Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous 25

Mar. 21st, 2010



Anyone who didn't read the last entry properly (and there seem to be one or two of you) may wonder why the blog has gone quiet. That's because the regular update has moved here. Click on the link if you want to stay in touch.

Mar. 13th, 2010



It's time to say goodbye to LiveJournal – my blog has moved to my website. Click on www.russellturner.org/blog.asp then save the page in your browser's favourites to keep track of life at The Rural Retreat.

Mar. 12th, 2010



Being employed – voluntarily – for only three days a week, you'd imagine that workday stress would be a thing of the past. Not so.

This has not been a fun week at the headquarters of the Great Northern Media Empire. If the crew of the Ocean Guardian strike a gusher off the Falklands I could be tempted to retire early, but there's still no news from the South Atlantic. The value of my share portfolio continues to decline. Life can be hard.

It's tough for Matchgirl too. She returned from Shetland yesterday and shortly after that suffered the post-flight migraine that can no longer be regarded as coincidence. She's clearly allergic to FlyBe's teeny, propeller-powered island-hopper.

Her recuperation today has demanded the sofa and daytime TV, of which I'm not a fan. Angela Lansbury, Dick Van Dyke, antique auctions and property shows are bad enough, but Deal Or No Deal is the devil's work.

So after an exciting trip to Tesco I escaped to the sanity of my Mac where I improved my Photoshop skills by turning three Namibian cheetah snaps into one artistic image. All being well, more real photographs (although probably not of cheetahs) will be taken this weekend.

Cheetah Trio

Mar. 8th, 2010



There have been big changes just beyond the boundary of The Rural Retreat's broad acres. Last week, Matchgirl and I bid farewell to Mr and Mrs Snapper and the Snapperettes, who've been seduced by the bright lights and cosmopolitan delights of Cromarty. We'll miss them.

I'll particularly miss her printer, which is why I've splashed out on one of my own – a very fine Epson R2880 A3+. But that's another story.

We've yet to get to know the new tenants of the neighbouring property – a couple with a sprightly young daughter and a teenage son – but their cat has already been seen exploring his new surroundings. Bess is not impressed.

The black and white interloper, Romeo, is six months old and already bigger than our petite puss, so it's fortunate that he's more inquisitive than aggressive. Voices have not been raised, but several staring competitions have taken place. I suspect that the phoney war won't last forever.

As Matchgirl had abandoned me this morning for business in Shetland, I amused myself by putting more charge into Kawasaki San's desperately depleted battery, then putting the battery inside him. Jump leads were still required to get him going, but go he did – up and down the drive a couple of times.

Jump leads were required again after I switched off while his tyres were inflated, so this year's first venture on to real roads was made with care. If he stalled I'd be stuck. Eight miles later we were safely home and it felt like I'd last ridden him four days ago, not four months.

His next run will be on Monday – to RM Motors for a service and after-winter check-up. The mechanics there are doubtless already planning the summer holiday they'll be able to afford when I've paid my bill.

Not much photography took place today, and that which did wasn't inspired. The best I could manage was a couple of distant heron snaps, made slightly more interesting with Photoshop. I'll try harder next time.


Mar. 7th, 2010



Another fine day, so there were no excuses for not getting into the garden. The work has to begin somewhere.

First item on the agenda was a bonfire to dispose of a year’s accumulated debris and make room for more. Unfortunately my pyromaniacal efforts were a dismal failure, but whether the cause was too much breeze, too little breeze, too small a seat of fire, damp wood or too big a heap I couldn’t say. How difficult can it be to start a fire? Teenage yobbos with a box of matches have no trouble.

Matchgirl and I resisted the temptation to help things along with four-star and left two scorched heaps for another attempt another day. All advice is welcome, especially from ramblingbloke  and Mr Tweedy.

The rest of the morning was spent pruning, raking, turning, levelling and dumping, much to the annoyance of the local birdlife. Significant progress was made; when we’ll make more is another matter. We like to take our time about such matters.

Further spring-related work was carried out in the afternoon when the cover was taken off Kawasaki San, who’s not moved a wheel for several very cold months, and his battery removed for charging purposes. This may take some time, as the GTR’s electrical system, unsurprisingly, was totally dead. I’ll refit it tomorrow to see what happens.

More surprisingly, after months of neglect, was that Kawasaki San appeared to be in reasonable condition. What he’ll feel like out on the road may be another matter – one I hope to discover tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Mar. 6th, 2010



A mild almost-spring day made this the perfect time to begin the garden’s after-winter tidy-up. But lethargy was rampant in The Rural Retreat and nothing was done. Maybe tomorrow.

Our laziness paid dividends. Not only did we see two great spotted woodpeckers in the garden at the same time – something unlikely to happen if we’d been crashing around our estate on a petrol-powered lawnmower while armed with garden forks and pruning shears – but I got photographic proof too.

Woodpecker Pair 2

The snaps aren’t brilliant, for I had only seconds to get them both in frame and in focus, and they were fooling about in The Nutella Tree, which is a bit distant for small-to-medium-sized bird photography. However, as a record of the event the snaps are great. And there may be another opportunity another time.

I didn’t see whether the birds were a pair or two males. Observations will continue.

Woodpecker Pair 1

Anyone who thinks they’ve had bad luck recently should spare a thought for Mike, my former best man, and his moll Michelle who recently took part in an epic holiday to mark two milestone birthdays.

They avoided the earthquake in Chile during their cruise around South America and the Falklands, and were not among the ship’s passengers who were put into quarantine when a vomiting bug swept through the decks. The real bad luck began when they returned home to discover that their home had been gutted by a chimney fire.

Their cats survived, as did the house-sitters. I’m not yet privy to the full details. I’ll keep you posted.

Mar. 5th, 2010



Matchgirl has had second thoughts about her new acquisition's gender – she now believes that her Mini Cooper is male.

She's unable to give reasons, beyond the fact that a girl knows these things.

The driver was quite tickled by the suggestion that he be named Tommy, but as an avid fan in her youth of Twin Peaks she's been unable to resist christening her (now not-quite-so) shiny vehicle in honour of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, heartthrob leading man of the bizarre cult series. Here's his picture, especially for Matchgirl.

Henceforth, her Mini will be known as Agent Cooper. Whether he'll demand cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee remains to be seen.

My own activity today has centred around puffins. Several of the snaps I took on Shetland last year have been turned into a jaunty video, complete with totally appropriate music. Check it out below.

Mar. 4th, 2010



My work for the Chief Gnome was carried out so efficiently today that there was nothing left for me to do at Great Northern Media Empire HQ after lunch, so I got the afternoon off. It felt like getting out of school early.

The bad news, as a penurious freelance, is that I don’t get paid for the afternoon, and – with typical timing – the glorious blue skies we’ve enjoyed for the past two days disappeared at almost the moment I heard the door of GNoME’s grim portal slam behind me.

So I spent my unexpectedly free afternoon with a good book. Simple pleasures.

Band Update: Yesterday evening, Monkey Bones (minus Jim) fought through the snow drift created by the microclimate that makes Gordon’s studio such a challenging place to reach. Even his 4x4 was parked at the bottom of the drive. Progress is still slow, but we’re getting there.

Mar. 2nd, 2010



It's been a crisp day with snow-topped mountains breaking a bright blue skyline – the kind of day that's perfect for getting out with the camera and making the most of Highland scenery.

So incarceration in GnoME HQ was a nuisance; the Pentax had to stay in its bag.

The best I can offer is a blackbird taken on Monday – nothing exotic, but I'm pleased with the detail in the feathers.


Matchgirl is still delighted with her new acquisition, but less happy with the name I gave the wondrous machine this morning. I've been told that on no account is her Mini Cooper to be called Alice. You have been warned.

Mar. 1st, 2010



She's red and white with chrome trim and Matchgirl thinks Christmas is here again – today Ms Cooper joined The Rural Retreat household.

We made our final journey in Ms Puma first thing this morning, after which the former apple of Matchgirl's eye was abandoned with barely a qualm at the rear of Calterdon, the Mini dealer in Inverness.

Less than an hour later – after a wait for her personal salesman, several reams of paperwork, instruction on all the bells and whistles to be found in her gleaming dream machine, including the fancy push-button engine-start, and presentation of a complementary basket of flowers – she drove off the forecourt. The heavy clunk we heard was the depreciation that fell off the back of the brand new, 10-reg car.

Surprisingly, the rest of the day wasn't spent behind the wheel, for apart from a brief shopping detour we returned straight home. I suspect that a more thorough Mini adventure will take place at the weekend, weather permitting.

In the meantime, Matchgirl will read her manual from cover to cover to familiarise herself with vital information that includes bluetooth settings for her phone and how to connect her iPod. She's easily amused.

So am I, which is why more bird snappery took place today. Nothing of great exoticism was seen but a couple of photos survived quality control. Here's one of them.

Greenfinch and House Sparrow
free hit counter

Feb. 28th, 2010



Matchgirl and I are not cut out for a life of luxury. Fortunately, that's unlikely to be a problem unless her lucky lottery numbers come up.

After a weekend of fine food and wine, gracious accommodation and great scenery, we returned to The Rural Retreat exhausted, and happy to embrace the simple life once more. Kinloch Lodge on Skye was as good as we remembered.

For the record, my first night menu was:

Slightly Spicy Pea Soup
* * *
Roast Mallaig Monkfish, Moray Pork Belly and Cheeks, Caramelised Passion Fruit Jus
* * *
Steamed Organic Skye Salmon, Caramelised Banana
* * *
Wild Isle of Mull Duck, Cauliflower Purée, Wilted Leaf Spinach, Black Isle Roast Potatoes, Caramelised Orange Sauce
* * *
Orange Crème, Warm Dark Chocolate Sauce, White Chocolate and Cranberry Fudge

The gastronomic endurance tests were not the only reason we were there. We also enjoyed a run around the island in Mr Ford, who was not impressed by the state of the roads after such a frosty winter. One pothole too many seems to have left him with a creak that wasn't there before. But the views of Hebridean loch and snow-capped mountain were worth the effort.

Loch Dunvegan 2
Loch Dunvegan and the Cuillins from south of Colbost

I took few photos. The problem with Highland and island scenery is that, like the Yorkshire Dales, wherever you stop to snap there always seems to be something better around the next corner, or behind you, or it seems impossible to do justice to what you're seeing.

Those who capture magical Highland vistas usually do so by climbing a mountain in the middle of the night so they can photograph the landscape as the sun is rising. That's too much hard work, so I settled for a few daytime snaps.

Bess also relished her weekend away. When we arrived at Just Cats to collect her we found her peeping out from the indoor cat tent that was one of the features of her room and looking most contented. I suspect that something similar will find a place in the Retreat before very long.

Feb. 26th, 2010



Bess was not a happy cat after being packed into her travelling carrier and put into Mr Ford this lunchtime. Matchgirl's still not ready to leave her pampered pet home alone for two consecutive nights, so temporary quarters had to be found before we left for our jaunt to Kinloch Lodge on Skye.

I'd wondered if we'd be able to reach Just Cats, on the high ground of Loch Ussie, but the road had been cleared of snow and we made it to the cattery without incident.

Bess, who'd grumbled during the journey, recognised the place immediately. Freed from her carrier, she was straight into her guest room and on to the heated mat she obviously remembered with affection. Cats never forget a comfy spot.

Our usual route to The Misty Isle is via Strathcarron and some twisty, up-and-down roads, but we played safe and drove there through Inverness and Glen Shiel. Snow became more sparse the further west we travelled until, by the time we reached Skye, we could see it only on the mountains.

Matchgirl arrived, of course, with a well-packed suitcase. A girl's got to have a choice of eveningwear. I, as usual, travelled light – lighter than I realised, as it turned out. I'd left my posh trousers at home.

That's why I'll be wearing jeans tonight  in Lady Claire's swish dining room. At least I've got my tie.

Feb. 25th, 2010



Snow continues to throw a sodden blanket over the Highlands. Many major roads are closed, including the A9, the north's most important link with the south. It's fortunate the bad weather didn't arrive until after my trip to Glasgow to collect Matchgirl or we could be stuck in the Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

The silver lining, as yesterday, was another day spent working from home. Garden bird snappery took place during screen breaks but no battling woodpeckers were seen – just flocks of small, hungry, bedraggled birds blasted by a sleety, horizontal wind.

That and the laid back buzzard perched on a branch at the bottom of the garden.


This was a bit of a surprise, for I've never seen one in the garden before, even though he (or she)  sat there and looked around as though he owned the place. Distance, weather and a couple of twiggy branches meant my snaps weren't very sharp, but I was still delighted – another first in The Rural Retreat's rolling acres.

Buzzard close-up

Feb. 24th, 2010



More snow fell overnight and this morning, but such is my devotion to the Great Northern Media Empire that I set off through the inclemency in a bid to reach Inverness and GNoME HQ.

Sanity prevailed after a few miles, at which point I returned to The Rural Retreat and emailed the Chief Gnome's assistant to tell him I'd work at home today.

This gave me the bonus of an opportunity for lunchtime bird snapping. The results were satisfactory: a brace of close-up coal tits, a well-feathered house sparrow (they're quite rare now) and another portrait of my favourite – our great spotted woodpecker.

Coal Tit 1

There was much drama when a second woodpecker took an interest in the suet-filled coconut that the regular visitor has claimed as his own. The two squared up to each other, eyeball-to-eyeball, ready to fight for supremacy until one (I presume the interloper) turned tail.

Great Spotted Woodpecker 13

Such a scene is a gift to the wildlife photographer, offering the chance of award-winning snaps and praise from his peers, so it's a shame that the stand-off was witnessed solely by Matchgirl, who was so enthralled she never thought to call me down from my office upstairs where I was busy about my sub-editing duties.

I forgive her, for she's still jet-lagged and sleep-deprived after her week away; with luck the interloper will try again when I'm there to capture the battle.

House Sparrow

Band Update: Snow and dodgy brakes on Matt's jalopy put paid to tonight's Monkey Bones rehearsal. There's always next week.

Feb. 22nd, 2010



It’s been a long day behind the wheel of Mr Ford, but worth it. Following an emotional reunion at Glasgow Airport, Matchgirl is now home in The Rural Retreat. Life is as it should be.

Bess was almost as delighted to see her, but after food and a quick play session retired to her basket for a wash as though this was just an ordinary day. That’s cats for you.

The only other noteworthy happening today was the start of drilling in the Falklands. For a short while, when a rise in share prices increased my portfolio’s value by 12.5%, I was on the way to becoming an oil baron, but investors keen for a quick buck collected their profits at the end of the day and left me back where I started.

The drilling will take thirty days to complete. I suspect there’ll be many more peaks and troughs before then.

Feb. 21st, 2010



Matchgirl will now be on the first of the three aeroplanes she needs to get back home. Tomorrow I’ll drive down to Glasgow Airport to pick her up. Woo hoo!

It sounds as though her final day on the wrong side of the Atlantic was a good one – waffles and bloody Marys for brunch.

Mine was less exciting, but productive. My three entries for Cromarty Camera Club’s final competition of the season are printed (courtesy of Dolphin James – the time has definitely come to get a decent printer of my own) and mounted. I even cut two of the mounts as the snaps aren’t standard sizes.

Thoughtful Cheetah

The hopeful trio features a Namibian cheetah (above), a Namibian giraffe calf, and – to add something exotic to the mix – a Black Isle blue tit. Fingers crossed.

Feb. 20th, 2010



Bess has at last begun to show signs that she’s noticed someone is absent from The Rural Retreat.

For the past day and a half her mood could only be described as moochy. Her play is half-hearted and she can’t decide whether she wants to be inside or out. She still wants to eat – not much puts the tabby trencherperson off her grub – but she’s even more picky than usual.

So it’s fortunate that Matchgirl will be home in two days, when her pet doubtless will become even more pampered than usual. Which makes it a pity that within days the unfortunate feline is to be incarcerated at Just Cats for the weekend while Matchgirl and I enjoy a pre-planned jaunt to Skye, where Lady Claire – now the proud owner of a Michelin star – has very decently agreed to entertain us again.

Life can be tough for cats.

No more snaps were snapped today, so here’s another of yesterday’s red deer at large in Strathfarrar.

Red Deer

Feb. 19th, 2010



The Pentax was used outside The Rural Retreat today for the first time in a long while when I accompanied Dolphin James into Strathfarrar in search of red deer. The search was successful.

To enter the glen, off the Beauly-Cannich freeway, intrepid explorers must face Mrs Hogg – the fearsome guardian who holds the key to the gate that bars the road (because it’s not a public one) so it’s as well that James has made acquaintance in the past and become a trusted visitor. Entry is usually by appointment; most people who turn up on spec will be sent away.


The road – used to reach some hydro stations and a handful of former hunting lodges, now holiday homes – rose quickly. Much of the landscape, and all of the surrounding mountains, were still snow-covered so bales of hay have been left by the roadside to give the deer something to eat. They’re wild, but bright enough not to turn down a free meal.

Between the deer clustered around the handout hay, those roaming the hillsides, and those posing photogenically on the skyline, we got plenty of photo opportunities. A good morning’s work.

Red Deer 3

Further excitement today followed the news that my high-risk stock market venture has clawed its way back into the black, the portfolio now showing a mighty three per cent gain in value. The bulk of my holdings, I’ll now reveal, are in Falklands oil exploration, so the report that the Ocean Explorer rig has arrived after its three-month journey from Invergordon and is ready to begin drilling was welcome intelligence.

News stories of Argentinian indignation have gathered pace in the last few weeks. Good job the junta’s not in charge any more.

Matchgirl Update: Three days until she’s home, and based on text and email communication received it won’t be a day too soon. For either of us.

Feb. 18th, 2010



More worrying insight into the strange world of Jim was revealed today when he sent links to the next two songs he’d like the newly christened Monkey Bones to play – Careless Whisper by George Michael and Poker Face by Lady Ga Ga.

This is not as bizarre a brace as it appears, for both have already been covered by rock bands. An outfit called Seether, of whom I’ll confess I’d never heard, did a rather good job of George’s finest ballad, while You Me At Six (ditto) wrestled the second into submission.

Of course, this could just be Jim’s excuse to dress up in lace doilies and wear a blonde beehive but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. For now.

Mountain Afternoon

Matchgirl Update: No news (at the time of writing) is presumably good news. Four days to go until she’s back home with me and a cat who still seems unconcerned by her absence. Today’s archive snap, to remind her of the Highlands, is of Loch Glascarnoch.

Feb. 17th, 2010



The Band With No Name has found its new identity, thanks to the creative genius that is Jim. The five rock stars-in-waiting who assembled this evening will henceforth be known as Monkey Bones.

Jim claimed he was inspired by a TV documentary rather than illegal substances. As no-one could think of anything better, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

We've still some work to do before we reach concert pitch, but we're getting there. Another cracking song was added to the set list – All My Life by Foo Fighters – and a few more brushed up. There's just half-a-dozen that need work before we'll be confident about laying our musical stylings before the Highland public.

The end of March is pencilled in for Monkey Bones' debut, if we can find anywhere that will have us. Time will tell.

Leopard 3

Matchgirl Update: The funeral is over. All that remains is the associated legal and household admin. Not fun. Again, work got in the way of taking new photos so today's archive shot to keep up Matchgirl's spirits is from our Namibian honeymoon. Five days until she's home.

Feb. 16th, 2010



My duties at GNoME HQ meant a day of little excitement and no new photographs to remind Matchgirl of home, so today’s featured snap is one from the archives – Bess as captured by her mum’s mobile phone.

The moggy seems to be taking Matchgirl’s absence in her stride, but as food, water and attention are still in abundance she might not yet have noticed the missing member of the household. Cats don’t care.

Six days to go before Matchgirl’s home again.

Feb. 15th, 2010



Matchgirl has arrived safely in The Land Of The Free And The Home Of The Brave, where snow is the predominant feature. Things are going as well as can be expected.

At home, Bess and I spent a quiet day. There were lots of things I could have done, had I been disposed to make constructive use of my time, but knowing she’s so far away is very unsettling. Terry Pratchett kept me company, although an eye stayed on the window in the hope of more avian photo opportunities.

Our great spotted woodpecker made a guest appearance among the daily visitors, but absent (at least while I watched) was a potential new garden star whom I’d seen for the first time yesterday – a sparrowhawk.

My split-second glimpse featured no more than an impressive rear end that glided across the garden and vanished into the fir tree branches at the far end. His presence may explain the occasional instant disappearance of small bird life, and even the times when Bess thumps through her cat-flap with her tail fluffed to twice its usual size. The scattered woodpigeon feathers in the lane may also be his responsibility.

With luck, he’ll be back, although I’ve no great desire to see him feasting on woodpecker or blue tit. Nature – as Bess has demonstrated many times – can be cruel.

Great Spotted Woodpecker 12
Our woodpecker, as usual with a suet-covered beak

Feb. 14th, 2010



The Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn is not a place that anyone would choose to stay at for longer than is absolutely necessary, especially when they’ve enjoyed proper hotel hospitality in establishments such as Boath House. It’s uniform, corporate, bland, unexciting and forgettable, and thus the perfect place to stay overnight before Matchgirl flew to America.

On the plus side, it’s five minutes’ walk from the hotel to the airport terminal, and as she was able to do most of her check-in last night that meant we could wake at seven instead of six.

That was the theory. The reality was that dodgy plumbing, uncontrollable central heating, and a flock of chattering cleaners who’d found a nearby perch for their frequent cigarette breaks meant we were awake long before we needed to be following a restless night’s half-sleep. International travel is so glamorous.

At 8am on Valentine’s Day Matchgirl disappeared into the departure lounge, after which I drove up the A82 and back to The Rural Retreat. She won’t return until a week on Monday.

Bess was in the garden, ignoring the birds, when I arrived at the cottage. The previous night was her first home alone since her accident but she appeared unconcerned. She’d even left a gift for me, which The Invisible Pine Marten will enjoy later, so she’d clearly made the most of her unexpected night in charge.

I’ve promised Matchgirl that while she’s away the blog will feature some cheering reminders of home, so here’s one of our most recent garden visitors.

Great Tit 2

Feb. 13th, 2010



Matchgirl's mother died yesterday. She wasn't healthy, but this wasn't expected.

The call from her brother in America came early in the evening, so much of the rest of it was spent booking flights and accommodation. Later today we'll drive to Glasgow where first thing tomorrow Matchgirl will fly to Heathrow, then the US.

I can't go with her. I don't need a visa but the red tape that ties up a non-US citizen means I couldn't leave for at least three days, which is too late.

So I'll stay home, care for Bess and wait until a week on Monday when I can collect Matchgirl from Glasgow. It's going to be a long separation.

This is a stressful time for Matchgirl, but one thing guaranteed to bring a smile to her face is a photo of her beloved moggy, so here's the latest. We'll all be together again soon.

What Was That?

Feb. 11th, 2010



Bess is a cat of strong opinions, especially when food is the subject. She knows what she likes and what she doesn't. Our problem is that her preferences change from day to day.

That's why Tesco Finest tuna, which has been consumed appreciatively in all its varieties for the past few weeks, is no longer to her taste. Nor is Sheba beef and heart, which in the past has been gobbled up.

The feline gourmet made her displeasure clear tonight by ignoring both offerings before jumping up on her shelf above the radiator where, rather than curl up and sleep, she sat facing the wall, her back to Matchgirl and me. Cats can sulk very well.

So the emergency pack of Tesco chicken and liver was opened, chicken being a surefire way to this moggy's heart. She's not so keen on liver, though, which is why the pack had been left in the back of the cupboard for a while.

And that's why Matchgirl, who's a soft touch, picked out all the bits of liver before the repast was placed in a dish and served to the demanding diner. There's no doubt who's the boss in The Rural Retreat.

Previous 25