Friday, 3 April 2020

Changing Rooms

This story starts with a piano.

The particular instrument was owned, loved and played by Sue's Grandmother, and featured in many happy family sing-alongs. After Grandmother's passing, in her memory, Sue was determined to keep the piano, and in time, use it to hone her own playing skills.

For some ten years, after we moved to Skye, the piano resided at Rowan Cottage, where it was occasionally played by our self-catering visitors. When we sold Rowan, we had the piano moved to Summer Cottage, Being much closer to our home, Sue has been able to call-in at Summer when the cottage was vacant, to have a little tinkle, and is now becoming an ever more accomplished pianist.  But popping up to Summer to play is not a very convenient arrangement, so we came to the decision that the piano would have to be moved here to Roskhill Barn.

Now, the only place it could stand here would be in the downstairs room that we refer to as the study. This room is also my 'playroom', with decor and furnishings to my taste. Sue has her own 'playroom' - furnished to suit her - upstairs.

I didn't want the piano in my playroom, and there wasn't space for it anyway, so the only option was for us to swap rooms. This means I have to give-up my view of the bird-feeders, and my convenient en-suite bathroom, but I do get a larger room, and - to be fair - a rather better view over our garden and field to the cliffs and sea beyond.

As we are currently enduring coronavirus lock-down, I have no-where to go just now, and the weather is not good enough for working outside, so I have dedicated the last few days to stripping out both rooms, moving a lot of furniture (and all it contained) plus all my computery stuff. I have redecorated both rooms (luckily there was enough paint for each room in half-used cans in the shed...) (just as well I'd kept them...) and now, my 'new' playroom is all-but finished. Sue will spend some time in the next few days organising her books, pot-plants and trinkety bits and pieces to suit her, and will leave a large space for the piano, which will be moved here as soon as we are allowed to do such a thing.

Now, we just need to get Cupar used to the new arrangement.

The study / my playroom, in the process of being 'taken apart'
Sue's former playroom, in a similar state of disarray
The upstairs sitting room became a temporary furniture store
I thought everything was wireless these days...???
My new view -
the weather was good this morning but it has been raining since lunchtime
My new playroom...sitting end
... and again - working end

Friday, 27 March 2020

SOO Moves On...

No, not SUE. She's stuck with me. ..!!

SOO is the letters-part of a number plate I bought for Sue when we bought her a new Mini way back in 2001. The plate has been on quite a few different cars since then, and it has now moved on again.

While the Peugeot 208 that we have just parted with was a very smart little car, with its leather trim and glitzy looks, its firm sporty suspension and ultra-low-profile tyres were not a good match for the dreadful state of the Skye roads. So we have opted for something a little more 'chunky' this time.

The new SOO is a Citroen C3 Aircross, Sue drives some 90 miles every day when she is undertaking her home-care round, and she is already appreciating the comfortable and accommodating ride of the C3 as she bumps and bounces round Skye.

Sue's Mini - 2001, in Kent. You wouldn't dress like that on Skye...!!!
Saying goodbye - last day with the 208
Note - Skye clothing...
The new SOO

Monday, 23 March 2020

Quieter Than Quiet

There is a strange new hush all across Skye.

In an attempt to stop, or at least slow down, the spread of the highly contagious Covid-19 virus, government advice is not to travel un-necessarily, to work from home where possible, and although it is OK to be outside, people should not crowd together. There's very little traffic on the roads. Pubs, cafes and restaurants are all closed, as are camp sites and paid-for visitor attractions like the Talisker distillery and Dunvegan Castle. All of our cottage holiday bookings are cancelled - at least for the early part of the year.

On a calm day, the only sound is birdsong. Possibly the most surprisingly noticeable difference though, is that the very distant and almost constant roar of high-flying aircraft is gone. I had never even noticed that the sound existed until it was gone.

There's a few other things we won't have noticed we have until they are gone... well-stocked supermarkets spring to mind... and the freedom to go out... meet friends... hug an elderly relative.

I don't feel optimistic for the future. Until our wonderful scientists produce an effective vaccine against the virus - which is forecast to take many more months yet -  all we can do is hide behind our closed doors, keep washing our hands, and hope we don't fall ill. Can the world's population cope with holding its breath for half a year or more? From pictures and reports I have seen today, people in many parts of the globe are already ignoring the advice to keep isolated. Total lock-downs enforced by police patrols are in place in a number of countries, though even in those places, the infection-rate, and death-rate,  from the virus continues to climb almost unchecked. And then - if lock-down measures DO eventually begin to work - what will happen when the lock-down is removed??

As for how the world's finances will cope with it all - I simply cannot imagine. I am no financial wizard, and personally, we are thankfully able to cope without any cottage visitors for a season. But so many people will be frightened of how they will manage without work or income. Various governments seem to be finding spare cash from somewhere to make grants and hand-outs. Is that going to mean future tax-rises?

It's a scary time.

I fear 2020 is going to go down in history as the year the world changed for ever.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Spring ???

It can't be... 1st March, and I have spent the morning on the allotment! To my surprise, the soil was light and easy to turn, so I have dug over a bed-and-a-bit, which is about all my back can cope with for today. It is really lovely out there - there was just a trace of frost when I got started at about 9.30, and a couple of robins were trying to out-do each other in a contest of who could sing the loudest.

This is not the first gardening I have done this year though. Now that we have a few self-catering visitors booked to stay at The Old Bakery - our little cottage in Strathpeffer - we thought we should make a bit of an effort with the small and steeply-sloping patch of garden there. So far, I have cleared the weed growth from about a third of the plot, moved several badly-sited shrubs (which may or many not survive the move), removed a very straggly pampas grass and two ginormous gunnera plants. I have then installed a rather precipitous flight of steps up to a new, small paved patio area where we intend to site a bench and table. The plan is to create a nice spot for a morning coffee or maybe an evening glass of wine. Unfortunately, I have thus far failed to take a decent photograph of the area. I'll have another go next time I am there.

The Barn allotment -
not at its tidiest yet, but it is good to get the chance to make a start!

Thursday, 13 February 2020

A Bit Of A Gap

To my horror, I have just noticed that it is well over a month since I last posted on this blog. Where does the time go?

On the whole, the winter is a quieter time for us, as we have almost no holiday bookings, so no turn-rounds and associated laundry to deal with. On the other hand, bookings and enquiries for the forthcoming season come in almost every day, and they can sometimes take a while to respond-to. Winter is also a good time to catch-up with a few cottage maintenance tasks, and also to ensure the websites and cottage information folders are up to date.

We are offering our little holiday home in Strathpeffer for occasional self-catering stays this year. This entails getting a few extra things in place and making sure that everything works the way it should. I am also gradually altering the steeply sloping back garden area, by installing steps up to a paved seating area, which I am hoping will become a nice place to sit for a summer-evening barbecue.

The Old Bakery garden steps - paved area still to come
- pictured on a frosty January morning!
I have also had another of my regular trips south to visit friends and family. This time, the weather forecasts were suggesting snow and ice, so I chose to drive down in my 4-wheel-drive BMW X3, which handled the wintry conditions without any drama at all - though the drive is no comparison to Puss-the-Jaguar when it comes to motorway-cruising.

The Highlands become a Winter Wonderland in the snow...
Who's speeding...?!!
Now, some signs suggest that spring might be just around the corner. We have snowdrops in flower, and daffs in bud. And the garden birds, which have largely been absent through the winter, are returning in greater numbers to feed-up on our fat balls and peanuts in preparation for their breeding season. This means it is almost time for me to rummage in the shed for the garden fork and get the allotment beds turned over. It won't be long before I will have to try to start the lawnmower...

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Why Are All The Buildings White?

This is a question I have been asked a few times by visitors. In fact - not ALL the buildings on Skye are painted white, a few are cream... However, I have to admit, I do not know a definitive answer to  the question.

It is probably mostly to do with tradition. The natural local building material is stone - if it is not ON the surface, bedrock is pretty close the surface almost everywhere on Skye. You don't see any brick-built buildings here. There's no clay to make bricks, and anyway, brick tends to be porous, so would not be ideal for use in the West Highlands weather conditions. So, the earliest dwellings were simply stone-coloured. When lime mortar became available, the stone would be daubed with this, which when dry has a pale grey colour. A limewash might then be applied - making the final finish white(ish) in colour.

Scroll-on to the 20th century, and masonry paint is invented - available in a multitude of colours. A few old buildings in the most famous photo-spots, like Portee harbour, get painted blue, pink and yellow - but everywhere else - we tend to stick to white.

Modern buildings continue the white trend - though almost none are built of stone these days. Since the 1970s, houses here are constructed using a pre-fabricated, pre-insulated timber frame which is then clad with more insulation and covered with concrete blocks,  making a strong outer layer. A cement render is then applied to the blocks, to provide a fully waterproof skin. Invariably, the render is decorated with a few coats of white masonry paint.

Maybe one day it will become fashionable to paint houses here in other colours - but for now, white looks good to me...

Houses of all ages in Glendale - and all painted white!

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

First Light 2020

I am just back from taking Cupar out for his first walkies of 2020. We went our regular route, but this morning was unusual for more than the fact that we have now entered a new decade, and more than that we did not see a single moving motor vehicle throughout our half hour on the local main road,

We are quite used to the daylight and weather conditions here being extreme in one way or another. But this morning's dawn was one of the most eerie I have ever experienced. The wind was strong - coming straight in over the sea, and gusting to at least 50mph I would guess. The temperature was probably around 6C. Nothing unusual so far.

No - it was a combination of an extremely low cloud base - certainly no more than 500 feet - and the attempts by the weak winter sunrise to turn night into dawn that led to the unique scene. The cloud was thick and heavy, and covered the entire sky in a surging blanket. In colour, it was a peculiar and indescribable grey-purple. It moved fast, so low overhead I felt if I reached up my hand I would touch it. The dead moorland grasses at the roadside, flattened by the wind, glowed far too brightly in a weird near-fluorescent orange. Other than the buffeting of the wind, there was a complete absence of any sound. It was not raining, but there was a distinct dampness to the air - probably the result of minute droplets of sea-spray suspended in the atmosphere.

It was good to get back to the cosy warmth of the Barn. As the days, weeks and months pass, we will doubtless see many more sunrises, but the curious fist light of 2020 certainly gave the new decade something to live up to.

Happy New Year!