I recently joined tens of thousands of sweltering, sweaty and very often staggering, music fans on a hot weekend near Kinross. T in the Park is Scotland’s premier music festival and I loved every minute. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and it certainly isn’t Pete’s: he doesn’t do big crowds, dancing and happy songs. He does Quo, AC/DC and Molly Hatchett (well at least he did 20 years ago). Continue reading “A.M.A.N.D.A – Festival Frenzy!”
Do you know sometimes I feel like I’m on trial in my own house. All he needs is a gown and a wig and he’d not be out of place in Law and Order.
As regular readers will know and as family and friends will testify, Christmas is never a good time in our household. I love it and I think Sam our son would too had he not been poisoned (no it’s not too strong a word) over the years by Scrooge himself. Continue reading “A.M.A.N.D.A. Jan’ 14”
Our vegetable garden is very special (just ask Pete). It’s been many years in the making and I’ve got to be honest, my tending it has been a bit hit and miss (just ask Pete).
It all started around 5 years ago when some friends helped us clear a patch to plant veggies. A year or so later I’d planted nothing and the patch was overgrown. I called in a ‘professional’ who did a splendid job putting in raised beds, a gravel path and even some rustic steps leading down to the now-spectacular stage for the planting of all manner of home grown food. He did charge us…quite a lot as it turned out (just ask Pete), but now I was set.
Well you know how it is, busy lives and all that. A year passed and then another and with the garden now overgrown (and still no vegetables) I had to call ‘the professional’ back to clear it once again. And once again he charged us. By this time Pete is calculating that a single potato or beetroot (still not sown) would costs us upwards of £30…each! He wasn’t happy.
This year was the turning point and after another visit from ‘the professional’, I planted my first crop and they’re doing just fine. I still haven’t harvested anything but I’m working on that. They will undoubtedly be the most expensive vegetables ever eaten – but they are organic!
So here’s the best bit. The other night as darkness fell I went outside and was flabbergasted to see not one, but three barn owls perched on my raised bed! I ran back inside and called Pete. We spent the next half hour mesmerised by the young owls cavorting around the vegetable garden. OK, I accept this wasn’t why we invested in it and I accept that it’s not been as productive as I intended but come on, three barn owls? That’s priceless isn’t it? Just ask Pete.
The Arctic can be a cruel mistress. Fog, wind, rain, snow, rough seas and rough stomachs can all conspire against you and bring into question the wisdom of spending time (and money) in this hostile wilderness. Of course it can also deliver great rewards and that’s the deal – sit out the bad stuff and the good stuff will happen. And so it was with our recent photo tour to Svalbard. Lots of waiting around in the frontier town of Longyearbyen was followed by lots of waiting around on our way to the pack ice and our primary prey, the polar bear. Whether its climate change or just seasonal fluctuations, year on year that journey to the ice gets longer as it drifts ever further north. Fortunately for our patient and good-humoured group, the ice quickly delivered some good stuff and within an hour we had our first shots of the world’s largest land predator. We stayed up all night and before breakfast enjoyed a second bear encounter – this time from the low level perspective of a zodiac. But as I say, the Arctic is fickle and following a euphoric if not weary breakfast, our luck changed and bad weather forced us back south.
A wonderfully peaceful overnight amongst the sanctuary of the Seven Islands and a couple of walrus shoots later, we were on our way back north for a second bite at the polar bear cherry. With an even longer trek thanks to the southerly winds, I must admit I was desperate to pick up a bear on the desert of ice, which stretched, to the horizon. After a few hours we spotted a distant bear and were delighted to see it heading straight for us. 20 minutes later we had the boat wedged into the ice and a healthy female polar bear heading our way. She eventually baulked at coming onto the boat but was close enough to stare into her deep black eyes and allow the use of a wide-angle lens. We stayed with her for over 12 hours allowing her to sleep in a nearby snowdrift, before moving on.
A dawn shoot and zodiac cruise at one of the most spectacular seabird cliffs in the world was followed by a hearty breakfast and we moved on towards Liefdefjorden via an obliging pod of humpback whales. Entering the fjord the sea was settled and the sun caressed our trusty vessel, M/S Origo. Our zodiac cruise after dinner was pleasant but uneventful and on our return, the skipper advised us of an advancing front and the need to up anchor and head for calmer seas. Dawn brought frustration and an abortive landing on Fuglesongen, home of the little auk. Heading south was a laborious and bumpy ride with most of our guests catching up on sleep and avoiding the first real bad weather of the trip. Evening brought relief in the spectacular St Jonsfjorden and a polar bear sleeping on a distant glacier sadly beyond the reach of our lenses.
Dodging the rough seas we found ourselves at a well-visited (for Svalbard) site for arctic fox and eventually found a pair sleeping amongst the rocks. Foxes being foxes they soon perked up and treated us to a short show of hide and seek amongst the glacial boulders in which they make their home.
Sun-kissed blue and fin whales in great light, along with Svalbard reindeer and diving arctic skuas, all found their way onto our trip list. For me though, this tour was all about light and I found myself photographing it…a lot! No subject, just drama. I love drama.
This was our last Svalbard cruise for the foreseeable future and so it was a reflective farewell to this part of the planet, a place that has delivered high adventure over the years, a place that stays with you. Anyone who has ever visited the arctic will know what I mean.
Thanks to the tightly knit band of photographers who made the tour such a pleasure, thanks to our excellent bear guide Katja Riedel and thanks too to the crew of Origo – you’re the best guys!
And yes, yes…thanks to Amanda (my wife) for accompanying me (read blagging a place) and helping out with chocolate and bear spotting.
Is it me? Do I look stupid? Are all photographers insincere with motives that are only obvious to the most seasoned photographic spouses? Earlier this year, Pete and I both reached the 50 mark – not something to celebrate in my book but Pete insisted on a few days away on the remote island of Eigg.
Now, here is where our respective definitions of ‘a great time’ go their separate ways. Me, I envisaged long, lazy days by the fireside, leisurely walks, wine and telly. Pete’s ‘great time’ involved in what can only be described as a military operation.
Each morning the alarm would go off at 0430 and our romantic breakfast consisted of a flask of coffee and a packet of stale biscuits on a windswept beach (Pete with camera, me with pneumonia). 15 hours later, our days would end in pretty much the same way. How many pictures can you take from the same beach?
I’m perhaps being unfair – there was one highlight. Our last evening was filled with warm sunshine so I took some nibbles and wine down to my hard-working photographer on the beach. He sat still for all of ten minutes before jumping to his feet prattling on about time-lapse or something. From my pocket, a consolation prize emerged, my secret weapon, my best buddie in the whole wide world. Here we are together during a particularly romantic moment!
Thanks to Chris and Pauline for looking after the dogs and thanks to the inventor of chocolate for looking after me.
Fat is a delicate word in our house. You see I’m not 18 any more and thanks to middle age (plus a few cream eggs here and there), I’ve put on a few pounds in recent years – only a few mind! Pete is very sympathetic to my (temporary) bulging midriff (not) and tries his best to avoid the ‘F’ word as much as he can. But then that’s his trouble of course, he can’t resist stirring the hornet’s nest, poking jibes at the afflicted amongst us. I can hear him now with his (not so) subtle hints: “That’s a FAT lot of good.” There’s not much FAT on that idea.” You get my drift? Nothing direct, just little digs here and there; I wouldn’t mind but he’s hardly Richard Gere now is he?
And so to the latest excuse for the ‘F’ word. Crested tits and Great-spotted woodpeckers eat alot of fat, my fat, the fat that I make from bread, lard and peanuts each winter to feed the greedy so and sos. With our Winter Wildlife tours going at full tilt for almost a month, and photographers lining up in our hides to photograph them, alot of fat has been needed. It started off: “Amanda, could you mix some more fat?” but gradually degenerated into, “Fat for Fatties from the Fat Factory please.” He even got our other guides involved! Now again, there’s a deliberate and cynical avoidance of any direct reference to my own body but I can see it in his eyes – I know those eyes – he’s having a dig. Now of course he will deny all of this saying I’m being over-sensitive, paranoid even, but I know, I just know.
The Fat Factory is now winding down for the season as the birds go off to make new fat addicts. I’ve given Pete ‘the stare’ more than once, just waiting for him to cross that uncrossable line but sneaky as he is, he stays just the right side. He claims he’s sympathetic to my complaints about excess body baggage; he claims he still loves me as he did when I was 18; he claims he’s a mature, modern man. Fat chance!
Well that’s another eventful year now passed and I can sit down and look forward to the year ahead. Or can I?
Looking at the diary, it seems like I’ll be going solo for the first quarter of the year and so I’m just hoping that the good ship Amanda stays afloat. Pete is already one foot out of the door for a month-long stay in Yellowstone (he claims it’s work but we all know different) followed by Winter Wildlife tours in the Cairngorms, before Lofoten in March. Our son Sam has a couple of busy months ahead with Biathlon tournaments coming thick and fast – the British Championships in Germany followed by the European Youth Olympics in Romania. A very proud Mama am I, but at the same time, he’s learning to drive as well as perfecting the art of being an adolescent (at which he excels!)
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, having ensured the boys are packed with plenty of warm clothing and a months’ worth of pants and socks, I’ll need to set the alarm for early. I mean very early! Before I even start the day in the office, the dogs need walking, the cows need feeding, the buzzard hide needs baiting (which due to recent developments now involves a ladder and a precarious climb up it) ditto 3 x red squirrel hides, 3 x bird hides and the crested tit site. Only then can I sit down and enjoy my porridge (I don’t actually like porridge).
Knowing my luck, the ‘Famous Five’ Heiland coos will manage to escape everyday. Over the holidays they surpassed themselves with a 4-mile sortie up Glenfeshie. It took several hours, my personalised crook (I knew it would come in useful), the Land Rover and much swearing and shouting (mainly while Pete was waist-deep in the freezing river coaxing them across) to get them back home.
Oh and then, I mustn’t forget to meet and greet our hide clients, as well as shopping and cleaning in preparation for our forthcoming Winter Wildlife tours. And all of this ignores the challenges of the snow that is yet to fall.
Am I complaining? No. Well perhaps just a little bit. If you happen across me in the next few months, please forgive me in advance. My hair will be a mess, my clothes will be a mess and I will be a mess! But I’ll still be smiling! It’s the only way.
I wish you all a great year ahead with lots of laughter, happiness and good health along the way.
Well it’s not Christmas just yet and it’s not my birthday, but unexpectedly I’ve just received two very different pressies from very different people and probably, for very different reasons.
Some of you will know of (and some have met) our new family of lawn-mowing Highland Cows. They are five mischievous yearlings of which Boris, the de-horned steer, is by far the cheekiest. We’ve still got our old dears, Molly and Maisy, but they know the deal here and refuse to get caught up in the antics of the youngsters – they stick together as they always have done, sneering at the whippersnappers from afar. The ‘Famous Five’ however, are up for a bit of adventure and led by Boris, have found their way just about everywhere. This is not how Pete assured me it would be and his attempts to keep them where they should be have failed miserably – not a problem as long as he gets them back there.
Last week he set off on an adventure of his own on a day that coincided with the first heavy snows of the winter. Within 24hours Boris and the crew were staring at me through the kitchen window – our garden was obviously the place to be. Never mind ‘Famous Five’ – at that moment they were the F***** Five!! I tried all the tricks that Pete left me with but they weren’t for budging. Enter George our neighbourly farmer!
George listened and George nodded and George told me they needed to know who was boss. I pointed out that although they were only half-grown, they were strong and were equipped with a pair of 18-inch daggers on each side of their heads. George listened and George laughed and George left. Next morning Boris was introducing his girlfriends to the savoury delights of our vegetable patch.
I was just considering how I could get hold of a rifle when George showed up with a personalized hazel crook, complete with a red ribbon. Slightly overcome with such a kind gesture, I took it outside and introduced Boris’ legs to my new weapon. Problem solved and George is my hero!
Meanwhile across the Pond, Pete was lording it taking photos of snow geese (whatever turns you on) and despite my bovine woes and threats of leaving him, leaving the house and most of all, leaving the cows, he seemed slightly less than sympathetic (at which point I’d thought of another use for my newly-acquired crook). Imagine then my surprise when he returned from his endeavours complete with gift-wrapped Jimmy Choo perfume. This is not a major event in most relationships but in 30 years, it’s never happened before. He handed it over awkwardly but it’s the thought that counts (not that he would understand that).
And so, equipped with my new crook I can be a proper farmer and Boris will have to watch his step. With my new perfume, I can occasionally be a proper woman and Pete will have to watch out too!
Yeah right – in his dreams!!
I hope everyone has a great Christmas and a wonderful 2013.
I recently scratched a lifelong itch: to visit Yellowstone National Park in the American west. Ever since Yogi first appeared on my TV, it’s been high on my “must do” list. And contrary to some itches that take years to scratch, it lived up to expectations and then some. I’m not going to bore you with endless holiday tales – this is after all a photography blog and I am after all, a photographer (of sorts).
A few days into our holiday I decided I really should improve my picture taking. Announcing that I would embark on some formal tuition once back home, Pete nearly choked on his maple syrup pancakes and immediately offered a (money-saving) crash course. He started talking about aperture and something to do with light but in all honesty, I had no idea what he was prattling on about and after 5 minutes the lesson (along with my photographic career), came to an abrupt end.
In spite of that I think I produced some first-rate pictures. Perhaps not fine art but decent enough for a beginner. During an evening critique session Pete scrolled through my portfolio wearing an expressionless face (not what I’m used to). After several silent minutes he announced that the only decent shot was of a pair of discarded knickers we found on the front steps of Old Faithful Inn. I think that says more about him than the standard of my photography. I would add by the way, that the knickers in question didn’t belong to me!
A moose kissing a statue of the largest member of the deer family (caption by Peter Cairns)