A.M.A.N.D.A. May ’13

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.

A.M.A.N.D.A. April ’13

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!

A.M.A.N.D.A. Jan ’13

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.

A. x

A.M.A.N.D.A. Dec’12

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.

A.M.A.N.D.A. Nov’12

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).

I’m told I was an hour late for this shot – that’s because I was in bed of course!

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)

Kevin Costner he ain’t!!

All’s well that ends well!

A.M.A.N.D.A. August ’12

I don’t get out much. That’s not a complaint simply a consequence of rural living and middle-aged indifference. So when I was alerted to the upcoming opening of the 2020VISION exhibition in Edinburgh, it was gladrags and mascara time for me!

Breakfast time came and went. Lunchtime came and went. It was a busy, busy day. But tea…tea was something I could catch up with during the ‘nibbles’ session that all these events provide. “A glass of wine madam?” Now I’m old enough to know that an empty stomach and alcohol only leads down one road, but before I knew it, there was a glass in my hand and I’d set off.

The location was stunning, the exhibition well received, the speeches inspiring and I have to say, the serving staff were VERY efficient. “Another wine madam?” And so many people I hadn’t seen for ages. “Another glass madam?” And the music was so uplifting. “A top up madam?” Oh what a wonderful evening. And then, a burning sensation in my back: Pete’s eyes. OK, I knew I was tipsy but his glare suggested something on an altogether different level.

Do you remember the Dick Emery show? Do you remember the old woman who used to smirk and utter the words “Oh you are awful but I like you” before pushing some unfortunate soul into a ditch? Well according to Pete (and he claims to have witnesses who will testify at my trial) that’s who I resembled. As many of you know, he’s prone to embellishment but he might have a point!

So here I was, 130 miles from home and with Pete staying in Edinburgh for the night, my taxi driver was tapping his fingers waiting for me to stop blethering (have you noticed how it takes an hour to leave a party when you’ve had a few?) My driver in this case was Andy Parkinson, one of the 2020VISION photographers and guide (the very next day) for our Shetland tour. Pete got weary of glaring and Andy replaced him. “Are we going yet Amanda?” Can we get off now Amanda?” “It’s a long journey and I’m up early Amanda.”

A quick stop at the services and a bag full of munchies later, I was feeling much better and Andy and I enjoyed the journey up the A9 having a good old blether. For the record, I dropped him at the airport nice and early and felt fine!

So the moral of the story? Do you know what? Stuff the morals, we all had a great time and the fact that I don’t get out much made it even better! “One for the road madam?”

“Actually no, I’ve probably had enough now thank you.”

A.M.A.N.D.A. July ’12

Now I’m not complaining but I rarely get to go on a proper holiday. I don’t mean a pseudo photo tour or an extension to some business conference or other, I mean a holiday where I can take time off and relax.

Last New Year’s Eve in a slightly inebriated state I was telling my friend my tales of holiday woe when Pete walked in also slightly worse for wear (he’d just jumped in the River Feshie which is never a good idea in the middle of winter). I think the cold water had fuddled his brain because before I knew it, Old Grumpychops had promised me not only a holiday, but a holiday in Yellowstone in autumn! And not only for me but for our friends too! As insurance I announced this bizarre yet welcome generosity to the assembled throng. There would be no going back now.

Our friends are non-photographers and although I’ll be going armed with my Baby G (aka Canon G10), regular readers of this blog will understand that this hardly qualifies me as a ‘photographer’ (having not even managed to download one picture since it arrived in 2009). So to all intents and purposes, we are traveling bereft of cameras. And begrudgingly (read after several protracted arguments), Pete has agreed to leave his gear at home too.

I can see it now. Hiking, horseback riding, white-water rafting, skydiving. We’ll be doing it all with not a picture being taken. Not a custom function mentioned, not a megabyte to download, not a chimping session to be seen (Yes I do know what chimping means!).

But what if he misses a winning shot? What if he suffers a mental breakdown without his camera? What if he becomes so depressed he offers himself up to the nearest grizzly bear? What if…? What if I don’t give a damn?

Could I be that cruel? Oh yes, just watch me!

A.M.A.N.D.A. May ’12

It’s not unusual for people to walk straight into our house but when I heard the door go at past nine o’clock the other night, I did wonder who was calling. And there she stood – my Mum, on one of her unexpected, unannounced, and as Pete would have us believe, unwelcome visits!

For fear of misrepresenting my husband I should add that for him, a visit from the Mother-in-law is in fact welcome as it means ironing getting done on an industrial scale. Pants, socks, and hankies – nothing escapes her hot steamy iron. But this is no ordinary iron, this is a rocket-shaped, turbocharged, steam-spluttering iron that gurgles away for hours on end. Her bedroom door remains shut for days, the only sign of life being the steam creeping out from underneath the threshold and then, as if by magic, there appears a pile of ironing the likes of which our house rarely witnesses. She even puts it away!

Nobody is allowed to touch the iron in my Mum’s absence (it goes away in the ‘stuff’ cupboard until her next visit). I have to say that for me, ironing is a luxury that demands time and inclination that I simply haven’t got. So if anyone spots a strange human form that kind of resembles either Pete or Sam but obviously can’t be with clean ironed clothes like that, it is indeed life – just not as we know it. A week or so from now, their usual vagabond appearance will be resumed.

Of course they could always do their own ironing. Hmmm…

My mum headed off home this morning (looking very smart) and as I left for the station I heard my first cuckoo of the year. Life is good with or without ironed clothes!

Red hot Iceland.

I’ve got to be honest, I don’t do holidays. I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. But no. If I’m not taking pictures there’s a good chance I shouldn’t be there in the first place. And so off to Iceland on holiday with my (tolerant) wife Amanda and my (not so tolerant) son Sam. And my camera.

Initially austere, even foreboding, Iceland quickly gets under your skin and casts its almost mythical spell. Forget any media hype about volcanoes going off (I’m proud to say that I can in fact pronounce the “E” word!), this is a big place with big skies and big potential.

Being a holiday we decided to restrict our travel to the south of the island taking in the geological icons of Reynisdrangar and the suite of waterfalls including Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss with its conveniently located fulmar colony. Further east Jokulsarlon lagoon is a must-see and is incongruous amidst the flat featureless coastal plains which skirt the Vatnajokull Glacier, Europe’s largest chunk of glacial ice.

OK my pictures are no better than what has been done before (a few more on the Northshots facebook page by the way) but for once, I’m not that bothered. Iceland is an experience. I can’t wait to return next year.

And just to prove I can almost do holidays, here’s Amanda at Iceland’s hottest tourist spot, The Blue Lagoon. In fairness it was a lot less touristy than I imagined and the ice creams are something else. I didn’t think it quite fair to inflict the locals with the sight of my ageing flesh but Amanda was less altruistic!