged them or why.

greenfinch

I also don’t know whether this is the same greenfinch coming every day or whether there a number of them who come separately. It (they) is a regular visitor but we never see many at once.

goldfinch

I was looking at lenses for bird photography on the internet when I saw a review which said that such and such a lens was indispensable for aspiring wildlife snappers but as it cost $10,000, I thought I would probably have to live without it.

After lunch Mrs Tootlepedal retired for a little lie down before the last night of the Panto and I went for a walk in the glorious winter sunshine which had followed the morning snow. I wandered across the Millennium bridge onto the Castleholm.

castleholm

The castle was looking romantic in the low sunlight.

castle

And this is looking across to the lodge at the beginning of the Lodge Walks

lodge

I crossed the sawmill bridge and went along the Kilngreen and with great self control, I did not take yet another picture of the resident heron there. I had the shorter lens on the camera and  was interested to see whether I could still capture a seagull in flight and crop to a usable picture. Judge for yourself.

gull

gull

gull

All right, I don’t care what you think, I was quite pleased with the efforts. Photo editing programmes are brilliant.

On my was home up Caroline Street, my eye was caught by this pattern..stripes

..which was snow on the church.

church

In the evening, I went off to the Buccleuch Centre to see Snow White. Mrs Tootlepedal was great and had the audience in the palm of her hand. My slot racing colleague Les was taking the part of the dame and he was very good too. They both got many well earned laughs. In all, the cast did an excellent job and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

After the show, Mrs Tootlepedal came home and relaxed with a well earned whisky  and Strictly on the BBC I-player.

Still cold but snowless

Today’s picture is a male bramblingbrambling

I was hoping to see the redpoll back again but it seems to have made only a flying visit. The brambling adds a bit of brightness to the everlasting snowy view out of the kitchen window. Although it hasn’t snowed a lot lately, the garden is in shade for much of  these short days and the lawns are still covered with snow. It’s beginning to look very like last year again. If it is like last year, the cold winter seemed to lead to a pretty well midge free summer so it is an ill wind as they say.

I put some bread out and as a result we were investigated by some passing seagulls and I was able to catch them reflecting the early morning sunshine. There are four gull pictures so skip them if you don’t like gulls.

gull

gull

gull

gull

I must say that I didn’t think much of gulls before I started taking photos of them but now I  am impressed by their elegance in flight.

I went off to lay down some newspapers and use the sucking up machine on the carpet in the Tourist Information Point at the Kilgreen after the flood there. The carpet is still wet but the newspaper didn’t get immediately soaked so the sucking up may be making a difference. I hope so because it is quite a boring activity to do if it is not doing any good.

The pavements in the town are a credit to the council’s efforts and by and large they are very ice and snow free. I walked along to the Archive Centre to do some of the administrative things that I didn’t do last night because of the power cut without any danger of slipping.

Ross and Gary

When I got home I found that Ross and Gary had arrived to do some minor repairs to the front hall.They have also taken the old front gate away and are going to make a copy of it so we will have wider front gates which will make it easier for guests to get their cars into the drive.

 

chad

Mrs Tootlepedal was cleaning in the B&B bathroom and I took this shot of  her looking out of the bathroom velux trying to see what I was up to in the garden. I was waiting for more gulls but they didn’t come.

 

 

In the afternoon we did all our Christmas cards. I hope they have gone off early enough to arrive before Christmas. Fortunately, The Royal Mail seems to be seizing its chance to show that it is more reliable than the commercial carriers in the current weather difficulties so we hope for the best.

titIn between time, I kept an eye on the new feeder. It is full of stuff called ‘country crush’ and is very pricey, largely I presume because of the fancy packet it comes in. It received few visitors and at this rate will last a long time. This great tit (I think from his black head) was one of the few to try it out.

 

tit

He was soon back at the lard ball where I shot this blue tit. This seems to be the blue tit’s food of choice.

Someone suggested recently that I should try to count the different sorts of birds in the garden but I would find that difficult as I can’t distinguish between the sparrows for a start.

We had our usual busy queue at the niger seed and you can see four goldfinches and a siskin eating or waiting, while on the right two sparrows tuck into the grass seeds.

crowd

Greenfinches are regular visitors too. Here’s one sharing peanuts with a siskin.

siskin greenfinch

After all the Christmas cards were written and posted, I got a rush of blood to the head and tidied up and rearranged the front room. We have five visitors coming for Christmas so Alistair and Clare will be sleeping in it and I have made a bit more space for them than there was. It also gives me a better working area than I had before so it is a win win situation.

In the evening,Mrs Tootlepedal went off to the Panto and she assured me, when she got home, that once again they had knocked  ’em dead. I am looking forwards to seeing it tomorrow.  While she was out, Mrs Tinker came round and we enjoyed playing sonatas by William Williams, Andrew Parcham and Handel.

 

 

A black and white day

Today’s picture is a siskin staring you in the eye

siskin

It was a very varied day today. It started with a visit to the Tourist Information Point at the Kilngreen where I do odd stints during the season. The recent freeze had burst a pipe and Mrs Tootlepedal, Dropscone and I went along to help with the mopping up. Fiona, from the Langholm Initiative, had brought along her sucking up carpet washing machine and we gave that a go for about an hour, taking out a lot of water from the carpet but leaving a lot still there. I am going to go back and put down newspapers to help suck up the moisture and then use the sucker up again but it will be a long job. The carpet is glued to the floor so we can’t take it up. While we were doing this, a sleety blizzard raged around us.

After that, we retired to Wauchope Cottage and had coffee and several slices of an enormous chocolate cake that Dropscone had bought in Hawick when he had had to go and fetch his son who had missed the last bus home. His pain was my gain, as the cake was delicious. By the time we had finished the cake, the snow had stopped and the sun had come out.

Mrs Tootlepedal and I then set out for Carlisle where we did good, sound shopping of every sort. We purchased soft furnishings (Mrs Tootlepedal), excellent goat, sheep and cheddar cheese (Mr Tootlepedal), bedding requirements for visitors (Mrs Tootlepedal) and Christmas presents for seven people (both). On the way home, we visited a garden centre where we purchased mince from the farm shop (guess who) and some fancy bird seed (both) that cost a fortune  and will be thrown on the ground by ungrateful sparrows. It says it will attract nuthatches. We shall see. Altogether, this was an A1 shopping experience and even the traffic wasn’t too bad.

When we got home we were doing this and that when, all in a flash, the lights went off. It was a very local power cut affecting just our immediate neighbourhood. It was not a great surprise, as the lights had been flickering all day. Luckily it didn’t stretch quite as far as the Buccleuch Centre so Mrs Tootlepedal was able to go off to her panto duties, though she had to get ready to go out in the dark.

The pantomime had been a great success last night and she had thoroughly enjoyed herself. The audience got so involved that at times it seemed that the show might never end.

I waited in for our B&B guest to arrive, editing photos on the laptop by candlelight. I wasn’t able to go archiving with Sandy as I usually would on a Thursday because I couldn’t leave the house until the B&B visitor came under the circumstances. In the event, he arrived exactly to the second as the lights came back on so he wondered why the house was full of candles and I was boiling a saucepan on a camping gas stove. I told him we always did that for religious reasons on the third Thursday in December.

I had to reset the central heating but nothing else seemed to have suffered from the power cut so I cooked the mince I bought earlier and had a late tea.

During and after the blizzard in the morning, we got visited by a large number of siskins and I have put a little gallery below.

siskins
With mouths shut
siskins
A female and a male
siskins
And now with mouths open
siskin
With a friend

and now for some other birds..

coal tit
A coal tit
brambling
A brambling in the sleety snow
sparrow
The sparrow still doesn't seem any cheerier

The captions are for the benefit of my sister Susan.

 

 

A treat

Today’s picture is of crow perched on the walnut tree.

crow

It is still too cold for a morning ride and looks to be going to be so for the foreseeable future. This once again enabled me to get on with some much needed work on the Heritage DVD.

I also spent quite a bit of time rushing about to get the camera because I had seen a solitary waxwing on the walnut tree, only to find that the bird had flown by the time I got back to the window. This happened three times. This was good exercise but not quite so much fun as cycling.

I had the good fortune to be included in the annual Langholm Initiative lunch at the Douglas because of the unavoidable absence of one of the original guests. The food was good, the company was varied and the conversation was informative and enjoyable. I am not used to such heavy eating in the middle of the day, not to mention a glass of wine, so I spent most of the rest of the afternoon sitting about groaning…but pleasurably.

The morning was brightened by a new visitor to the bird feeders. Mrs Tootlepedal correctly identified it as a redpoll.

redpoll

I am sorry if the colours are a bit variable but I am still coming to terms with the sloping screen on my new laptop. Here’s another shot of the redpoll.

redpoll

…it was quite happy to mix with the locals…

redpoll goldfinch

In the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to do her bit as the evil queen in the Panto. She was very pleased last night when somebody remarked that in her disguise as a little old woman when she takes the poisoned apple to Snow White, she was reminiscent of Julie Walters purveying ‘two soups’. There can be no higher praise. She is playing to a full house tonight so I hope everything goes all right.

er praise.

Out and about again

Today’s picture is of a spinet which arrived at our tootle evening.

spinet

It was once again too cold for a morning ride so I got myself organised and did some work on the Heritage DVD and put  a week of the E&L into the database before lunch. By lunch the temperature had shot up to 6º which was most unexpected and welcome.

I stiffened my sinews,  packed my new camera into its very handy rucksack, got the speedy bike out and set off once again to Grange Quarry. It was a lovely afternoon, although there was a nippy northerly wind which made the journey home quite chilly for the last few miles. The camera rucksack is very cleverly designed so that, at a touch, you can swing it round and get things out from in front of you without having to take it off. This is particularly good because it means that often I can take a photo without having to get off the bike. I haven’t tried any landscape with it before so this was a first effort.

 

misty view
Looking down towards the Solway

As soon as you get a camera, you realise just how many telephone and electricity wires there are about.

Dunnabie
Looking towards Dunnabie Cottage
valley
Near Grange Quarry
Callister
Looking towards Langholm from the top of Callister
monument
Looking up at the monument from near Bessie Bell's
cows
Two hardy animals out on the cold protected by their curls

In the evening Mrs Tootlepedal (who is the evil queen) went out to the first night of Snow White. It went reasonably well and the audience enjoyed it a lot, though a late change of position of a vital piece of scenery caused the actors some palpitations. I am going to see the show on Saturday when I hope it will be at its peak.

I went to Carlisle with Dropscone’s daughter Susan to play recorder and to my delight, Roy brought Heather’s spinet which he has been looking after and we spent an evening playing baroque concertos and sonatas accompanied by Heather at the keyboard. It was the first time I had played some of these pieces since my son Alistair used to lie in his pram as a baby in the sitting room being rocked off to sleep by the best of the baroque. It made my week, which has been good so far, even better.

I did find time to catch a blackbird on a hedge.

blackbird2

and a goldfinch well puffed up against the early morning chill..

puffed up

Unexpected bonus

Today’s picture is of Adrian, our winter B&B guest, who is working at EWMAdrian

There were three unexpected bonuses today. The first was an excellent picture sent to me by my sister Mary, probably from Regents Park during one of her morning walks. She has obviously been reading the camera manual most carefully.

What an excellent picture it is. The next bonus was from Dropscone when he came for a cup of coffee. He had thought that Arthur might be with us so he had brought enough drop scones with him for three. However we were quite easily able to polish them all off  between the two of us. Arthur was busy at the Archive Centre doing the E&L index.

Grange QuarryThe third bonus was a temperature of 4º which let me get out for a ride to Grange Quarry and back. They are hacking away half a hill at the quarry and the constant stream of quarry lorries doesn’t do the potholes any good.

 

 

Solway

It was rather gloomy today and much colder than Saturday when there was a pleasant sun shining but it was very clear down to the Solway from the top of Callister. My little cycling camera can’t do the view justice. I shall have to stiffen my sinews and take the new camera, which is pretty heavy with its lenses in its backpack, if I want to capture these views properly.

In the gulley

 

 

I had invited Dropscone to come out pedalling but he chose to play golf and sent me this picture of Jim, his regular golfing partner, in what is technically known as “a wee spot of bother”.

 

 

 

The light wasn’t very good in the morning so I didn’t take many bird feeder pictures but I managed one or two.

siskin

and another..

chaffinch

..oh, I see there were three

sparrow

..and a mini tree trunk

tree trunk

While I was out cycling, Mrs Tootlepedal went to Brampton to see if she could get my mother’s French horn mended. The French horn mender was out so she left it and will have to wait until tomorrow to see whether it will be worth fixing.

In the evening she went out to the dress rehearsal for the panto (which is sold out for four of its five days) and has not returned as I write this. I went out to our slot car racing and had good fun for an hour. When I have posted this, I will go and put in a week of the E&L index. A full and cheerful day (except for the sparrow who looks a bit grumpy).

 

A frost

Today’s picture is a blackbirdblackbird

The picture above shows all too clearly that all the snow has not yet gone. The temperature only managed a miserable 1º at its best today, which wasn’t nearly enough to let me get out on my bike. I am hoping that tomorrow may be possible because after that, the cold is back with a vengeance.

I have found in recent weeks that most of my time seems to be spent wandering round aimlessly say, “I wonder where I have put my lens cap.” This is when I am not trying to find my computer glasses or remember what I am wandering around aimlessly for.

gaye

 

We were visited during the day by a neighbour who waings delivering Christmas cards. She is pictured here wearing a very fetching woolly hat knitted by my Thursday night archiving colleague, Jean.

 

 

 

 

I spent some time in the morning trying to see what I could make of a blackbird with the new camera. Blackbirds are tricky because they don’t have much contrast as you can see from the picture at the top of this post. The female of the species offers a better chance but I fear I shall have to put in some hard manual reading if I am to get a satisfactory shot. I have put a starling (I think) and an attempted blackbird below.

I can report that Mrs Tootlepedal has inspected the removed worm compost and found it satisfactory. Well done worms, I say.

blackbird

blackbird

Mrs Tootlepedal spent the evening at a technical rehearsal for the panto while I put a week of the E&L into the database. I had some phone conversation with my sister Susan about updating her family history website. Mrs Tootlepedal has just received an e-mail from a fairly distant cousin who had come across the site and was wanting to offer further information. This is very gratifying for Susan who has put a power of work into the research.

I may just have been able to find time to watch Strictly which I enjoy now there are no politicians or journalists in it. For once, the best three dancers seem to be in the final.

Here’s an old friend to finish with…

goldfinch

Very satisfying day indeed

Today’s picture is of the tame heron at the Kilngreenheron

What a glorious day. The temperature rose to a magnificent 6º (it just missed a magnificent seven) and the snow has really faded away except in shaded spots. As a result, for the first time for ages I was able to get out a bike, get on it and pedal off in all directions. Well, in one direction  really. I went along the Lockerbie road as far as the Grange Quarry and back which makes a pleasant 20 miles with the final five and a half miles downhill. The wind was light and the sun was pleasantly warm on my back. All would be for the best of all possible worlds if the forecast didn’t say it was going to freeze every day for the next week so it looks like the bike to nowhere will be back in action again.

After the ride, a shower and some soup, I took my new camera out to the Kilngreen to see if I could catch a seagull or two in flight. I was very pleased with my first efforts. I have put an album on Picasa.

Before I went off on the bike, I had a go at the goldfinches to see whether I could get a bit more sharpness. See what you think.

two goldfinches

A lone brambling poked about for a while.brambling

Sawmill BrigI took a shot of the Sawmill Brig to show that the snow has all but gone and from the picture you would hard pushed to imagine the six inches of snow from two days ago. However, from the Kilngreen I went up to Pool Corner in a sheltered spot in a narrow valley.

Wauchope ice

 

 

There you can see very clearly just how cold it has been (and is probably going to get again).

 

 

 

 

The camera is reasonably easy to use and has vast potential, if I can get a grip on the manual. It came with a very handy sort of camera satchel which will make it quite easy to carry about. It is a fairly hefty camera, especially when you are carrying two lenses so the  bag is most welcome.

When I got back from this jaunt, I went to see if the worms had survived the cold spell. I was happy to see a very good population still alive with plenty of young worms  in evidence. I have a multi-layered worm castle and I took the bottom layer out and dug out the compost and put any worms in it it on the other layer. Then I put some fresh grub in the empty layer and put it  back on top. I’ll have to get Mrs Tootlepedal to see what she thinks of the quality of the compost.

Mrs Tootlepedal spent most of the day across at Newcastleton on an Embroiderers’ Guild outing which she enjoyed very much.

In the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal cooked a purée of brussels sprouts, bacon, chestnuts and cream which rounded off a splendid day really gloriously.

 

Going to town

Today’s picture shows Mrs Tootlepedal sizing up our Christmas tree

tree

Finally the temperature has risen enough to thaw quite a lot of the snow. It is even going to stay above freezing overnight. However, it hasn’t gone as far as to let us open our back door, which is annoying and as the forecast is for the freezing nights to return from tomorrow, it may well be that we won’t be able to use for the foreseeable future.

The goldfinches were absent for the first part of the morning which let the siskins and blue tits have a free hand at the feeder.

blue tit and siskin

blue tit and siskin

siskins

siskins

In the late morning the goldfinches returned and took up their usual places

siskin and goldfinch

Mrs Tootlepedal had been at work from early on and when she returned, we set out in the car to go to Carlisle. Our chief target was to buy some smokeless fuel for the fire but Homebase was out of stock, not surprisingly considering the cold weather. We went on into the town and Mrs Tootlepedal went off to order some fabric for a front door curtain while I went to get some envelopes from Staples.

city lightsI then went into the centre of town to visit a camera shop to buy myself my Christmas present. If you don’t hold Santa’s hand, I have found, he often goes astray.

It was a bit early to get the best of the Christmas lights but they looked as though they would be a treat in the dark.

camera shopI found a very competitively priced camera in The Lanes. The man said that they keep a close eye on internet prices and I must say that I couldn’t find a significantly better bargain online. I hope that the new camera will let me improve the quality of my photographs.

I have started to read the manual and as far as I can see, the camera will be wonderful if I can ever work out how to use it.