Tuesday 7 February 2012

'Thank you, see you later.' To my mother with love.

Make of the following what you will, but I have always believed in signs.

Yesterday there was a full moon, although for most of the evening you wouldn't know it because Strangford Lough was blanketed in thick fog – our nearest neighbour on the mainland asked us over for a meal later in the week, and said that before calling, she had taken a quick look from her window to see whether the cabin lights were on in the distance. Nothing.

Come midnight, Lynn and I turned in, and as always I looked over the sound to check that all was well with the boats. I couldn't see as far as the dinghy on the mooring, and even to check the rowing boat I had to walk down the jetty. I was more or less beside it before I saw it – or more correctly, the tip of the bow poking out of the water at a steep angle, like an orca surfacing for air. The stern had somehow drifted under the jetty, and the incoming tide had done the rest. Lynn suggested leaving it where it was and baling it out first thing in the morning when the ebb tide had left it high and dry. A sensible suggestion, as it's quite a lot of work heaving the boat into the shallows and getting it refloated; but I could see that the oars were gone, and I had the foolish notion that it might be worth taking the rowing boat for a quick look, using a spare pair of oars from the shed.

Fast forward half an hour. The boat is floating, the tide has come in another ten or twelve feet; the fog is as thick as ever. I tied the bow line to the jetty, and took a torch along the foreshore in both directions, in case the oars had drifted ashore. To be honest, I could have tripped over them before seeing them, as the torch was throwing up a moveable wall of reflected light in front of me as I stumbled along, and I could see very little. So I fetched the spare oars and rowed the boat out to the point where it had sunk an hour or two before. The surface of the water was like glass, which would have been auspicious had it not been for the fog – when there is no wave, you can make out a length of wood at quite a distance, even in the dark, as long as there is a moon. However, nothing ventured... I put needles and haystacks out of my mind and stopped the boat dead in the water when I reckoned I was directly over the jetty. My plan was to discover in which direction the boat would begin to drift, and to row backwards (so as to see where I was going) in that same direction. It's a curiosity of our part of Ringhaddy Sound that the tidal movement at around half-tide is exactly opposite to what you would expect: water is flooding into the lough from the Irish Sea, south to north, but although the tidal stream in mid-sound is south-north as you'd expect, close inshore on the cabin side, it's north-south. I've never discovered why. Anyway, the rowing boat slowly began drifting just west of south, and after giving it five minutes, I took up the oars and gave it a hand.

It was perfectly still, and the fog was starting to lift. I could hear a fox somewhere to the east, probably on Pawle Island – I don't know whether foxes howl at the full moon, but that's for all the world what it sounded like. The more the moon revealed itself, the more surreal my situation felt. Every rasp and click of the rowlocks was profoundly amplified, and for some reason I started placing the blades in the water with great precision on every stroke, so as not to disturb the night. I was too far south for mooring buoys, but I did make out the marker buoy at the south entrance to Ringhaddy Sound as I slid silently past. Then quite suddenly, as it seemed to me, the moon emerged, sharp-edged, clear and bright, and for the first time I was able to see the silhouette of the trees on the mainland.

If the errant oars hadn't shown a little gleam as I approached, I would probably have hit them. They were lying, one on top of the other, in the form of a perfect 'X', halfway across the sound and a little to the south of Eagle Point. As I lifted them aboard, I began to laugh – surreal enough in itself I suppose – and for a moment my heart, as they say, was full.

That's it. For me, this happy conclusion felt disproportionately significant, as I shall try to explain.

Ten days ago, we managed a celebratory thanksgiving service for my mother. The Salvation Army, with which she had a long association and whose up-tempo music she appreciated almost as much as their practical approach to the business of doing good within a Christian framework, provided the musical accompaniment; all the family took part; and several times the congregation laughed and clapped spontaneously, which will have delighted her heart. The minister was most generous in allowing the family more or less free rein, and gave an inspiring sermon himself.

My sister Claire introduced us as we went along, with anecdotes and commentary, which Mum will have enjoyed; David provided a lovely tribute/biography combined, which left all of us wondering how on earth she had fitted it all in; Lucinda and Jamie chose readings which both – no surprise – nodded affectionately in the direction of Mum's abiding love of horses; and for what it's worth, this is the text of what I had to say myself:-

"We’ve heard about Mum’s career, and how much she contributed to public life, and of course we’ve also been thinking a lot about her abiding character traits. They included her steely determination; her way of making people feel that everything was about them and not her; enormous wisdom; and an unfailing sense of humour, even in a crisis. 'Character', in fact, is the operative word.

It probably goes without saying that for us as a family, her greatest quality was total love and dedication, but I thought a couple of little illustrations might show her interest in people generally and her ability to make a person feel special. Sometime during her antiquarian book dealing days, I think she would have been in her mid seventies, she asked me to collect a book from a very nice book dealer who had a little shop at the bottom of Dundas Street in Edinburgh – I can’t remember his name – so I popped in. As I was leaving he said, ‘Your mother is a most remarkable and intelligent woman. We’ve had some great conversations over the years.’ And I can just see her standing in the shop, chatting away, because she would have been genuinely interested in the man, and the shop, and the books – the conversations could have gone anywhere but she would have been in no hurry to leave, even if she was in a hurry; and that’s the impression she made on him. I think it was quite telling, and the theme has been repeated again and again during the last few years, as Mum and I replied to various correspondents together – there were obviously many, many people out there, not necessarily with more than a passing acquaintance, who counted her as an old friend.

It would take too long to give examples of all the facets of her amazing personality, but because I’ve had the rare privilege, for a fifty-something year old son, of spending so much time with Mum in the last six or seven years, I would like to mention one particular quality, which I think probably shone as a beacon throughout her life, given the knocks she has taken – and recovered from. I mean her ability to get up and get on, which of course is closely allied to making the most of things, and to having in your armoury a ready sense of humour.

Mum had a ridiculous habit which caused great hilarity over the years, when she was thinking of reading a book, of going to the last page first, just to check that it had a satisfactory ending. Unbelievable but true! She absolutely insisted on a happy ending and I think it reflected her natural inclination to strive for a positive outcome in all of life’s situations: family, professional, political, whatever – albeit along the way she tended to sketch out the worst case scenario just to insure against disappointment. The outcome was always the same – forward-looking and with a smile, or more often a laugh.

Years ago, on a Christmas evening, we all sat down to watch a film. The ideal thing would have been It’s a Wonderful Life, but I had seen that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was on, and I said it was a great film. She would enjoy it. Now, Butch Cassidy ends with the heroes going out in a blaze of glory and a hail of bullets, and as the credits rolled, Mum turned to me and shook her head and laughed and said, ‘That is the last time I’m going to take a recommendation from you…’ She never let me forget it, and for ever after, when I suggested a film, she would throw her eyes to heaven and give me an old-fashioned look and say, ‘Oh yes, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!’

Her preference was for Bergerac, or Poirot, where you knew the protagonist would return, and everything would be neatly and positively resolved. She and our father were very much alike in this respect; it’s just that Da used to arrive at the same positive outcome by a more direct route. If they were discussing something or working up a speech, Mum would look at all the angles and write it all down – she was such a gifted writer [here I showed the congregation an exercise book of her handwritten short stories, and mentioned that a couple of people from my publishers were in the church..] – but Da would assimilate it all into his own thinking… and then cut to the chase. It was one of the many ways in which they made such a wonderful team. By way of illustration, this is what I would call Mum’s version of what I’m saying today [I held up two or three sheets of densely-typed A4]; whereas this is my father’s.. [bullet points on one side of an index card]

As to her sheer willpower and grit, her get up and go, when Mum suffered her stroke seven years ago (actually a very severe stroke) she got up and went in a very big way, and honestly, we were all in awe. A lesser person would have thought, Well that’s it as far as the future goes. But not Mum. From day one she brought her extraordinary bounce-back ability to bear, and we soon discovered, by her example, that there are a hundred ways to communicate besides old-fashioned speech, and that if you set your mind to it, and you’re always up for it, you can regain a measure of mobility on your own two feet; and a great deal more, as it turned out, in an electric wheelchair [David had mentioned how Mum drove the wheelchair in much the same way she used to drive the car – too fast]. It’s just that I would hate anyone to have the impression that Mum’s post-stroke period was all about languish, or decline, or even inactivity. There were challenges, but challenges were always Mum’s bread and butter. Obviously, all four of us, Mum, David, Claire and I joined forces to tackle the difficulties together, but Mum made sure she continued to play an active part in everything the family was doing. She was interested, engaged, proactive, and perennially – amazingly – cheerful. It won’t surprise anyone who knows the family, or our father, that we picnicked all over Co. Down and beyond, from cloud to sea level. She came to numerous book events. For a long time she continued to read voraciously, and I remember showing her what was to be the last chapter of my book, and she went over it and felt it was missing something or going in the wrong direction, and it took just a short to and fro session for me to understand that the emphasis was wrong, and that there was a better way of handling it. Mum picked it up right away, and her editorial eye did the rest [her career had started with a stint at the Belfast Telegraph, alongside the legendary John Cole].

Talking of the supercharged wheelchair, it always reminded Lynn and me of Mum’s visits to Scotland during her book business period. She would come over on the ferry with the car packed to the gunnels with books and shelves, and we used to have enormous fun setting up her stand at book fairs in Edinburgh and all around Scotland. Her enthusiasm for books was utterly infectious. Lynn ended up with a wonderful collection of children’s illustrated books, and I have a pretty good library on all things Western, thanks to Mum. Those visits were such great fun.

Anyway, when we saw Mum off after a week or so, she used to tear off down our lane. It was a long straight lane, and Lynn and I would stand there waving, but I’m perfectly sure that in all those years Mum never once saw us for the cloud of dust in the rear-view mirror. When she substituted the wheelchair for the car, nothing changed. In fifth gear, you couldn’t walk beside it, you had to jog, and David and Claire and some others (you know who you are) will bear me out here: Mum has taken the light from our eyes so often, I think you’ll understand when I say that there was never a dull moment when we were out and about!

Now, I hope it might be of some comfort to share with you a conversation which Mum and I had several times over the years. I’m sure she had the same conversation with David and Claire. She had pretty clear views about her own mortality. She used to say that our generation is far too preoccupied with prolonging life beyond what is reasonable; that death is very much a part of life; and that whenever the time came, she would see her own passing as a bridge to our father. Our earthly father that is, [looking at Rev David Hyndman], no disrespect to our Heavenly Father. I feel sure that when she got to heaven, she made a beeline for Da, and I’m equally sure our Heavenly Father will have been full of understanding and forbearance while she did so. It’s been a very long time [my father Brian Faulkner, Northern Ireland's last PM, was killed in a hunting accident in1977].

I just know that Mum and Da will be looking down today and saying, ‘Well we’re happy, and in due course you will be too’.

Looking to the future, as Mum would insist that we do, there are so many legacies to draw on, but if I were to choose one I would say that my mother’s is the standard against which I shall judge my efforts to pick up and get on, and to see the positive, not just today but through all the twists and turns that life is bound to offer. Unsatisfactory endings are not permitted. And she will know this, and she’ll be watching, so I’d better get it right. If I don’t, the next time we meet she will laugh and shake her head, and she’ll say, ‘What did I tell you about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?’"

Lady Faulkner of Downpatrick CBE

Saturday 21 January 2012


Last night my mother went on ahead to be with my father. I'm sure I'll pick up this blog again soon but I think I'll see how it goes for a while. Apologies, and thanks again for the well-wishes, there have been some lovely comments & emails.

Subsequent edit: my sincere thanks for all your messages, on and off the blog, and I just wanted to add one thing which I hope will answer some people's concerns. We used a brief window of opportunity to get mum out of hospital (in her own car!) as planned; she was more than a little pleased to be home; she was greeted by Sammy the dog; the cats jumped up onto the bed; all the family were around and in and out; the medical support was magnificent and ensured that the great worry of comfort was professionally and sensitively covered; insofar as possible it was business as usual; and mum went on peacefully, and with family all around.

Monday 16 January 2012


Sincere thanks to all those who have sent well-wishes, on and off this blog – mum has had a fight on her hands but I don't know anyone with more fight in them and I'm pleased to say she is now gaining ground! A little more sustenance, rest and teamwork and hopefully it will be business as usual – I've missed posting to the blog but normal service, as they say, should resume shortly..

Friday 13 January 2012

Waiting game

Our priorities are elsewhere for the moment – as a family, we're all champing at the bit to get my mother home and I haven't seen very much of the island – so posts will be a little sporadic. One thing to look forward to (apart from said homecoming) is using a little infrared-operated camera which we have been loaned, to try get some footage of the island otters – looking forward to that, and will post in due course :)

Sunday 8 January 2012

The Face of a Nation

As it's going to be a long night, I intend to embark – re-embark – on a long journey.

On February 27th 1942, a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, Alistair Cooke left 'the air of tobacco-choked energy that is the Washington odor of panic', and set off to sample the mood in thirty-four out of the fifty-two states of his adopted country, as they prepared for war.

Cooke was sponsored on his epic journey (by car, rail and air, but mostly by car – he managed to go through five sets of tyres) by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The experience was to feed many dispatches during the war, and in 1945 he typed up his account just in time for it to be rendered unpublishable by the end of hostilities . . . and put it in the back of a closet in his New York apartment. It lay undisturbed for fifty-nine years before being rediscovered, to Cooke's amazement and delight, by his secretary Patti Yasek just a fortnight before his death.

The manuscript was headed The Face of a Nation, but was published (in 2006) under the title Alistair Cooke's American Journey – Life on the Home Front in the Second World War, with an excellent Introduction by the great Haold Evans. I've read it before but I'm going to read it again, if only because one day I'd like to follow his clockwise circumlocomotion of the United States, and write up the experience myself.

Along the way, Cooke talked to everyone he met, and he came away with a subjective but richly evocative snapshot of a nation which was already channelling all its energies and resources into – more than one person told him so – 'someone else's war'.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Congratulations to Banque Populaire V

Banque Populaire V
(photo: Mark Lloyd)
The Jules Verne Trophy for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe by sailing vessel was claimed today by the trimaran Banque Populaire V when she sailed into Brest after taking a fraction under three days off the previous record-holder, Groupama 3.

In the nautical equivalent of forty-five back-to-back Le Mans races, Banque Populaire and her thirteen-man crew did over 29,000 nautical miles in 45 days, 13 hours, 42 minutes and 53 seconds: an average speed of twenty-six knots.

Quite unbelievable. Twenty-six knots, you can take it from me, feels fast in any boat over any distance.

Friday 6 January 2012

The Merchant Hotel

In one of his longer pieces, entitled 'How Things Even Out' (from What I'd Say To The Martians), Jack Handey makes this observation:

"Things tend to even out. Religion, some people say, has caused wars and fighting. Yes, but it's also boring to sit through a church service, so it evens out. One moment you're depressed because your doctor tells you that you have alcoholism. But then you cheer up when you go home and find a hidden bottle of vodka you had forgotten about..."

If life is about contrasts, then Lynn and I and our four guests have had our fair share in the last couple of days. After a challenging twenty-four hours of high winds and torrential rain, during which the rowing boat sank and was holed, the cabin roof developed a(nother) leak and the island's water supply failed, we found ourselves at the opposite end of the spectrum, luxuriating in hot tubs and huge beds, with hot running water, lights that come on without a visit to the generator shed, fine dining (well, we always have fine dining but this time Lynn could relax and leave it to others), and generally a level of pampering we haven't enjoyed for some time - and certainly not on our own doorstep.

By way of thanks for their New Year stay on Islandmore, our friends had booked us all into Belfast's finest hotel, The Merchant, in the city's Cathedral Quarter. It was our first visit, and it won't be our last - we should add a night in The Merchant to our list of requirements for visitors, which at present extends only to signing the visitor's book.

By virtue of a special relationship with two of Scotland's best city hotels - the Bonham in Edinburgh and the Blythswood Square in Glasgow, both of which always manage to get it right (in our humble opinion) – we enjoy making comparisons, and The Merchant, I have to say, gets it right too. Having had a good drenching crossing to the mainland in the morning, the girls were offered the use of the hotel's sauna, steam room and rooftop jacuzzi, despite the fact that they were checking in way too early. Our room was impeccable and enormous, as was the bathroom, and indeed the shower; there was a welcome note from the general manager Adrian McLaughlin, a (glass) bottle of water on each bedside table (complimentary chocolates later), real coffee in the dresser and best-quality cotton on the bed.

Most important, the staff managed to be professional, helpful and informal, all at the same time – an elusive combination even in the best hotels, which always seems to us to come from the top down: if the owners and managers have the right relationship with the staff, the staff will extend the same courtesy to guests.

As you can see, the public areas are sumptuous to the point of decadence, and another box was ticked when we found a blazing fire in the cocktail lounge – talking of which, the margaritas were up to the standard of the Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that's high...

Back to reality now – but we know how to do blazing fires too, and I fix a mean margarita, if I say so myself. On the other hand, there's everything to be said for a rooftop jacuzzi. A person can dream...

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Water water..

Seems that water crises, like everything else, come in threes.

There was a westerly gale during the night, so the rowing boat was swamped; when that was sorted, six of us, plus luggage, plus Eddie, got a good soaking as we crossed to the mainland; and last but as a matter or fact most, having suspected there was a burst pipe somewhere on the island, I checked the meter on the mainland to discover there was..

The others have headed to Belfast, and I'm going to gather up some tools and return to Islandmore to see what I can find.

Always more convenient when these things happen in summer!

Sunday 1 January 2012

Fine food, fires and fireships

To go by the temperature, Old Year's night 2011 might have been in September. After a feast laid on by Lynn in the kitchen (where there was no heating and no need for any) we went outside to welcome the benign spirits of the coming year with our customary bonfire; and although the six of us were wrapped up, it was more from habit than necessity, there being enough heat from the fire to keep us cosy warm before, during and after the countdown to midnight.

On the stroke of twelve there were the obligatory hugs and well wishes, followed by the obligatory popping of corks – and that would have been enough to satisfy the exacting Hogmanay requirements of my five (Scottish) companions; but this year we had a further ritual planned. Earlier in the day, our friend Lucy had folded a small fleet of paper boats, and the idea was originally to launch them off the jetty, inscribed with our wishes for 2012. In the event, there was a brisk southwesterly wind and the tide was fully out, so even if it had set sail from the very end of the jetty, the entire fleet would have made land on Islandmore ten feet, and less than ten seconds, later.

So the lough was out of the question, and we resorted to an altogether smaller body of water. You may be able to make out a bucket-shaped object on the bench behind the fire. It's actually a turquoise-coloured garden trug, filled to the brim with water. Given the space constraints, we chose three of the sturdiest vessels, and I equipped each one with a mast in the shape of a mini sparkler; a strategically placed match; and a cargo of scrunched-up tissue paper. Before the launch ceremony, I gave each a spray of lighter fluid; and on Richard's signal we placed them tenderly on the briny foam and gave up our silent wishes to the gods. I tried to put a flame to the tip of the first mast/sparkler, but in the breeze it was hopeless, and the spirit-soaked tissue paper which was to have given us the grand finale, ended up providing a trio of fireships which blazed spectacularly for several seconds and then succumbed, sinking by turns to the bottom of the trug and leaving a slick of burning lighter fluid on the surface.

An excellent start to the year.

Saturday 31 December 2011

Friday 30 December 2011

Happy New Year when it comes

When four friends from Edinburgh said during the summer that they'd like to spend New Year on the island, my first reaction, with the memory of last New Year's chaos and misery still raw, was that they were off their rockers. Now, it just seems like a bit of a gamble that paid off. They arrive tonight, and although we expect a bit of rain and a lot of wind, the forecast is for unseasonal warmth, and we have laid plans for Old Year's night which will hopefully involve feasting and merriment, but most certainly the habit-turned-tradition of a fire on the foreshore – this year with a twist.

If I don't get a chance to post (I hope to), may I wish everyone a happy and fulfilled 2012 when it comes :-)

PS: Today's happens to be the 600th Blue Cabin Blog post – who would have thought? Certainly not me a couple of years ago!

Thursday 29 December 2011

Strangford Lough's microclimate

Well, the forecast gales did come to Northern Ireland, but they passed to the north of us. As you can see from the video, the high tide threatened to come over the sea wall, but conditions were no more than boisterous – thanks, once again, to Strangford's fabled microclimate.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

What goes around..

A year ago today – a nice way to enjoy a fruit coctail, but the ice wasn't from the freezer...

I can't remember the last time we let the second stove go out the day before Christmas Eve, and didn't bother relighting it until after Boxing Day. Yesterday, I was chopping wood in my shirt sleeves. At first light this morning, as I rowed out to fetch the dinghy, I looked back at the cabin, and a pale salmon sky above Eagle Hill, and even the flue from the living room stove was bereft of smoke. We've been positively basking in the unseasonal warmth, and touching wood.

Apparently we are about to pay for it, because in the next few days Northern Ireland is to be visited by severe – and lasting – westerly gales; but whatever January and February have in store, the winter has been nicely shortened.

Thanks be to . . . Poseidon.

Saturday 24 December 2011

'Silence in Vermont'

This is how Alistair Cooke descibed Christmas in Vermont, in his Letter From America of 29th December 1995:-

"If I were asked what was most memorable about this Christmas, I should have to say an experience unknown to most people in a temperate climate: the experience of absolute silence . . .

. . . I was, I am, sitting in a room in a typical white-painted wooden old colonial New England house on a little hilltop in northern Vermont, looking out of high Georgian windows through narrowed eyelids – simply because what I see through the windows is blinding whiteness. A world, a planet of snow rolling away as a white valley, up into the wooded foothills, all the trees having branches like dropping swords of snow, and on beyond up the distant white mountains to, as Johnny Mercer said, a blue umbrella sky."

Now that's Christmas.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Season's Greetings

I'd like to wish anyone who drops by this blog a very Happy Christmas - may it be filled with laughter and may you be surrounded in 2012 and beyond by warmth and light.

PS: If I understand him correctly, Eddie says Woof! to his many canine friends.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Vent de la Louisiane

The Cabildo
The biggest property deal in history was finalised in this New Orleans building two hundred and eight years ago today.

The previous year (1802) Thomas Jefferson had sent future president James Monroe and his Minister to France Robert Livingston, to Paris, to discuss with Napoleon Bonaparte the purchase of the strategically vital port of New Orleans, which France had herself only recently acquired from Spain. New Orleans was the most important port on the Gulf of Mexico, and of course the gateway to the Mississippi, and Monroe and Livingston were authorised by Jefferson to go, if necessary, to 10 million dollars.

Imagine their surprise . . .  It turned out that not only was Napoleon prepared to let New Orleans go (his ambitions for North America having been dimmed by his failure to secure a foothold in Central America, which would have been seen as a more valuable prize) – he was also prepared to throw in the entire territory of Louisiana if the US would up their offer to 15 million. Given that Louisiana, at that time, was almost five times the size of France, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada, it's unsurprising that the negotiators went out on a limb and committed Jefferson to 15 million dollars without express authorisation.

The Louisiana Purchase was not only the biggest, but easily the best property deal in history. For three cents an acre, it doubled the size of the United States and paved the way for westward expansion under the banner of Manifest Destiny.

The green part of the map shows the extent of the United States before the Purchase. The staunchly anti-federalist Jefferson, who believed the prospective New Orleans deal was outside the scope of the Constitution, was embarrassed enough to have sent negotiators to secure the port in the first place. He must have been mortified when they came back with Louisiana.

Monday 19 December 2011

Tyrella Beach (Pebbles In The Sand)

For a while during the summer I couldn't get Melanie Safka's 1971 song, Pebbles In The Sand, out of my head, so I decided to make this video of Tyrella Beach at sunset, and use the song as the soundtrack. Even for a short video, during the editing you tend to listen to the music again and again to get the pacing half right, so if it was in my head before...

Saturday 17 December 2011

Meet the author, whether you like it or not

'Whenever you read a good book, it's like the author is right there, in the room, talking to you, which is why I don't like to read good books.'

That's funny (it's Jack Handey – of course it's funny), but as usual, there's an element of truth . . .

All kinds of prescriptions, proscriptions and rules of thumb are found in how-to guides for writers of fiction – show, don't tell; active, not passive; don't intrude; use fewer adjectives; use fewer adverbs; use fewer words – but for me, the one about not intruding is the most important, and probably the hardest to observe.

'One by one, the helicopters drifted down at a shallow angle, like sycamore seeds in autumn, and headed for the flight deck . . .'

If I were to come across this (made up) passage, my mind's eye would not be seeing helicopters descending from the sky like sycamore seeds; it would be seeing an author gazing out the window and thinking, 'What do helicopters look like when they descend from the sky? Sycamore seeds?' It doesn't really matter how skillful the writing is in other areas, or how gripping the plot – after I've glimpsed the author tap-tapping on his or her laptop, I sometimes find it hard to get them out of my mind.

Friday 16 December 2011

Any excuse..

This afternoon, while I was engaged in a bit of boat maintenance (repair actually – the rowing boat sprang a leak during the night), this very handsome shag dropped by and gave me an excuse to drop the tools and pick up the camera for ten minutes:-

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Pioneer woman

Today, Lynn and I took advantage of a window in the weather to go for firewood.

Recently, the moon has been full (high tides - good for wood-gathering) and the tides favourable (high water in early afternoon), but the wind has been strong, persistent and in the west, making it impossible to land a boat on our favourite wood-gathering island with any prospect of leaving again. Lynn, fire-master extaordinaire, has been rationing the flow of fuel to the two wood-burners. Last night, when she was on her own on the island, she sawed and chopped the last of our supply of firewood in appalling conditions after dark, and visited each stove three times during the night, at 1am, 4am and 6.30am, to keep a trickle of heat in the cabin - which, as I've said before, has the insulation values of a tent..

Had I been the pioneer I always wanted to be, while my eye would have fallen on Lynn for many, many reasons, one of them would have been her dogged (and cheerful) self-reliance..