Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

Our Christmas Card
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.

Couldn't go a whole month without posting anything, so here it is. Hope that anyone reading this has a Great Christmas.

Hope Santa brought you all you wished for......

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Increasing Prevalence Of Multiple Diplomatosis

When Wosog and I both went to university (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth) only a small proportion of school pupils were expected to go onto Higher Education (around 10-15 %, I think). Now it seems that the job market of hi tech 21st Century UK plc requires a much higher proportion of the population to have a degree. I believe the current figure is over 40%, but The Powers That Be (in their infinite wisdom) would like it to be nearer 50%. Political correctness discourages the notion that many of today's degrees don't carry quite the same weight as degrees obtained in our day, but I suggest that the content of many of these courses, and the resultant poor job prospects conferred by their degrees leaves a lot to be desired. Meanwhile, the country is crying out for skilled tradesmen who can still, by some miracle, manage to perform some really quite complex tasks without, at present, having to have a degree.

The mindless expansion of Higher Education has created enormous financial difficulties for the universities, producing the ludicrous situation where students are to be asked to pay bigger and bigger fees to gain a degree that is essentially worthless when it comes to finding a job. Students who are being asked to pay these fees are now becoming more demanding. I heard on the radio yesterday that students of history at, I think, Bristol University are protesting about a lack of lecture time! The lecturers are being encouraged to do more research, since that brings money into the university. Meanwhile, the students are being told to do more work on their own, particularly online. Some of them are making the point that they could easily do that off their own bat, without paying hefty fees to the university!

The University of Bums on Seats seems to me to sit perfectly (pardon the pun) with the ethos of modern British Higher Education. It really sounds as if one could progress effortlessly through the courses there and leave brandishing a substantial piece of paper to wave under the nose of a prospective employer. In fact, Wosog awarded herself a PhD in counseling the other night. I have to call her Dr Wosog from now on. Their Fasttrack E-degrees sound like just the ticket for the disgruntled history students of Bristol.

The worrying thing is it could almost be real, or am I just being a bit cynical?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I'm on holiday for the next 4 days (did you know that, Wosog?) so I've got loads of time to blog (you lucky people, you). However, I've had a bad start to the day. I've just discovered that, despite volunteering, I'm not going to be included in the Men of Flickr Calendar this year!

This is a picture of the chosen twelve. Now, I ask you, are any of them as handsome as I am? Personally, I think there is a clearly shown bias against men with bushy eyebrows and mustaches here that is totally unacceptable in our modern world. Anyway, I'll get over it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Gnome Alert

As the proud possessor of 3 garden gnomes, and the founder member of the thriving Flickr Group "Home for Gnomes", I was disturbed to read in the Sunday Times today, as well as the USA Today website, of the snatching of almost 80 of the little chaps in France. Apparently they were "freed" by gnome rights activists known as The Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes.

These French fanatics, rather like Al Queda, having tentacles spreading throughout the Globe. I am thinking of installing cc tv cameras in our back garden.

I ask you, is nothing sacred these days?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Now That's What I Call Art 2

A Few Paintings We Brought Home 5
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.

Further to my previous rant about the deficiencies of modern art, I was fascinated to read yesterday that a 4' by 8' board covered with dripped-on paint by Jackson Pollock, and imaginatively titled No 5, 1948, had sold for a world record $140 million (£73.35 million). It's not the worst piece of modern art I've seen, but I won't be saving up to try and prise it from it's current owner in a few years time.

The article in the Independent newspaper did, however, also inform me that this picture by Van Gogh, that I photographed in the Musee d'Orsay changed hands in 1990 for $82.5 million (£47.1 million). Who knows what it would fetch now? It's interesting to speculate on the monetary value of the total contents of that museum....

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Where Have All The Heroes Gone?

Where Have All The Heroes Gone?
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.

One of the places we visited in our recent wee trip to Paris was the Hotel des Invalides. This amazing building was constructed by Louis XIV in the 1670s as a residential village for up to 4000 invalides (disabled veterans) who were begging in the streets of Paris. The courtyard is now used for military parades. Behind the four-storey classical facade is the Dome Church (Eglise du Dome). Les Invalides was built between 1677 and 1735: the dome took 27 years to build.

The Eglise du Dome now houses the Tomb of Napoleon. His remains are encased in 5 coffins and a sarcophagus of red porphyry. The church also contains the tomb of Ferdinand Foch (see above), and the rather beautiful tomb of Hubert Lyautey. I had never heard of the latter, but I like his tomb, and I'd quite like mine to be similar (Wosog please note).

My point is this: can you think of a single modern politician, or military leader, in the world today that would be so revered by their public that the latter would support a memorial of this magnitude? I can't. Maybe this is just a cynical age, and we all look too readily for less-than-altruistic motivation behind the actions of our leaders? Maybe it will take a truly global conflict (God forbid) to bring forward men of true stature? I don't know, but I do know for certain that there would be a huge public outcry in the UK if it was proposed that any of our current so-called leaders, or indeed former prime ministers, be immortalised in this way.

Where have all the heroes gone?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Now That's What I Call Art!

On the first day of our recent visit to Paris we revisited the Musee d'Orsay. This is housed in an old railway station that is itself a work of art. It's amazing to think that the authorities were at one time thinking of demolishing it to make way for a giant hotel. On the lower levels of the museum there are some amazing examples of sculpture while the upper levels contain the impressionist and postimpressionist paintings that Wosog and I really like. Wouldn't it have been nice to bring home a little Manet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, a Renoir or a Van Gogh? Unfortunately, security arrangements at the museum meant that all we could take were photographs, but a guy can dream, can't he?

To me, this is real art: in total contrast with the pathetic modern "sculptures" etc we saw at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in April. These and other examples of modern art, such as those we struggled not to giggle at at the Modern Art Museum in Barcelona, to me have no more artistic validity than paintings made out of toast and marmite.

But then, I am a Philistine....

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Back From The Dead

Wosog's Little Friend
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.

I'm not a very disciplined individual. I find it difficult to concentrate on one subject for long. Bearing that in mind, it is probably surprising that I have managed to keep blogging for 2 years. Recently I've had pretty severe "blogger's block". There is also the small matter of "real life getting in the way". Once you get out of the habit of posting, it's really quite difficult to get back into it again, but I'm going to make a concerted effort to do so.

As a start, I present this intriguing picture of The Bold Wosog confronting a plucky little ghost in the Catacombes de Paris recently. What happened next was reminiscent of a episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Wosog may be small, but she's not phased by a bit of ectoplasm.

There will be more of our Paris trip, including visiting the dead, both above and below ground, in future exciting episodes of The Voice of Reason.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Is It Really That Long?

I know this is a provocative title, but I don't want any sniggering at the back there! I am referring to the fact that I have now been blogging for 2 years. Recently I have been a very lazy blogger, and to show that I have reached the zenith of lazy blogging, what follows is a verbatim thread from my Flickr Friend little hobbit feet's post to the group Flickr Weirdies of the World:

"Everyone knows that if you are going to operate a business in today's world you need a domain name. It is advisable to look at the domain name selected as others see it and not just as you think it looks. Failure to do this may result in situations such as the following (legitimate) companies who deal in everyday humdrum products and services but clearly didn't give their domain names enough consideration:

1. At a site called "Who Represents" you can find the name of the agent that represents a celebrity.
Their domain name is

2. Experts Exchange is a knowledge base where programmers
can exchange advice and views at

3. Looking for a pen? Look no further
than Pen Island at .

4. Need a therapist?
Try Therapist Finder at

5. Then of course, there's the Italian Power Generator

6. And now, we have the Mole Station Native Nursery, based
in New South Wales

7. If you're looking for computer software,
there's always

8. Welcome to the First Cumming Methodist Church.
Their website is

9. Then, of course, there are the clueless art designers
with their wacky website

10. Want to holiday in Lake Tahoe ?
Try their brochure website at "

Yes, they are all genuine. Do you know any others?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Empty Nest

The Lake from the bridge
Originally uploaded by Wosog.

I know I've been a very bad blogger (again) recently, but yesterday was such a momentous day that I felt I had to mark it with one of my rare blog posts. This picture from Wosog shows the campus of the University of Stirling. This is where Wosog and I deposited our beloved Gsog yesterday leaving our house very empty and very quiet. We are hoping that our second born returns from Stirling with a degree in accountancy. The game plan is that he becomes such a wealthy professional that he can boost my meagre pension from time to time and give me the retirement that I dream of.

The grounds of the university are, as you can see, quite spectacular with an impressive loch and views of the Wallace Monument and the Ochill Hills. Unfortunately Gsog's room in the hall of residence is somewhat smaller than he is used too and the decor is somewhat Spartan. This doesn't matter too much though, does it, when so much of his time will be spend leafing through weighty tomes in the University Library?

Anyway, hopefully this is "the start of something big" and the bold, long-haired Gsog will return from Stirling a stern, sobre-sided accountant. Watch this space.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Happy Landings

I know you're all (both?) desperate to find out how the balloon flight ended. Hey, you at the back, wake up I tell you! Well, after drifting for about an hour over the Perthshire countryside our expert pilot brought us down in a grassy field. Our flight had been a source of high anxiety to some of the creatures below: a herd of cows was seen to move in a very peculiar way, and a deer let out the most blood-curdling scream. A pheasant emerged from a hedge, looked up at us and dived out of sight into a field full of crops creating a frenetic rippling effect in the process.

Andre radioed his assistant to ask him if he could see where we had landed, but unfortunately the reply was that he couldn't. Andre decided it was best to take off again, and this time we alighted in a field that had been harvested. The prominent stubble in the field seemed to bring the basket to a more abrupt halt than the first time. We noticed that a herd of cattle in a field slightly further on seemed more than a little spooked by the appearance of a huge bizarre red object in their vicinity. The farmer who owned the beasts was on site within minutes in his four-wheel-drive rather forcibly "requesting" that Andre deflate the balloon. Although the pilot would rather have kept the balloon inflated for a bit longer to help his assistant see where we were, the farmer made it clear that this was not an option.

The farmer claimed that some of the animals were pregnant, and said that he was worried that the fright of seeing the balloon would induce premature labour. While this may have been true, I believe farmers have been know to tell a few fibs to get the balloonists to do what they want. Some, when they see the Virgin logo, simply demand that the pilot gets his cheque book out.

Finally, Andre's assistant arrived, we all helped pack the balloon back in its bag, and we then toasted the flight with champagne----very civilised indeed! The landrover took us back to Perth, ending an evening that I don't think any of us will forget.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Flight of the Sog 2

The whole balloon.
Originally uploaded by Wosog.

We flew for about an hour, floating over Perth and out into the countryside. It was amazingly quiet, the only noise being the intermittent blast of the burner heating the air to keep us from plummeting to the ground. Because the weather was hazy we only flew at 500-700 feet. I believe they usually fly at around 3,000 feet, but I'm sure Andre said they could go to 5,000 feet.

Andre is not the most talkative of people, but he's a pretty interesting guy, and, as you can see from this page on the Virgin website, he's a very experienced flyer----not just of balloons. I noticed that the balloon had a gps (global positioning system), and I said to Andre that it must come in handy when his team had to complete the task of finding the balloon after it landed. "Do you know what gps stands for?", he said. "No.", I said. "Go phone someone.", he replied".

As we drifted out into the country, he pointed to a stretch of land to our left. Not all farmers are delighted, it seems, when the ballonists land in their fields. "The woman that owns all the fields along there is mad.", he said. Apparently, after he landed in this woman's field earlier in the season her son stabbed the virtually new £80,000 balloon in several places as well as attacking his landrover with a baseball bat and threatening him and his crew with a gun!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Flight of the Sog 1

By the time we arrived in Perth, the weather was really quite spectacular, and we were confident that the flight was going to go ahead. We had a walk around the city of Perth, taking photographs of the buildings, and of an interesting graveyard! After two o'clock, we phoned the number that we had been given. We found that we got a recorded message telling us that, indeed, the flight was to go ahead. It said that the participants in the flight were to meet at “the stone sculpture” in South Insch Park. Our hotel was right next to the park, and we had sufficient time to explore the area in some detail. We found, what we thought was the stone sculpture, but we were not entirely sure that we had the right location!

At 18.30 Wosog and I made our way to the stone sculpture and waited for the balloon, and our fellow passengers, to arrive. At around 18.20 a young man who had travelled up from Preston, arrived at the stone sculpture. We were reassured that, at least one other person had made the same mistake as we had! At around 18.25 the balloon arrived at last. The problem that the balloonist had, however, was that he was missing eight passengers. The mystery was solved when a party of seven girls from Argyll were found around the stone statue of Sir Walter Scott that was located at the entrance of the park. We never did find the remaining one passenger.

After the fascinating process of inflating the balloon, we finally took to the skies over Perth around 19.30.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

To Travel Hopefully?

As I stated previously, in June I booked the hot air balloon flight that my relatives had bought me for my fiftieth birthday. It was scheduled to take off from Perth around 18.00 on Saturday 19th August. I don't usually pay much attention to the weather forecast, but the week before the flight I was painfully aware of how the previously settled weather was deteriorating relentlessly as the weekend approached.

On the Friday in Glasgow the rain was so heavy that there was localised flooding! On Saturday morning I checked the weather forecast on the internet and it was predicting fog for Perth! I wasn't sure if the torrential rain that fell as we set off for Perth would cause the flight to be postponed, but I was fairly sure that fog wouldn't go down too well! We were supposed to phone a number after 2 o'clock to see if things were going to go ahead, but I was far from optimistic as we drove north. We had booked a hotel room for the Saturday night anyway.

In the event, the weather improved steadily as headed for Perthshire, so it looked like Wosog might get a chance to claim the life assurance after all!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Fat of the Land

When I was a wee boy my mother always used to tell me, when I was reluctant to eat something, that I should "remember the starving children of the world". The relentless training to clear my plate from an early age is probably part of the reason why I am a fat bloater now, although I suspect that it has more to do with the fact that I am basically a lazy sod---like most of my fellow inhabitants of the Western World. However, I was still astounded today to read that world now has more overweight people than hungry ones.

According to this article, there are about 1.4 billion overweight people in the world as opposed to the 800 million that are undernourished. The global march----or perhaps waddle is more appropriate----towards obesity is only going to get worse as countries like India and China start to enjoy the "benefits" of growing prosperity. The "powers that be" are just starting to think about how they might try to influence the unhealthy trend towards increasing bulk. Having tried for years to encourage patients to lose weight, and failing miserably both with them and myself, I really do wish them luck!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

It Brings Tears To Your Eyes

Another gem in this week's "This Life" column in the Sunday Times concerns a certain Mr Mario Visnjic who sat back in his beach deckchair after a refreshing swim. Unfortunately, he got a bit of a shock when he tried to stand up as his testicles had become stuck between the slats of the chair!

It seems that Mr Visnjic's testes had shrunk while he was skinny dipping in the sea off Valalta in western Croatia, but they had re-expanded in the sunshine and became wedged between the wooden slats. Fortunately he was able to summon an attendant with his mobile phone who released him by cutting the chair in half!

Wosog and I have periodically thought of visiting Eastern Europe, but I think we'll not bother.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Blunt Facts

The Sunday Times' "This Life" column usually makes interesting reading. Amongst other things this week, it details the results of a survey of 2,059 adults to see what things they found most irritating. Perhaps surprising in view of the large amount of dosh he has made, or perhaps not so surprising, is the fact that James Blunt is the fourth most irritating thing after "cold callers", caravans, and queue jumpers (no surprises there).

Poor James is even ahead of Carol Vorderman (surely not?), traffic wardens and noisy neighbours!

My American friends will be pleased to find they only come in at number 46.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Cats that look like Hitler

I need to stop taking pictures of my cat.
Originally uploaded by little_hobbit_feet.

I've previously blogged about the fact that you can find a site about anything on the Interweb. This is Luther, the cat belonging to my Flickr friend little_hobbit_feet. Although he is IMHO an adorable moggy, he does bear a passing resemblance to a certain psychopathic German politician from the last century.

However, it would appear that he is not unique in this respect. This site hosts pictures of other felines with this dubious distinction. "Why?" you may ask. Well I don't really know.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Wosog loves donkeys....

Wosog loves donkeys....
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.

An amusing incident happened during our recent holiday in Santorini: well it seems funny now, anyway. We went to Fira one evening and made the fatal decision to walk down the steps to the Old Port. We knew that some people traveled the 580 or so steps on donkeys, but we thought we would walk down and get the cable car back up. We didn't realise that there were so many donkeys, and how much of their "droppings" covered the steps. I can honestly say that I have never seen so much crap in the one place at the one time! The bloody donkeys also seemed to have no sense of direction, and it was in places difficult to walk down the steps at all! Meanwhile, the sun was beating down, the smell was getting worse, and the bottom of the steps never seemed to come. Eventually we reached the Old Port and almost immediately came back up up by cable car with some nice elderly Italians. If either of us ever harboured any affection for donkeys before that day it certainly disappeared that evening in Greece.

I took the picture above to try and capture some of Wosog's discomfiture at confronting a morass of donkeys. Before anyone starts flinging accusations, I did not take this photo in order to capture the image of the attractive girl on the left. She just happened to be there! I make this point because similar unjustified accusations have come my way in the past.

I'll say no more on the subject.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I taught her all she knows....

Sail boat silhouette
Originally uploaded by Wosog.

Wosog and I have been married for 24 years this year ( yes, I am that old), and our anniversary is on the 10th of July. One of the things we did when we were in Santorini was to go on a cruise that was designed to let you view the sunset off Oia. I'd like to say it was deliberate, but by total coincidence the date of this trip fell on our anniversary. As you will imagine we both took lots of photographs of the sunset and this one taken by Wosog was her first picture to get into what is called Explore in Flickr.

Explore lists the 500 most interesting pictures uploaded to Flickr each day. Nobody knows how the Gods of Flickr measure interestingness, but there is no doubt that Explore contains some spectacular images. This photo not only got into explore but was listed very near the top. I think you'll agree it's a fabulous reminder of our 24 years together.

There I've said it: I'll go back to being a total cynic again!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A Great Break in Santorini

Wosog and I had a great holiday in Santorini. As I said in a previous post, Santorini is actually a group of islands. By far the biggest is Thera (or Thira), where we stayed, but the group also includes a smaller island called Thirasia, as well as two volcanic islands called Nea Kameni (which has several craters and last erupted in 1950) and Palea Kameni (which has hot springs). Finally there is tiny island with a prominent upper layer of pumice called Aspronisi. There are a few people on Thirasia but the vast majority of the Santorini population stay on Thera.

We stayed in Perissa, which is basically a beach resort. The apartments had quite a nice swimming pool, but Wosog, who loves to swim in the sea, didn't use it at all. They guy who looked after the pool was extremely obsessional about it. It was fascinating to watch him go through his routine every day, but it seemed to work because I don't think I've ever seen a cleaner pool! The Pool Man was middle-aged, and never smiled, partly because he was constantly nagged by his rather vain wife. We later found out that he was a retired Albanian policeman, which somehow seemed to explain a lot.

Behind Perissa, between it and the bigger resort of Kamari, is the small mountain Mesa Vouno that has the ruins of the city of Ancient Thera on top of it. In an effort to try and avoid excessive holiday weight gain, I actually climbed (or rather walked) up Mesa Vouno 3 times: once to photograph a little church perched on the side of the mountain, and twice to visit Ancient Thera (once without, and once with Wosog). Aren't you proud of me?

Unfortunately, it didn't work and I came back an even bigger blob than before.
Don't worry, the diet has already started!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tas Mania 3, and post-holiday depression

Well Gdog has made it to Australia. She had to travel all on her own down to London by train, get to Heathrow Airport, fly to Hongkong and finally fly to Melbourne. The initial stages of this mammoth voyage coincided with Wosog and I returning from sunny Santorini. As a result, we won't see The Little Princess for a total of six weeks: it must have been something we said!

An anxious Wosog tracked the migration of her baby by means of frequent text messages and slightly less frequent mobile phone calls. Gsog hadn't phoned her to see her off because he had forgotten when she was going ('nough said)! We were particularly concerned that the wee soul would fall asleep in Hongkong Airport and miss her flight to Oz. However we needn't have worried, and she is now recovering from her jet lag with my excellent cousin David who lives near Melbourne. In a few days she'll tie the corks to her wide-brimmed hat and join her fellow conservationists as they head off for Tasmania. Watch this space for more details.

As for me, I had a great holiday in Santorini (more of which later). However, I've just remembered the one thing that I don't like about holidays: the fact that you have to go back to work after them. I'll sign off now as I'm off to buy a lottery ticket.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Everyday Low Prices...

Many thanks to my friend Donna di Mondo on Flickr for pointing me in the direction of this excellent video.

Thank goodness none of our British supermarkets behave like this, eh?

Monday, July 03, 2006

My Political Compass

My Political Compass
Originally uploaded by Son of Groucho.

Thanks to Birdman for pointing me in the direction of this site that claims to be able to analyse your political position based on a detailed questionnaire.

I'm in the same quadrant as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama: not too bad company!

Why don't you give it a go?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Off to Greece again...

Dedicated graecophiles Sog and Wosog are off to Greece again in the early hours of Tuesday morning. We are off to the island of Santorini this time. Basically, as you all may have suspected, Wosog decides where we are going, and I merely agree. Hence, I didn't realise until now that Santorini is actually a circular group of islands. Needless to say, I have no idea which of the group we are going to----I'll tell you when we get back!

We are leaving the house to be looked after by Gsog (why does a phrase that includes the words "lunatics" and "asylum" keep running through my head?). Gdog will also be keeping an eye on things---which is only slightly more reassuring. Thank goodness we have sensible neighbours!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Size doesn't matter?

Many thanks to SeenyaRita of Flickr for pointing me in the direction of this tragic tale.

It is quite funny, though, isn't it (in a gruesome sort of way)?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Up, up and away......

Well, I finally got round to it: booking my flight in a hot air balloon, that is. "What on Earth are you wittering on about, Sog" you say. Well a group of my kind relatives clubbed together and bought me a balloon flight as a fiftieth birthday present. I half suspected that they might do something like this because they had been canvassing my opinion on parachute jumps and the like at an earlier family gathering. Fortunately, my less than enthusiastic reaction to the latter convinced them that I was a fully paid up member of the CCS---the Coward's Club of Scotland.

I instantly thought that the balloon flight was a great idea with numerous photographic possibilities. However it was only when Wosog rejected the idea of buying an extra ticket so she could get into the basket with me that I started to wonder if my yellow streak might prove an obstacle again. Anyway, I've put that thought behind me and booked a flight from Perth on Saturday 19th August.

I don't know if I've mentioned the fact that Wosog has a wicked sense of humour? I'm sure it's a total coincidence that as part of my 50th birthday present from her she gave me a book by Ian McEwan called "Enduring Love". Part of the complex plot involves a GP falling to his death from a hot air balloon.

Funny, that!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tas Mania 2

When we heard Gdog was going to Tasmania, we thought we would give her the opportunity to demonstrate her deep knowledge of that far off land by mentioning the tasmanian devil. "That's some sort of plant, isn't it?" said Gdog. I didn't think this was likely in view of the cartoon character based on the creature!

Well, Gdog here is what the tasmanian devil "plant" sounds like, and here's a bit of info about them.

Sometimes I wonder if we should let her walk through Glasgow on her own far less travel to the other side of the planet! Anyway I'm sure she'll be fine (typing slowly due to crossed fingers).

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tas Mania

I don't know if I mentioned it, but Gdog's going on a wee trip to Australia next month. She's going there as a student volunteer. The organisation involved, International Student Volunteers, Inc., has projects in various parts of the world. Gdog has known for a while that she is going to Oz, but she only found out this week (a) which part of Australia she is going to, and (b) what exactly she will be doing there.

It turns out she is going for 2 weeks to the Long Point Wetlands Rehabilitation Project in Tasmania, which is run by the the Tasmanian Land Conservancy. One thing we hadn't thought about until very recently, following a conversation with my cousin in Melbourne, is the fact that Gdog is visiting Oz during their Winter. Here is the advice she has been given about the weather she can expect:

"The daytime temperatures will range between approx. 10° to 18° C (50° - 65° F) although may be as cold as - 5° C (23° F) overnight outside. Weather conditions vary in winter, however rain and windy weather can be expected on some days, so please ensure that you are adequately prepared for cold, wet and windy weather. Please note also that wet clothes may not dry overnight, so at least two sets of clothes to work in should be brought unless you don'’t mind putting on wet clothes in the chilly morning!"
This is not exactly the picture I would have had in mind previously when I thought of Australia!

Gdog's main task at the project will be removing gorse, which sounds like somewhat harder physical work than she is used to. She will be getting up at 07.30 and clearing gorse from 09.00 to 15.30. I suspect the accomodation will also be somewhat more basic than she is used to! Some folk, on hearing that she is going to Tasmania to clear gorse have made the point that Scotland has quite a lot of gorse that she could have cleared if she wanted to, at much less expense!

Gdog, however, assures us that she is looking forward to the challenge, but I think she is really looking forward to the two week holiday that follows the volunteer work.

Call me a cynic, if you like......

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Weekend in Old Reekie

If anyone is reading this and is mystified by the title, Old Reekie is Edinburgh, the capital of Bonnie Scotland. Although I only live about an hour's drive from Edinburgh, I've only been in the city about half a dozen times. Because we had made arrangements to meet friends there on Saturday evening we decided to make a weekend of it.

We heard from one of our friends that the weather had been foggy and cold on the Friday, but on Saturday the sun was "splitting the sky". The grass in Princes Street Gardens was covered with eager sun-worshippers when we arrived about 13.00. We spent the afternoon wandering around Edinburgh Castle photographing everything in sight.

In the evening we had some excellent Mexican Food then went to the Jam House, which is part-owned by Jools Holland. The music was good and we had a great night that finished around 01.00. We were glad that we had booked a hotel 5 minutes walk away (at great expense).

The next morning we took some more photographs, including several of the Scottish Parliament. I was quite impressed with the controversial building, although I am still very aware of how expensive the project was and disappointed with the continuing problems that the building seems to have.

All in all it wasn't exactly a relaxing weekend, but well worth while. I'll maybe not leave it so long before I visit Old Reekie again!

Monday, May 29, 2006

A Close Shave

Shaving is a pain: not literally, usually, but metaphorically. Some day, when I've got a bit of time on my hands, I'll work out the number of hours of my life I've spent doing it so I can drop the figure into the conversation when there is a lull at a very dull dinner party. Still, if a job's worth doing it's worth doing well, as the saying goes.

The market for Razor Blades for wet shaving in the UK is dominated by Gillette. Wilkinson Sword and Biro Bic Razors have a much smaller market share. Over the years the male adult population has watched with some bemusement as the number of blades apparently required to perform the task has risen from 1 to 2 to 3, and even to 4! The corresponding rise in the price of these hi tech little items has meant that special security precautions directed towards them have been necessary in supermarkets! Some nerd has even extrapolated forward to conclude that we'll expect a 14-bladed razor in 2100!

Recently Gillette seems to have decided that the delicate art of shaving only needs 3 blades but the movement of these can't be entrusted to the the average hand alone. An electric motor is also required to achieve "the best a man can get".

If shaving really is as complicated as this I think I'll grow a beard!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A phone is a phone is a phone

I've never been able to get excited about mobile phones. I concede they are quite handy things for making telephone calls on, although even performing this function I often feel my phone makes me too available. The other things that modern phones can do leave me totally unimpressed. I hate text messaging and as for taking pictures with a phone----that's what cameras are for! Obviously, certain enterprising individuals have made millions from providing ringtones for people to download: what is that all about? Even thought the current technological marvels now play a reasonably musical version, why would I want my calls to be signaled by the latest "pop classic"?

The young folk are, of course different. For them it is essential that their every thought is packaged in a text message and distributed to their friends immediately. They have to have the latest phone, which is, of course, music to the ears of the likes of The Carphone Warehouse. Gsog, for example, has had numerous phones. His current one seems perfectly serviceable to me, but only the other day he was muttering about getting yet another one. Gdog has had 3 different phones in the year that she has stayed in our flat in Glasgow.

Anyway, I think I've finally found the ultimate phone for them. Only one small problem: they'll have to get an awful lot of overtime at Tesco to pay for it. The price tag is, after all, $1 million!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I don't want to go to Chelsea....

We all have our interests, and one of my minor obsessions is garden gnomes. Some time ago I started a group in Flickr called "Home for Gnomes"”. Like many desert plants, Home for Gnomes seems to thrive on neglect, and with very little attention from me it has grown to over 90 members, a testimony I would argue to the global appeal of these little creatures.

With this in mind, you can imagine how horrified I was this morning listening to the "“Today"” programme on BBC Radio 4. This had a piece on the Royal Horticultural Society'’s Chelsea Flower Show making the point that one of the things banned from gardens at Chelsea is my beloved garden gnomes! One of their "roving reporters" was featured "smuggling"” a gnome into the show and seeing what the reaction to him was. There was a great feeling of tension during the piece as listeners no doubt feared that RHS "heavies" would burst onto the scene and eject our heroic reporter and friend. There followed an interview featuring the Garden Master of New College Oxford who represented the RHS and its role in "“policing the line"” over which nasty, kitsch creatures like gnomes would not be allowed to cross. The highlight of the interview was the point at which he was asked if fairies were banned too. He spontaneously uttered that "If you banned fairies you'’d have to ban half the garden designers!"”

Anyway, I like gnomes----so there!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

I'm not dead yet....

Sorry things have been a bit quiet round here recently. I am going to try getting back into the habit of posting regularly, but I really don't know how "super bloggers" like Gordon McLean keep it up!

On the subject of Gordon McLean, I noticed in his "Overflow" section this amazingly funny "Father Ted Obsenity Report". I'm not sure exactly how it was produced.

Under the headline "Understatement of the week" The Sunday Times today had the following story: "A heavy metal fan has survived being hit from behind by a train. Jesse Maggrach, 20, was walking along tracks in Alberta, Canada, listening to music through ear phones. Describing the impact, he recalled: 'Holy crap, dude, you just got hit by a train.'" Personally, I think "Stating the obvious" would have been a more apt headline.

Monday, May 01, 2006

A Week in New York City 8

On our last full day in NYC we visted Lower Manhattan. Our first port of call was the Brooklyn Bridge. This is an amazing structure, although it looks a bit rusty and in need of a fresh coat of paint. The weather was great again, and the bridge provided a fabulous viewpoint. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to walk all the way across.

Close to the bridge is the Ground Zero site where the World Trade Center used to be. Saint Paul's Chapel, near the site, had this poster which captured the mood for me. Ground Zero is actually quite difficult to photograph as the area is almost completely fenced off. I managed to find one decent vantage point. It's almost as if The Powers That Be don't want people to be reminded of what happpened. There are grand plans to build the Freedom Tower on the site, but I believe the project is mired in controversy.

After lunch we decided to walk back from Battery Park along the side of the Hudson River. This area used to be the point where a busy throughput of ships tied up and disgorged their contents. Many of the piers have now been taken down and all that remains is a collection of stumps. Other piers have been converted into various things including pleasant areas to walk, and even a golf centre with a huge driving range. The project is called Hudson River Park and it will be a wonderful facility when it's completed.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Week in New York City 7

The first thing we did on our 5th day in New York (Sunday) was to go back to B&H Photo Video and Pro Audio to try and buy my lens. We arrived to find that the shop didn't open until 10 am, and we were a little early so we sat in a deli across the road and had a cup of unpleasantly sweet coffee. Just before 10 am a bus load, literally, of traditionally dressed orthodox Jewish men arrived and poured into the shop----we thought we had walked into a Woody Allen film! The Saturday closing phenomenon was, thus, explained. B&H is said to be the biggest shop of its kind (in the world, I think). It doesn't exactly have an overfriendly atmosphere, but it's run very efficiently: and it had my lens for the price in dollars I'd have had to pay in pounds at home.

The weather on the Sunday was glorious and we spent most of the rest of the day in Central Park. We passed the Dakota Building with an impressive flunky standing outside on the way to Strawberry Fields. The cherry trees were in bloom, and the park looked spectacular. The variety of activities of people there was quite impressive: running, cycling, skating, rollerskate dancing, hockey, lacrosse etc. etc. It really made Wosog and I feel quite guilty that we were just walking and taking pictures (well not really!).

In the evening, after another excellent meal, we went back up the Empire State Building to take some night pictures including the one I've shown here.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A Week In New York City 6

Our 4th day in NYC was a bit of a disaster. The weather was cold and wet. I had decided to go to a shop called B&H Photo Video and Pro Audio on 33rd Street try and buy a 50mm f1.8 lens, as I had heard that I could get it cheaper in the US than here. My rationale for going on a Saturday was that it would definitely be open on that day whereas it might be shut on the Sunday. Wosog was feeling a bit tired at that stage in the holiday. We walked from the hotel to the shop in the miserable rain to find that the shop was closed all day on a Saturday. "Funny!" we thought----well that wasn't exactly what we thought. We didn't find out the explanation till the following day.

We went from there to the International Center of Photography, which was quite interesting, but much smaller than we had expected. We then went back to the hotel and spent the afternoon "power napping".

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A Week In New York City 5

Day 3 in the Big Brother House...I mean our third day in NYC involved a cruise down the Hudson past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, capturing them for posterity as we went. We then continued under the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges part of the way up the East River. Eventually we looped round and came back to where we started. It was not the nicest of days, but apart from the obvious sites it gave us the chance to see where Nicole Kidman has a $4 million apartment.

In the afternoon we visited the Guggenheim Museum. Wosog and I have a bit of an aversion to a lot of "modern art", but we got a ticket to this museum as part of our CityPass, and we did want to see the iconic building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, the icon is shrouded in boards just now so that the building can be renovated---which was a bit of a bummer! In contrast to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim only allows you to take pictures in the "entrance hall". We have decided that this is to avoid anyone with half a brain and elementary welding skills copying the brilliant works of art. We found the staff of the Guggenheim unfriendly, and our fellow visitors seemed to take the exhibits, and their pretentious descriptions, so seriously that we had to leave before we had a fit of the giggles. We decided not to use our "free" ticket to the Museum of Modern Art.

We walked back from the Guggenheim down Fifth Avenue so that Wosog could taunt me about visiting various designer shops.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Week In New York City 4

Our second full day in NYC started with the obligatory visit to the Empire State Building. Fortunately, we went early enough not to have to queue for too long. Views from the 86th floor were breath-taking, and I got a good picture of the Chrysler Building as well as a much hazier view of the Statue of Liberty---but as you can see it is quite a distance away!

In the afternoon we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for one of our periodic doses of culture. The museum has a really informal atmosphere and they actually allow you to take pictures, as long as you don't use flash. We left having "stolen" a nice little collection of paintings by Rembrandt, Picasso, Degas and Modigliani. Unfortunately, I don't think my versions will quite achieve the value of the originals!

In the late afternoon we got half price tickets for the Mel Brookes musical "The Producers" in the ticket centre in Times Square. Although I'm not normally a great fan of musicals, I really enjoyed the performance, which was performed extremely professionally.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Week In New York City 3

Most of our first full day in NYC was spent in the American Museum of Natural History. When we booked the holiday we had bought a CityPass that included a ticket for this museum, but I'd definitely have wanted to go there anyway. I've been fascinated by dinosaurs since childhood and AMNH has a fine collection, two of which meet you in the entrance hall.

Another impressive exhibit is the life-size model of a blue whale that practically occupies a very large room on its own! The display shown here is the Biodiversity Wall that illustrates the variety of lifeforms on the planet.

Part of the AMNH is The Rose Center for Earth and Space. It's devoted to geology and astronomy, and includes an amazing planetarium. There they are currently showing "Cosmic Collisions" which depicts various simulated events including the meteorite collision that is thought to have polished off the dinosaurs.

On the way back to our hotel we had a look at Central Park for the first time: but more of that later.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Week in New York City 2

Shortly after we settled into our miniscule room we set out to explore Times Square, which was essentially on our doorstep. The New Yorkers are a bit sniffy about Times Square, but I liked it. I get the impression that the square was previously a bit seedy, but it has now been renovated, or some would say sanitised. To me it epitomises what New York is all about: it's brash and "in your face", like it or lump it! From Bubba Gump, which is a bit like TFI Friday, we looked out onto the display of signs that now rivals Las Vegas.

Shops in Times Square include a Toys R Us with a 60 foot Ferris Wheel, a life-size moving T rex, and a life-size Barbie House, although life-size Barbie didn't seem to be home. There are also large Lego models of The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building and The Statue of Liberty. Strangely enough, they didn't seem to sell kits for any of these! You can buy theatre tickets in the centre in Times Square on the day of the performance for as much as 50% off.

There's always something going on in the square and it's especially busy when the after-theatre audiences pour onto the streets. Day time surprises include the Naked Cowboy, if you are into that sort of thing.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Week in New York City 1

Well here I am back in the dull, uneventful UK having spent 7 days in "The City That Never Sleeps". Unfortunately, due to jiggling of my biorhythms I temporarily became The Scotsman That Never Sleeps, so getting back to blogging has not been a priority.

We thought that we had a direct flight from Dublin to NYC, but it soon became apparent that there was a stop-over in Shannon. The flight to Shannon was virtually empty: it felt like flying in a private jet, and fair set us up for the multiple stretched limos of Manhattan (none of which we traveled in). The only benefit of this arrangement was that we had the unfettered joy of interrogation by US Immigration in Shannon rather than NYC.

We arrived in New York mid-afternoon, and took the airport shuttle to our hotel near Times Square. The Hotel 41 in, you guessed it, 41st Street is the most expensive hotel we have ever stayed in. Our room also had the dubious distinction of being the smallest hotel room we have ever stayed in. You could not swing a mouse, far less a cat, in this room! The bottom of the safe had carpet on it----I'm sure so that they could include that area in the floor space calculation. We later heard that having 8 inches on one side of your double bed and about 18 inches, much of which was occupied by the air conditioning unit, on the other was fairly standard for Manhattan, even in hotels more expensive than the 41.

The hotel was, however, ideally situated for the exploration of The Big Apple----more of which later.