My last production ‘A Winter Warmer’ had a successful trial run in the studio at Dumfries Theatre Royal last weekend. Now back home and free of work that has too often confined me indoors It was now time I did my own winter warmer. Yesterday it took the form of a short bike ride up to the forest and today it was a circular by back roads and footpath, which took just over an hour. Bright clear blue skies and very cold so perfect conditions. Set out, past a flock of sheep with a Texel tup in marker harness about his duties. Our neighbours at Southridge are planning to lamb later next Spring, at the back end and not the fore of April. All due to the poor early Spring grass growth of 2018, made worse by the ‘Beast from the East’ weather event preceeding it. The roadside pond by East farm well frozen over and the sedges all browned and bent. Turn off down the steep back lane (also a national cycle route) and have to watch my step as the sun doesn’t touch this north facing edge of the whin sill ridge and it would be easy to slip on the permanently frosted tarmaced surface. Pick up the long distance trail at crosslanes and follow the cul-de-sac which leads to Oldstead. A handful of Silkies, those most exotic of chickens, discovered here pecking for food in the garden. I’m impressed with our neighbours planting of woodland on the ridge to the east as well as more apple trees in their garden with its beech hedge. Through the gate and over boggy rough grazing to a low bank boundary, all that remains of hedge or wall that once ran here and now marked only by two lines of impressive mature ash trees. We here the adult tawny owls call from their haunts here in winter and from our house they dominate middle distance views. One of the trees, rotten at its core, has been cut down and I marvel at the contrasting textures of sectioned bark, moss, good wood and rotten timber at its core. Natural decay I wonder, or Ash Dieback? I hope the former, but fear the latter. Leave the trail at our boundary, climb the gate and take in the view from our crags before coming home via the garden. The sight of field mushrooms frosted with crystals catches my attention. Come milder weather I may yet catch a morning crop before harsh weather returns to put a stop to growth.


On a recent visit to London made first ever visit in the company of daughter Stephanie to view the Grant Collection of Zoology housed in University Street off Gower Street, part of University College London (UCL). Free entry to a ground floor study centre and couple of rooms crammed with all manner of preserved creatures in an array of glass containers or artfully displayed with wire…from snake skeletons to neanderthal skulls, embryos to eggs, scale models and skeletons. Wonderfully old fashioned and very informative. Interestingly, no shortage of willing supporters to adopt an exhibit and thus further the institute’s work. One of my favourite displays was this macabre mass of pickled moles in an old sweet jar. Am sure a fine writer must has been inspired to pen a horror story or poem after viewing…


At back end and the best time to get started on those structural jobs around the garden. A large bed abutting porch and downstairs bedroom wall needs to be de-constucted and contents moved elsewhere. Plants have already been replanted elsewhere or abandoned. Having James up from Derbyshire for the weekend to help gives Kim & I the extra muscle and impetus we need to get the job done. Soil goes to fill the boxes in the kitchen garden and the rougher stuff under the trees. The old railway sleepers that make up the two low borders of the bed require nifty work with the sack truck. Once lifted we move them to edge the gravel path between front border and studio. After a bit of prep in clearing a space the old worn timbers fit wonderfully and look as if they’ve been in place for years. Two large regular stones complete the line, tucked in under a cotoneaster in the corner. The last sleeper we move reveals a surprise…a half dozen small frogs of various sizes pop out of gaps between wood and compacted soil and start leaping about. We cup them carefully in our hands and decide to release them by the pond which is a good 70 yards away, at the other side of the garden. Our surprise compounded by discovering other inhabitants, cheek by jowl, in the form of two adult palmate newts in a state of torpor, dust covered crinkled skin. Harder to spot than the still active frogs. We release the little creatures between beached pond end and the logs deliberately stacked there to shelter amphibians in winter. Returning a short while later there was no sign of the newts so I assume they’d made their slow way to safety and a further – undisturbed – hibernation. Fascinated that both species should, literally, find common ground to congregate and ponder why that particular place and that distance from the pond. In any case we were sorry to have unwittingly destroyed one refuge but glad to have provide another.