Posted by: christinelaennec | February 20, 2014

Weird food

The other day I was in the frozen aisle of the supermarket, and I had a moment of thinking:  What kind of totally bizarre world do I live in?

In the supermarket, Glasgow.

In the supermarket, Glasgow.

For my convenience and delectation, I could buy (if I weren’t vegetarian) 4 pork faggots with West Country Sauce from Mr. Brain’s, who claim to be a “firm family favourite since 1925″.  And for dessert I could have half price Phish Food (should be “Phood” really) ice cream.

These bizarre phoods reminded me of one of those very old-fashioned menus with 15 courses of dishes such as Mushrooms under Glass, Celery Aspic, Fruit Syllabub and Peppermint Bombe.

This morning we had a visit from a lively friend who said, “Whenever I’m in doubt about what to eat, my rule of thumb is:  have breakfast.  I eat a lot of porridge, at all times of day!”  Sounds good to me.  Porridge, anyone?

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 16, 2014

A jaunt to Balmaha

This weekend has been very unusual for us!  We had some unexpected company arrive on Friday evening, refugees from a snowstorm that closed the roads they were hoping to take.  This was a blessing, because our company included a dear friend of the Dafter’s from Aberdeen.  They stayed for two nights, and although the Dafter needed to rest quite a bit (due to her ME/CFS), there was much laughter and even some face-painting.

Our friends left after lunch this afternoon, and – unprecedented event number two – Michael and I left the Dafter (resting in bed and surrounded by glasses of water, snacks and supplies) for over three hours.  We drove out of the city and into the countryside.  We ended up in the tiny village of Balmaha (pron. BALmaHA), on the shores of Loch Lomond.  It was a cracking day!

Looking at the Campsie Fells from a hill above the village of Balmaha, Loch Lomond, Scotland.  16 February 2014.

Looking at the Campsie Fells from a hill above the village of Balmaha, Loch Lomond, Scotland. 16 February 2014.

We climbed up a hill called “Craigie Fort,” where we had beautiful views to the East (above) and to the West (below).

Looking across Loch Lomond to the West, from Craigie Fort above Balmaha.  16 February 2014.

Looking across Loch Lomond to the West, from Craigie Fort above Balmaha. 16 February 2014.

Although I have been peering at the map, I’m not entirely sure the names of the mountains that we were looking at.  Can anyone elucidate?

Balmaha is part of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.  The large car park in front of the visitor centre was packed!  It was a beautiful day – clear and crisp.  There were lots of families with young children, and not a few European tourists.  (I was amused to hear French teenagers in the bathroom say “Attention à la dame!” – “Let that lady past!”)

The trees are starting to show signs of spring.  I love seeing the pink blush on the birch trees, a sign that their sap is rising.  There are a lot of larch trees in the forests in Scotland.  They look as if they have been afflicted by some terrible disease, but they’re just having a winter nap before they put out new shoots in the spring.  I was amazed by how many cones were on the tall fir (?I think?) tree.

The forest at Balmaha, 16 February 2014.  Larch, a Douglas fir laden with cones, and birch trees below.

The forest at Balmaha, 16 February 2014. Larch, a Douglas fir (?) laden with cones, and birch trees below.

It was just wonderful to get out into the countryside, breathe some fresh air, and see the snow-covered hills.  The tearoom was chock-a-block with a long waiting list for a table, so we went to the post office instead, and ate our snacks outside on a bench.  Such a lovely afternoon!

I hope you’re all well, and not too afflicted by the very strange weather we’re having this winter.  My heart goes out to the poor people in England and Wales, some of whom have been flooded for nearly two months now.  It seems to be a winter of extremes everywhere.  When you get out to the hills, you’re reminded that our delusion of control over our environment is just that.  Our family has been so grateful for our many blessings, including clean water, heat and electricity.  Take care!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 9, 2014

Missing the “gille-Bhrìde”

“Gille-Bhrìde” is the Gaelic name for the oystercatcher.  Jill at Land of the Big Sky has allowed me to use some of her beautiful watercolours to show you the oystercatcher:

Oystercatchers, by Jill Chandler (

Oystercatchers, by Jill Chandler (

As you can see from the painting below, the oystercatcher is a coastal bird.  They are a feature of life in Aberdeen, and I have been missing them here in Glasgow.  I always used to note when I first heard the cry of the oystercatcher at the start of every new year.  That means they are starting to nest, and so spring is not too very far away.  They have a very distinctive cry, which in Gaelic is “Bi glic!” (“Be wise!”)  I don’t know if there’s a connection, but the motto of the Northern Constabulary used to be “Bi glic!”.

Oystercatchers by Jill Chandler (

Oystercatchers by Jill Chandler (

I’ve often wondered about their name in Gaelic, “gille-Bhrìde”.  This translates roughly as “St. Brigid’s boy” or possibly “St. Brigid’s helper / gillie”?  As you may know, St. Brigid (born in Ireland in 453) was one of the earliest Celtic Christian saints.  February 1st is St. Brigid’s feast day, and in Ireland people traditionally made a “St. Brigid’s cross” out of straw or rushes to display inside their kitchen.   I wonder if the bird got its name from the fact that it makes itself noisily known at about the start of February?

Oystercatchers by Jill Chandler (

Oystercatchers by Jill Chandler (

Oystercatchers like to nest on top of flat rooves, particularly ones covered in pebbles.  There are some rooves at the University of Aberdeen which are protected nesting sites for the oystercatcher.  Many a spring semester my students and I would follow the progress of the oystercatcher families nesting outside our classroom.

Glasgow must be too far inland for the oystercatcher, unless they have some flat-roof hideout that I haven’t yet discovered here.  But I don’t think so.  I remember once I was having a phone conversation in Aberdeen, with a colleague in Glasgow.  She heard the oystercatchers in the background and sighed, “Oh I can hear the oystercatchers!”  I would have that same reaction now if it were me.

Do visit Jill’s blog to see her beautiful art.  If, like me, you end up laughing uproariously at some of her jokes (on her recent post “Fit like?” she describes an exercise class where the instructor tells them to “touch your knees to your chest”.  She asks, “Couldn’t I just take my bra off?”) – well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Posted by: christinelaennec | February 4, 2014

Govan Old Church, Glasgow: full of surprises

I’ve been very fortunate to make a lovely new friend here in Glasgow.  She is a church organist, and invited me along to a service she was playing for, at Govan Old Church.  This church is very unusual.  I’d seen it from the bus and the train.  It sits proudly on the south bank of the River Clyde, not far from the famous shipyard.  The area of Govan is associated with a proud industrial history and a community that has more recently fallen on very hard times.  My friend explained to me that in the Middle Ages, Govan was a separate town, which rivalled its neighbour Glasgow in strategic and political importance.  The church reflects both Govan in its 19th-century industrial heyday, as well as its much earlier history:  what treasures lie within!

It’s a very large church, with impressive stained-glass windows, as you can see here:

Altar and windows, Govan Old Church, Glasgow.

Altar and windows, Govan Old Church, Glasgow.

The current church was built in 1888, but it’s believed that there has been a place of worship here since the 6th century.

It also houses some extremely important carved stones, both upright, as the ones along this wall…

Govan Old Church, Glasgow.

Govan Old Church, Glasgow.

… and also a number of Viking carved stones called “hogbacks”:

Viking stones - humpbacks??

Viking “hogback” stones

My friend told me that no-one exactly knows what these “hogback” stones represent, but it’s believed that they are perhaps meant to be thatched rooves, to lie upon a grave.  The British Museum in London is going to be including one of the Govan stones in an exhibition called “Vikings Life and Legend” this spring.

In case you’re wondering what Vikings have to do with the West of Scotland, in brief, the Vikings raided and colonised the West coast of Scotland starting in the 9th century.  The Book of Kells was taken to safety in Ireland from the Isle of Iona during the Viking raids.  The Outer Hebrides were part of the Viking Kingdom between the 9th and the 13th centuries (see this potted history).

Viking ??? Govan Old Church, Glasgow.

Viking “hogbacks” and other carved standing stones in Govan Old Church, Glasgow.

Govan Old Church, Glasgow.

Govan Old Church, Glasgow.

I didn’t visit Govan Old church primarily to see these amazing stones; in fact, I was there for the short morning service, which they hold from 10 to 10:20 a.m. every day.  It took place in a beautiful side chapel, and was very moving indeed.

There was a special atmosphere in Govan Old Church, which I find hard to describe.  No doubt having seen all these layers of history around me, I was especially aware of how ancient many of the words we use in our Christian services are.  I could imagine the early Christians saying the Lord’s Prayer.

The only thing I wondered about was whether, like modern Glaswegians, they prayed at such a clip!  The good people of Glasgow talk quickly, and often delightfully – and I have never yet been able to keep up with them saying the Lord’s Prayer in a church service.  Nevermind that, I hope to go back to another morning service at Govan Old soon.

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 31, 2014

The end of January

The last day of January is here!  I must confess that January often seems like a long month to me.  But I try to follow nature’s example and embrace the time of rest.  The Dafter and I were delighted to discover these catkins on a wheelchair walk:



You can see the ground is sodden.  I think that Glasgow had 12 inches of rain in December, and no small amount in January either.  But we have been much more fortunate than many in other parts of Britain who have been flooded out of their homes.  It has been the wettest January in the UK since records began, apparently. (There is a map showing rain levels at the bottom of the BBC story I’ve linked to.)

I was delighted to see these snowdrops in the park the other day, and I decided to risk the wet ground to get close enough to photograph them.  Well, I did get my photograph, but just about ruined my boots!  Cleaning them will be a task for tonight, if they have dried out by then.

Snowdrops - and a few crocuses (yellow on the left, purple on the right).

Snowdrops – and a few crocuses (yellow on the left, purple on the right).  Take my word for it!

Along with lots of rain, we have so far had an extremely mild winter with very few frosts.  You can’t really see it in the photo above, but a few crocuses have started to come out.  Too early for that, my dears!  Stay tucked up in your beds!

Here at home, I have been buying some new plants for the garden, including some hellebores.  I always loved my hellebores in Aberdeen.  I was delighted to find, at Ardarden Farm Shop, some cowslips!  These are native wildflowers, and we also had them in Aberdeen.

Hellebore "Anna's Red" and a cowslip, my back garden.

Hellebore “Anna’s Red” and a cowslip, my back garden.

I know some of you are dealing with quite extreme weather, so I hope you are all safe, warm, and dry.

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 27, 2014

One milk, two milk, red milk, blue milk

For those who are wondering, the title of this post is a rephrasing of a famous Dr. Suess book – more on red and blue milk in a moment!  Here in Glasgow, we are enjoying having milk delivered to our front door:

Photo of milk bottles on the front step courtesy of Michael who gets up first!

Photo of milk bottles on the front step courtesy of Michael, who usually gets up first!

My Grampa used to be a Foremost milkman, and it seems almost as if being a milkman were a relic of the distant past – but not here.  It’s really nice to have milk from a local dairy, and from a glass bottle rather than a plastic one.  I only wish it were possible to get local organic milk delivered in glass bottles.  (You can have organic milk delivered, but it’s not from local dairies, and it comes in plastic.  Does anyone have any reliable information about the pros and cons?)  I’m slowly perfecting the technique of making the very first pour from the bottle without spilling.  My success rate is now about 50% I think!

Now, why was I talking about red milk, blue milk earlier?  I thought those of you who don’t live in Britain might be interested in the convention of the colour of the milk bottle-top.  There is a code that holds true across all kinds of packaging of milk:  a red bottle-top denotes skimmed milk, green is semi-skimmed (more or less 2% fat), and blue milk is whole milk (3.5% fat).  I know that we aren’t the only family to refer to “red milk,” “green milk” and “blue milk”.  When some Gaelic-speaking friends first became grandparents, they told us they had stocked up on “bainne gorm” (blue milk, i.e. whole milk) for their grandchild.  The other day in the supermarket I overheard someone calling to their shopping companion: “Do you want red milk or green milk?”  The answer came, “One red and two green.”  Just as in the photo above!

I have heard tell of GOLD milk – full-cream milk.  I do remember when I first visited Britain in the 1970s, there was a thick layer of cream on the top of the bottle of milk.  We used to argue about who got the first pour!


Posted by: christinelaennec | January 23, 2014

Café Circa

Let me tell you about a fun place in Glasgow’s West End:  Café Circa.

Café Circa, Crow Road, Broomhill, Glasgow.

Café Circa, Crow Road, Broomhill, Glasgow.

The “Circa” part of their name comes from the fact that, as well as being a café, they sell vintage things:

Inside Café Circa:  vintage ware.

Inside Café Circa: vintage ware.

It’s odd to see things from the same era as your own childhood sold as collectables!  Although, since I didn’t grow up in Britain, quite a few of the things aren’t all that familiar to me.

One thing I bought here for a present I did recognise from my first trip to England as a teenager:  a coin box for the phone.  The first thing to explain is that even until the 1990s, not everyone in Britain had a telephone.  Michael’s family in England didn’t get a phone until the mid-1980s.  It was considered an expensive luxury rather than a necessity.  There was a call box two streets down, and in an emergency the neighbours would take messages or allow them to make a short phone call.  When we came to Scotland in 1992, people would ask “Are you on the phone?” rather than what your phone number was.

If you did have a telephone, you might well have a little coin box next to it, where anyone in the house who made a call could contribute money towards the phone bill.  Along these lines, gas and electricity was often paid for via a coin-fed meter on the wall.  If you ran out of money – no heat or light.  It’s easy to be nostalgic, but actually the good old days weren’t always such fun.

Café Circa (with my Rambling Roses jacket)

Café Circa (with my Rambling Roses jacket)

However, there I was, able to treat myself to coffee – cappuccino no less! – and a slice of ginger loaf.  (The phone box I purchased is on the table in the photo above, and in the upper right of the photo below.)

Gingerbread and coffee, Café Circa.

Ginger loaf and coffee, Café Circa.

I very much enjoyed my treat, served on vintage china.  And I enjoyed listening to the chat of people sitting nearby, as well as those coming in for take-away coffees and food.  It’s a very nice family-run café and if you’re in the area, I would encourage you to take a step back in time and go to Café Circa.

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 20, 2014

Very early spring

We are starting to notice a little bit more daylight now, and are enjoying some signs of spring indoors with pots of bulbs.

New life:  tete-a-tete daffodils.  January 2014.

New life: tête-à-tête daffodils. January 2014.

I do love watching these delicate little flowers unfurl in the warmth of the house.  It reminds me that more light and warmth are on the way, and that everything grows towards the light.

I hope that the start of this new year is bringing you fresh hope too.

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 17, 2014

Fairy Hoax mitts

I wanted to show you a knitting project I recently finished:  my Fairy Hoax mitts.  Their wonderful name comes from the yarn, which was a birthday present from my lovely friend Roobeedoo.  We went together to the Edinburgh Festival of Yarn months earlier, and she remembered that I’d seen yarn on the Skein Queen’s table that I described but hadn’t had time to buy.  Lo and behold, she found it and gave it to me for my birthday!  Wasn’t that just the nicest thing?  (As my Granny would say.)

The colourway is called “Fairy Hoax”.  The name is perfect for this yarn.  You’re knitting along with these lovely pastels, la la la, and Wham, a fleck of black appears.  Or, Duh duh DUH, a length of indigo comes along.

"Hedgerow Mitts" by Amy Ripton, made from Skein Queen's Tweedore sock yarn, colourway Fairy Hoax.

“Hedgerow Mitts” by Amy Ripton, made from Skein Queen’s Tweedore sock yarn, colourway Fairy Hoax.

Roobeedoo not only gave me the wool, but found the perfect pattern to make mitts from it:  “Hedgerow Mitts” by Amy Ripton.  It’s free on Ravelry, if you’re a member.

I really enjoyed making these, and I have very much enjoyed wearing them too.  Thank you Roobeedoo!

Posted by: christinelaennec | January 15, 2014

January in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens

It has been dark, cold and rainy in Glasgow at the start of this new year, although we have seen the sun a few times.  When it does appear, I feel quite euphoric!  Recently, on a gloomy day, I had the good fortune to have a ramble through the lovely Botanics.  I set myself the challenge of finding “winter interest” in the garden to show you.  (Just to let you know, I didn’t go inside the glass houses.)

I love looking for buds, and the rhododendrons are full of them:

Buds on rhododendron.  Glasgow Botanical Gardens, January 2014.

Buds on rhododendrons (one evergreen and one deciduous). Glasgow Botanic Gardens, January 2014.

I can’t wait to see them when they’re in bloom!  Below, some stunning pink berries cut through the gloom as if they were lit from within:

Winter berries.  Glasgow Botanical Gardens, January 2014.

Winter berries. Glasgow Botanic Gardens, January 2014.  Possibly ‘pernettya’?

I liked how the silhouette of this evergreen mirrored the tall spire of the former church which is now Oran Mòr, a venue for concerts, plays, weddings and the like:

View of Oran Mor (steeple) from Glasgow Botanical Gardens.  January 2014.

View of Oran Mòr (steeple) from Glasgow Botanic Gardens. January 2014.

It’s true that there is beauty that can only be appreciated in the winter:

Intertwining branches.  Glasgow Botanical Gardens, January 2014.

Intertwining branches. Glasgow Botanical Gardens, January 2014.  (What might look like a basket hanging from the branch on the right is netting surrounding a very young tree behind.)

The white bark of this birch tree also seemed lit from within:

Birch tree, Glasgow Botanical Gardens, January 2014.

Birch tree, Glasgow Botanic Gardens, January 2014.

I was delighted to discover gorse in bloom in the Herb Gardens.  I was a little surprised to find it there, as I wouldn’t think of it as a “herb” but apparently it has medicinal properties and in former times was used for healing a variety of ailments.  Gorse always reminds me of being in Donegal at Eastertime.  Even on a winter’s day it had that lovely scent like coconut:

Gorse in bloom in the Herb Garden.  Glasgow Botanical Gardens, January 2014.

Gorse in bloom in the Herb Garden. Glasgow Botanic Gardens, January 2014.

And look, poppies are on their way again!  So exciting…

Poppy shoots, Glasgow Botanical Gardens.  January 2014.

Poppy shoots, Glasgow Botanical Gardens. January 2014.

I spent quite some time in the Rose Gardens admiring the beautiful rose hips and trying to take photos of the many small birds that were feasting on them.  I failed to get any good photos of the robins and blue tits for you, so you will just have to imagine them flitting about:

Rose hips on a bower.  Glasgow Botanical Gardens, January 2014.

Rose hips on a bower. Glasgow Botanical Gardens, January 2014.

It was great to be out in a garden, and reassuring to see that there is always beauty, if you take the trouble to look for it.

I hope the start of 2014 is going well for all of you!

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 248 other followers

%d bloggers like this: