Opening muse

In recent years I have cut my blogging teeth over at laidbackviews, though my regular readers will need no reminding that it has been somewhat stagnant of late, tired even, perhaps stale.  I have begun to examine reasons for that, and with enthusiasm on the rise once more decided that a fresh outlet is needed, and here we are, at LaidBackMuse.

I will continue some of the topics we have covered over the years, especially on the love of books and the continual quest for fine writing.  Food and drink too are essential parts of life.  That old recumbent bike still finds me lying back for occasional trundle round the lanes and I’ll let you know what  I come across, as I poke around the hedgerows or see what’s perching on the phone poles.

And we’ll cast an eye further afield, to the horizons and beyond, looking at what nature has in store, and what the landscape has to show.

One significant change on how that old site evolved is that these pages will remain free of political comment, even though these times get more interesting with each passing year.  We’ll leave the politics for other outlets.  Promise.

In short the aim is to refine, and to improve, expanding on familiar themes, but only some of them.




The End of an Era

It is 22 years since Robin Hobb first introduced us to the world of the Farseers.  We started with  a young urchin born on the wrong side of the sheets.  And now he is no more.  Much has happened over the years.

Robin Hobb’s writing has taken up increasing space on the bookshelves.  Assassin’s Apprentice back in 1995 promised to be the first of a trilogy.  Assassin’s Fate, published just a few weeks ago, is the 16th full novel in the series, and the last.  Maybe.

In between times Hobb has dredged every emotion from her readers.  The royal bastard was taught the dark arts of the spy, creeping silently through little known passages around the castle.  He learned to work with potions and weapons, a master of his craft.  The court jester entranced us, and what a character he became, in several guises.  Both now are gone.

From the castle we travelled far.  The second trilogy was a bit of a hard slog at times, vaguely related.  Serpents, hints of dragons, pirates.  Then back came our heroes, and the adventures continued.

Four more volumes, away from that original castle, dragons, new characters.  But through the years it was all inter-twined.  And in 2014 the first of a final trilogy appeared, drawing it all together, linking people and places, expanding the lore.  New characters, new twists, old friends.

Through it all we have the wolf, and the bond between men and their beasts; the magical world of the dragons and the skills of their keepers, adapting to changing places.  Others sought riches, by fair means or foul.  I haven’t even mentioned the ships yet, or their figureheads.  Now there’s a tale, which of she course she weaves in and through, captivating.

The final volume is a belter, an 850 page epic which pulls all these threads together, puts us through the mill and back again, several times.

Twenty two years I have been reading Robin Hobb, including a separate and unrelated trilogy in the midst of all this wonder.  I’m sure she won’t have put down her pen, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she has us back at Buckkeep, or Bingtown.  Even without Fitz and The Fool, without Nighteyes, there’s more magic to come.  There is, isn’t there?  Please.


A Rare Sighting

It has been far too long, so much so that the thought of the pain made procrastination easy.  But the weather has been settled, warm and sunny at times.  Ah but, ah but, there’s that cold north wind; and the school bus will be due; and there’s mail to post, food to buy for dinner.  And any excuse that came far to easily to mind.

I could put if off no longer, and with another sunny morning, one without the wind, and a window in the diary, it had to happen.  The garage door was opened, the bike wheeled out.  The tyres needed a bit of air.  The cranks turned, but the chain stiffened, solid.  Grease time.

Then the rider had to be prepared.  It had been a while.  The eyes protested at the mere sight of contact lenses; and the lycra stretched far more than it should have.  Six months have passed, and many more pounds.  This was going to hurt.

But it didn’t really.  Oh the old muscles are complaining, but having been up and down the gears a few times we soon settled into a very slow rhythm.  As often happens the route changed, as I opted for a relatively flat return, quickly realising that there’s work to be done and climbing needs to be kept to a minimum, which isn’t easy in these parts.  But the level route back came without the usual battle into the wind, a no-brainer really on this first wee jaunt.

It was when the first of the buzzards lifted languidly from a stand of spruce that I began to forget that it was the knees and not the gears that were creaking.  She flew over us, curious perhaps.  I watched for the bomb doors opening, but escaped.

And from then I began to enjoy a wee hurtle round the lanes.  The hedges throbbed with life, and with song.  Overhead a lark somewhere sang me on my way.  A pair of blue tits gathered mosses and midgies.  The morning was welcomed by a cockerel in full flow, as I trundled by the cattery.  One of her brood announced the safe arrival of her daily lay.  A grey head, ears, and a white bib, rose above the grasses, whiskers twitching, and a ginger tom watched her, preying perhaps.

Back home the birds and the cats had left their mark too.  The garden had been carpeted with grey feathers on the previous evening; and then I found the remains of one of the three collared doves that call by, usually together.  I suspect it was Tigger, the tortoiseshell, that had got lucky, for old Jake’s beyond the hunt these days, other than the occasional mouse; and little Tina spends her time in the hedge, eyeing the siskins and the goldfinches, salivating, which might explain the green feathers on the bathroom floor.

The seasons have changed since last I rode these roads.  Winter has been and gone.  Lambs have appeared, and grown.  The coos have been let out once again, still frisky on the new grass.  Swallows line up on the wires, when not swooping, feeding, gathering.  And the house martins are back again, white bellies darting across the fields.  It is a couple of years since they’ve stuck their mud under our eaves, but they’re still in the area, coming back year after year, perhaps a little late in arriving this time.  They might struggle for mud at the moment, unusually.

It’s great to find the right moments to get back out again, to put the busy days to the side for an hour or two.  No more excuses.  It’s only a couple of months till the bikes get taken on holiday, and on the evidence of a few slow miles, there’s much work to be done.  Still, if the sun shines, and the birds are singing…  Nag me folks.

Two States or One?

A talented, young writer, Nir Baram, whose father and grandfather were both ministers in Labour governments in Israel, brings us a thought provoking volume as he guides us round his home territories, through East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

A Land Without Borders, translated from the original Hebrew, arrives in English fifty years after the beginning of occupation, one hundred years after Balfour’s intervention.  Our news bulletins may suggest that matters in these lands are worse than ever, a solution never further away.

But Baram manages to find hope for us, from both Arab and Jew.  Then despair once more.  It is a volume I will gladly find space for on the shelf, beside those from, amongst others, Amos Oz and Raja Shehadeh, beside Sebag Montefiore’s massive history of the city.  I may even look out some of his earlier fiction writing, for he has a knack for telling a tale, of people and places.

In his journey he touches on the Oslo Accords, on Camp David, and recognises that one side wants to talk about 1948, and the other 1967.  Free passage and sovereignty, it matters not how many states, seems to be the mood of those living through it all.  There is fasting, an initiative to link Ramadan with the Seventeenth of Tammuz.

We visit checkpoints and settlements, talk to soldiers and the bereaved.  There is hope in The Field.  He takes us to Temple Mount , to al-Aqsa.  But is it all too late?

I will leave you with these thoughts, from Yakov Nagen, rabbi and author, NEW York born, and listed last year as one of the 10 Israelis you should know:

“These are the principles: One, opposition to violence.  Two, it is a religious value to live in peace with one’s neighbours.  Three, Islam and Judaism believe in the same God.  Four, we must live in a society with fully equal civil rights between Jews and Arabs.  Five, recognise the Palestinian religious and historical connection to the holy land.”

It’s an intriguing read, whether you’ve a special interest in the area or not.  The area needs us to take more interest, for it is melting.


Growing up fast

As we turn another page on the calendar, and glimpse the weeks ahead, it’s easy to see who’s busy in the household.  From Information Evenings at the Academy, to endless football, and what looks to be shaping up as a musical tour (footie permitting of course) we can see that the youngest is dictating the precious time of his drivers.

And that time is flying past.  The end of primary school is in sight, just a few more weeks, as we enter the period where everything begins with the last…The final report card is out, to be discussed with teacher next week.  Not much to say on that one for it really is a bit of a belter, testament to seven years at that terrific wee school.  Before we know it blazers will be tried on for size, shirt and tie every day, and no doubt more after school activities to work round.

But it’s on the football pitch where the changes are coming fastest.  And that’s much more than bigger and stronger after a shootie-in session in the garden in one of those winds where it makes it hard to breathe for the old wheezy one.  Postage-stamp corner, curling it into the wind, which is not bad for one who gets a nose bleed if he has to cross the half way line on a Saturday morning.  Mind you the coach has the full backs taking the throw-ins, corners too these days.  The goalie though, was distracted, for a pair of buzzards were having fun in the gale, circling, together and apart, soaring and plummeting, back together again for a wee bit of talon love – just as another shot batters the old bones, or finds the weak spot, low to the left, diving not being an option, reactions way too slow.

Anyway, I digress, again.  For I wanted to tell you about the biggest change in this season of changes.  Oh yes, for now they’re working on moving from the 7-a-side game, to 11-a side; the full size pitch, massive goals; refs and off-sides.

On Sunday they had another session, the first one when the new match kit was worn, as they prepare for the season ahead.  Sevens will finish, like primary school, next month.  Then it’s the big game.  And on the evidence of Sunday the kids of Hamilton Accies Community Trust FC are up for the challenge.  It was a game of three halves, for they had to book the pitch for two hours and may as well use it.  As can be seen though, the lads had plenty of fresh legs on the bench, rotating the side regularly.

And that made the work of their old adversaries from Calderbraes Blues all the greater; for they had but two subs, and many of the lads had no rest at all.  A special mention is due to Bruce’s former team-mate Jamie, from a previous life as they started out in kids’ football.  He really has come on, and performed well at centre half under pretty relentless pressure.

Credit is due to the coaches who give up a huge amount of time for the boys.  For the Accies Willie, Keith and Stuart are proving a huge asset as these youngsters work hard to take their game forward.  And for the Blues it’s Kevin, who I remember when but a lad himself he took charge of the goalmouth for Armadale Thistle in a Scottish Cup Tie against Pollok more years ago than I care to remember, more than 25 of them I suspect, for Kevin was but a lad, and it was no surprise when he went on to have a long career in the seniors.  He’s more than putting a bit back these days, with Calderbraes.

But those Accies coaches, what a job they’re doing.  They tell us we’re going to be busy in the months ahead, and they too have lads of the same age, primary to secondary, 7s to 11s.  And without them, we’d all be stagnating.

Then there’s the music, and the efforts of Luke Daniels.  From Hexham to Helensburgh, Carlisle to Stonehaven.  There’s a competition for time coming up.  Settle it by penalties chaps, but you’ll not find me in goals.


It’s Only April

… and already we may have the Book of the Year!

The tale begins back in the early 80s, originally told in Spanish six years ago, and now, thanks to the huge input of translator Daniel Hahn, we have available in English this remarkable work put together by Gabi Martinez.  He tells of the life, the times, and ultimately the murder of Jordi Magraner, a Spanish zoologist who spent most of two decades working on a quest deep in the mountains that form the formidable border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In The Land Of The Giants is one of those books where names have had to be changed, dangerous times even now, almost 15 years since Jordi’s death.  With full assistance from the Magraner family and access to the archives of Jordi’s papers, Martinez successfully turns those bare facts into a highly readable narrative, adding colour and tensions without detracting from the message.

Jordi Magraner spent much of his time in Chitral, NWFP, heading south to Peshawar when winter closed the mountain passes.  He developed a wide network of contacts across the communities, and in time joined the Kalash, an enclave of 3,000 pagans, a small community surviving despite seeming alien to wider population amongst the mountains.

Through the 80s and 90s times changed.  The Taliban emerged, and exerted their malign influence, leading to the destruction of the Twin Towers, to Bin Laden and more.  Jordi was warned that he should leave.  Rumours around his private life grew.

But he was on a quest, one that needed the continual funding to meet his household and his expeditions.  Periods were spent working for aid agencies, writing and lecturing back in France.  And all the time he gathered first hand accounts and planned his next forays.  His quest was to locate the yeti, or the barmanu as it is known in those parts.  Hunting Monsters In The Hindu Kush.

I will spare you the details of his tragic end, and the aftermath.  Martinez takes us back to the valleys, with Jordi’s family, arranging a headstone in the Kalash graveyard.  He talks to those who were there, who remember, and who fear yet.

It is an engrossing story, and very well told by this young Spanish writer of whom I may try to find out more.

The Road Less Travelled

As we approached Peebles I began to wonder when we had last visited the area.  I remembered the children printing their names on bookmarks, at Smail’s Printing Works in Innerleithen, possibly with the assistance of granny; a picnic in the back of the car and a wander round the Botanics at Dawyck.  It couldn’t be far off a decade ago; far too long.

Both Peebles and Innerleithen, on this wee jolly, were marked only by slow traffic and self denial, as we refused to stop by Caldwell’s ice cream parlours, inexplicably…  There was a long day ahead.

The journey was first broken at Scott’s Viewpoint, the bookshop in St Boswells having been closed.  A few cars stopped to admire the view of the Eildon hills, but we crossed the road, found the kissing gate hidden in the gorse, splendid in full spring yellow, and headed across a field, deeply pock-marked by cattle in wetter days but fortunately now dried like the surface of the moon, and empty.

Irvine’s Viewpoint rose above, and the vista opened out in all directions.  If only Scott had got off his horse, and anyway, who was Irvine?  (Probably none other than Peter, author of Scotland The Best, our guide for this and many days, rather than some ancient hero)  But it was splendid, bereft of wind on a fine day.

We thought of a short wander round the ruined abbey of Dryburgh, but kept our hands in our pockets, down the avenue of cedars as a pair of swans swooped low overhead.  Onwards.

We knew it was a long slow road towards St Abbs, where again it had been far too long.  But the sun shines on the righteous, and we wandered on, complaints surprisingly few, the going fine and dry underfoot, thankfully.

The village appeared as we gained height, that tiny harbour with the lifeboat station, now funded and operated by the community, thanks to the largesse of Mr Tunnock, whose teacakes in the back of the car were disappearing with great regularity.  Tragic Eyemouth lay in the background, remembering yet.

Down below the cliffs echoed with life, though the numbers were not great as the guillemots began to take up nesting points on the rocks.  To the delight of herself, the primroses were in full bloom.

We did make it along as far as the lighthouse, wheezing away, careful of the dodgy knee, conscious of a climb or two on the return.  Perhaps next time we’ll be better prepared, and have time to spend, and make for Pettico Wick .

Down below, skimming the surface of the sea, Vs of gannets headed up the firth, destined for the Bass, answering the call.  Retracing our steps we passed on the loop path back to the car, sticking to the cliffs, the ones that make you wheeze and sweat.  Rabbits hopped up the hillsides, and a wheatear blended into the tunnels among the tufts.  In time we made it back, and a small tub of Doddington’s double-ginger did the trick, an appetiser, before polishing off the remains of the picnic and heading for the long road home.  A fine day out.



The Great Egg Hunt

Yes it’s that time of year again, chocolate fest, or as I tend to view it a grand time to indulge in what remains of the Christmas cake.  The media, I see, has been getting into a furore over egg hunts.  We have one looming this weekend, and it gave me a fine excuse to have a wee jaunt with the children.  For the Great Drongan Egg Hunt comes with a request, a demand even, bring bread, and if it’s not onion bread don’t bother coming.

So we found ourselves on the road to Biggar, one of my favourite haunts.  The prime reason of course was to pick up a bag of onion bread flour, and to stock up with other flours whilst I’m at it.  There’s always a baking frenzy before one of Madge’s parties, and I get a free hand to produce whatever variety of flat-breads, loaves and mystery creations that may take my fancy, so long as there is onion bread in the basket.  And so it will come to pass.

Having unshackled the chains to the desk late morning we arrived in time for a light refreshment.  Aroma café is ideal, with soup and toasties.  Whilst in the town I have to cave in to demands, reluctantly you understand, to while away an hour or so at the best bookshop around.  The children are always assured of a welcome, having taken the prize in a Where’s Wally competition a few years back.  Eilidh needs no second invite to expand her growing collection, though Bruce can be a bit reticent.  This time though he attacked the stacks with more zeal than usual, making selections of his own rather than simply rejecting offerings, often grumpily.  I even had to make a choice or three myself, just to keep The Bedside Table groaning, you’ll understand.  Jim Crumley’s in the bag, again, and Fridtjof Nansen which looks a grand adventure about which I may tell you one day.

It is an annual trip, for at this time of year the children know that the appearance of the Easter Bunny means a trip to the bookshop, given that they indulge in far too much of the brown stuff all year round; that it is no treat at all these days.  This year both spend some of their own money, adding to the Easter gifts.  If they ever have a pressing need to Roll Away The Stone, I’ll put some Mott The ‘Oople on in the car on the way home.

Laden with books we head up the hill.  The bag seems heavy and I find that the girls in the shop have added a couple of uncorrected proof copies to the bundle, review comments welcome.  We need a second bag for the flour, and after dumping both in the car I’m dragged off for another treat.  Whenever in Biggar it’s always ice cream time.  There’s raspberry ripple, in a tub for herself, who doesn’t do cones; tablet for the boy, second day in a row after bribery at Varani’s in Kilmarnock; and just a small tub of the finest ginger ice cream around for the driver.  Happy faces, might even get away with some Skipinnish on the way home.  But it’s not to be.

However, the country route home took as past the farm shop at Carmichael, and just by chance I found a couple of packs of the rare treat that is venison liver.  So many good things in one short trip.

And all because someone wants an onion loaf.  Any time my dear, any time.  To Drongan…

Spring Signs

A couple of days earlier the school buses had been cancelled, unable to get into town far less out to the sticks.  Snow and ice.  The roads remained closed for the morning, children off school, no mail delivery, with upturned lorries, tankers in fields, and long queues of traffic going nowhere.  Winter remained.

Then dawn broke.  There was a rare calm in the air.  Through the windows the blackbird sang his welcome to spring.  The usual hordes of finches and tits chattered, demanding breakfast at the feeders.  They did so under a sky the colour of a robin’s egg.

So with early chores done the only plan for the morning was to enjoy; boots out, bag ready, and off to the woods.  And to top it all The Genealogist came too.

From that silent walk a few weeks back the same route was accompanied by the sounds of spring.  As I type these notes another fine morn has an unseen skylark singing away, high above.  Spring has arrived, and a few days of sun sees even our late daffs beginning to burst into life, adding bright colour to every corner of the garden.  A list of chores begins to take shape, starting with fresh petrol for the mower which will need an outing soon.

But first there is a woodland walk to enjoy.  With the fields having been flooded even before the snow came, the ground remained sodden.  The burns were running high.  Water burbling over boulders down below competed with the birdsong from the trees.  Not a breath of wind rustled even the higher levels.  Calm descended.

Once again following the Powbrone Burn we wandered down to river level, to the ford, aiming for the path between Dead Grain and Mid Grain, new territory.  The ford was a challenge, moss covered rocks slopping in the high water.  It was not for the faint hearted, and I pottered on alone.

As I reached higher ground the spruce plantations, which must be nearing maturity, began to thin out.  Having left the burns behind the birds sang without competition, until they too were left on the lower slopes.  A deep carpet of emerald moss spread beneath the trees, but the edges were bursting with colour.  The thinning woodland brought increasing light, despite that blue sky shiftily fading slowly to grey.

As the tracked petered out into bog I turned back, down the hill, towards the ford.  There across the way she waited, cursing that the coffee and energy bars had taken the trip up the hill.  But there was plenty of interest at the waterside, plenty of song to enjoy.  The remains of an ancient dry-stane sheep fank confirmed that spruce were not native to the hill.  Harvesting in recent years has been limited to making way for access routes to install and maintain wind turbines.  Perhaps one day the sheep will get their grazing back, and hills will be alive to lambing as well.

Plashing through the ford, rather than risking the rocks, I soon pech’d my way up the hill, to share that flask before heading back the way we came.

The roads are open once again, the winter of a few days earlier a distant memory as the sun shines, the ground warms, and smiles appear.  The fields are filling with lambs, and straining ewes.  The chickens are beginning to lay again, and they can enjoy some freedom too, having been locked up for months under threat of bird flu.  Another few days at school before the spring break, and then we begin the family’s last term at primary school.  It’s going to be emotional.  But for now let’s just enjoy a glimpse of spring, and dream of warmer days ahead, even if they mean that weekly walk with the mower.

In Both Directions

I missed the readings from Border when it was Book of the Week on Radio 4 recently, though I had had an eye on Kapka Kassabova’s work for some weeks.  When I finally brought it from that pile to The Bedside Table it did not disappoint.  Then I read more of young Kapi’s life so far.

After being educated in Sofia the Kassabova family left Bulgaria in the aftermath of the Berlin Wall coming down.  From New Zealand she settled in the Scottish highlands a dozen years or so ago.  I see she took part in that wonderful My Favourite Place exercise a few years past, which will always have a special place hereabouts.

In Border she gives us A Journey To The Edge of Europe, taking us back to Bulgaria, and in particular to the lands around the borders with Greece and with Turkey; lands that have never been calm.  We meet those living in the area, those impacted by the unsettled past and the uncertain future.  She has tales to tell.

And in Border we have many history lessons, from the centuries of Ottoman rule, to the demise of Tsar Boris III, yet another of the Saxe-Coburg hegemony, the communist years, and then currently with EU issues on the borders and refugee camps on all sides.

In Kassabova’s youth the border was heavily patrolled, guards in the mountains, checkpoints and barbed wire.  On the ground those aspiring to escape from East to West had an added hazard, with Uzbek-bred vipers released in the mountains for the unwary.  East Germans granted a holiday on the Black Sea and seeing an opportunity to try and reach freedom often returned home in sealed zinc coffins, hiding the bullet wounds and preserving the myth of the ‘road accident’.  Others just disappeared.

The Rhodope mountains, and the villages of Thrace, have a rich history of superstitions and taboos.  Whatever the political climate of the day there have been traffickers escorting terrified people from one side or another.

I glance at a photograph on the wall, where a young and almost unrecognisable me stands with a toddler in the ruins of an Ottoman church in Nessebar.  Andrew will celebrate his 30th birthday in less than two weeks, and I feel very old indeed.

We must have been on that sunny beach on the Black Sea coast just months after the fall of that Wall led to the entire Iron Curtain giving way.  What I did not know then, innocent and without the benefit of years of reading of people and places, was that 340,000 Bulgarians were in the throes of deportation, dragging their worldly possessions through the mountains and across the border, to Turkey, from whence their muslim ancestors had come centuries before.  They arrived as strangers in an unknown country, with no common language.

Today those borders separate the EU, which now includes both Greece and Bulgaria, from European Turkey north of the Bosphorous, and Asian Turkey to the south, aspiring EU member.  The area where the three borders meet is not without tension, and still there are snakes in the hills.

Today the direction of travel, as refugees flee Syria, seeking the sanctuary of Germany, is against the tide of East Germans just those few years ago.  And still man imposes suffering on his fellows.

It really is a terrific read, engrossing tales and characters as humanity deals with dark times through the ages.  Thought provoking at all times, and deep with nostalgia, not just as I look at the picture on the wall and a certain book on the shelf.

Splitting Hairs

We’ve all had it, the disappointment of a much anticipated lunch being cancelled at short notice.  Things happen; diaries get mixed up.  But how many have had a dizzy because of a hair appointment?  I ask you.  It must be at least 35 years since such an event featured on my calendar, but we’ll let that lie, for now.

Having cleared a few hours in the diary, and with the weather not unkind, it would have been foolish to waste that time at the desk, in front of a screen.  Motherwell called, no not to gaze in the window of the hair stylist, but to wander round the bird hides and the muddy paths of Baron’s Haugh, which I had neglected for far too long.

On reaching the riverside path I stopped by a trio with camera and glasses focussed on the far bank.  The otters had been out, and of course I’d missed them, sleeping now after feasting on fish earlier.  But I know where to stop next time.

The Clyde ran swiftly, levels high, thick with silt, which surprised me till I remembered that the footie had been aff these past two weeks.  It had been wet.  The path along the bank was thick with mud, puddled wide and deep, and I had inappropriate footwear, unprepared, in my haste to make good the time gifted by the hairdresser.  Though I’d picked up the camera, the binoculars had escaped, and remained on the kitchen window.

A blether in a bird hide resulted in a pair of old gits hirpling by the river, helping each other where the quagmire made it difficult for one with a heart condition, t’other  a dodgy knee, amongst other things.  Nostalgia took over, days gone by; times before the nature reserve existed.  Tony had grown up by Keanie Park, back when Johnstone Burgh could pull a crowd.  From sharing days in those Junior parks across Ayrshire I recalled a picture my erstwhile lunch companion had found, of twenty-odd thousand crammed into Lesmahagow for a game, post war.  I can’t imagine those numbers in the town far less at the game, save for the days when ten thousand cars an hour passed through on the old A74, heading for Blackpool on Fair Saturday.

But Tony had much more to share.  We wandered the banks to where he expected to find his first sand martin of the season, a good six weeks before I expected their house cousins to appear around the house.  By the bridge, where the troll might hide  for the children, the kingfisher should be resting, darting across the river, out for food, back to fill empty beaks.  But the sandy stayed hidden, and there was no flash of blue across the waters.  We saw nothing, but what a grand time we had.

Time passed, a train missed, and as I was going his way I was delighted to help Tony on the travel front.  We blethered on.  The far bank hosted half a dozen Canada geese, enjoying the sun.  A score or so rose from behind the shrubbery; the skein gained height, took up their  formation, and headed north, following the river.  The seasons were changing.

Clumps of daffodils were springing to life.  Back home it was snowdrops, with the crocuses, as usual, being battered by the wind; the daffodils were still some weeks away.  The primroses had been doing well, until a rogue, fence-jumping sheep, enhanced her diet.  Dangerous thing to do, be a sheep in my garden when spring is coming and I’m thinking of rosemary or harissa.

There had been yellow wagtails around, and tree-creepers, as we discovered when returning to the car to find the otter spotter packing his camera away in the next bay.

What an unexpectedly fine day, even if all I have to show is a picture of dirty water.  Lunch can wait till next week, unless Bill happens to having a manicure or something, in which case soup and sandwiches in the bird hide with Tony would be no hardship at all.  To be fair Bill does have hair that needs a certain attention, the poodle parlour might do it.  But at our age hair care is something we’re both just thrilled still to need.  Others are insanely jealous, even if they have more time for lunch.