Sunday, 31 July 2011

My weekend

Wow. Two blog posts in two days. And not only that, but two original posts that aren't printed elsewhere first. This must be me setting some kind of record.

Anyway, this weekend I've been mainly trying to stave off the boredom that having a wife currently living 500 or so miles away causes. Thankfully, I have two very caring and entertaining friends in Johanna and Debbie who helped me keep a smile on my coupon with a walk up the Water of Leith and lashings of rum and ginger beer.

Today, I attempted to fight off my hangover by going for a trek up Corstorphine Hill. It certainly seemed to work - instead of fighting the gnarling effects of a pulsing headache, I was more concerned about my general lack of fitness when pitifully trying to conquer the hill's not insubstantial slopes.

Now I'm back on the couch, having booked some adhoc flights to Colchester for next weekend, contemplating raiding the freezer for that tub of Ben & Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream. I swear, there was a time when I used to have an interesting life. Isn't' it odd how it's now, when I'm at my most boring, that I've decided to blog more frequently and more personally? I guess that says something.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Birdwatching in Edinburgh

This week for the place I still call work I was asked to take my camera to a guided birdwatch my company had put on with Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust (EGLT). It was a fairly early start to the day, 7.30am, but thankfully a decent amount of feathered-friend spotters took up the opportunity to be led around the Canonmills area of the Water of Leith with birdsman Mike Bennie.

It was a pretty fun morning. There was a lot of construction work going on at the time so there wasn't as much birdlife shaking its tail feather as we would have liked, but Mike - ever the professoinal - managed to make even the most mundane birds sound relatively interesting.

Photo-wise, I'm not that happy with what I took. But it's a learning process. One of the major difficulties I found was getting frontal shots, rather than from behind. They either looked directly at the camera or acted in the most bizarre manner. In marketing, they call this the Hawthorne Effect. I'm sure professional photographers have another, more expletive speckled term for it, however. Very infuriating.

It's nice to shoot with the D700 though. I'm certain the quality of the camera is making up for my lack of prowess, technically. I'm very much looking forward to getting my paws on Su's D3 once I'm down in Colchester. If she'll let me, that is!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Florida holiday diary #2

I know this second installment of my Florida diary has been a long time coming, but in my defence it’s been a bit of a stressful week. After a few days of frantic paperwork arranging, Su has finally moved to Colchester and started working for Archant Suffolk. The upheaval has been fairly emotional and there’s still much to do, but we’re slowly getting there.

Anyway, we arrived back from Florida last week. 21 days in the humidity with a mountain of books, good food and family certainly made for a relaxing break from our stresses in the UK. We tried to spend as much time as we could at the beach, which was harder than we expected – we arrived in Florida during the rainy season. Still, when the curtain of clouds finally opened, revealing marble blue skies, we got to enjoy some of the most puritanical beaches I’ve ever witnessed.

We celebrated Independence Day on 4 July. It was a strange day. In Scotland we don’t tend to celebrate St Andrew’s day with any bluster, so to see the star spangled banner raised aloft from ever rooftop was disconcerting. In all honesty, the day seemed to be purely about food and fireworks – never a bad thing. There was little singing of the national anthem, even at the fireworks display we turned up to on downtown Fort Pierce, but the sense of pride was absolutely palpable. We Scots could do well to take some lessons from our trans-Atlantic cousins.

After the day of patriotically-induced gluttony, we rented a behemothic SUV (it’s the only way to travel in the States) and headed off to Miami. A truly international city, Miami felt like a world away from the small towns of the South. We spent a lot of time walking around South Beach, soaking in the cultural smorgasbord as well as the beating sun. I can honestly say I’ve never been checked out more than when I was in Miami. Sure, it was by men - but, hey, it all counts!

After a night of food and wine in Miami, where I devoured a plate of snapper at South Beach’s finest fish restaurant, we made our way to the Everglades to chase some ‘gators. It was a pretty bleak, rain sodden day - not particularly conducive to scoping out our fresh water friends (they prefer the sun, apparently) – but we managed to catch a few alligators taking respite from the storm. I was surprised to find just how docile they are. At one point our guide even petted a ‘gator they’d worryingly named ‘Jumper’. A brave man.

From the Everglades, we ventured across to Homestead to visit the fabled Coral Castle. Now, coming from Scotland, I’ve always thought the States lacks any mistique when it comes to history. The Coral Castle doesn’t exactly dispel my belief, but it’s such an intriguing tale it will surely become American legend in centuries to come. Essentially, the castle is the work of a Russian man called Edward Leedskalni who single handedly built the coral-made structure in ode to a lost-love who he was trying to win back. Admittedly, his efforts sound a bit psychotic, but the castle is a remarkable and fascinating testament to the unwavering belief of mankind.

With only a few days left in the States we made sure to visit our favourite eateries. Su’s restaurant of choice is Dale’s, a redneck barbecue joint famed for it’s beef sandwiches. I’m not a massive fan of the place, even if it did provide the food for our wedding, but as you can see from the picture below, Su feels differently...

My choice of food-house was Conchy Joe’s, a quirky seafood shack by the side of the Indian River. I’d been craving grouper since I arrived in the States and ordered the crispy grouper special. It was a beast of a meal – so big I could hardly finish it. It’s safe to say my grouper infatuation is now suppressed for another year, at least.

On our final night I cooked lasagne for Gregg and Jael, while Su made a delicious baked cheesecake . Given the platitudes given out on every bit, I can safely say our hosts appreciated our efforst. And then that was it, the end of our Florida excursion. There were a few tears at the airport, accentuatedby the knowledge that Su was going to be saying goodbye to both her mother and me in the space of 72 hours, followed by a laborious 12 hour journey home. I already miss the sunshine.