Fish eyes

I remember a moment, many years ago as a baby diver, when my buddy grabbed me, signalling frantically at something on a rock. I was clutching a borrowed Nikonos camera with the smallest macro frame attached – this would photograph things that were a couple of inches across, nothing bigger. I peered at the rock but couldn’t see anything special. There were a few frilly things that might have been hydroids. There was a stripy bit which could have been a worm but didn’t quite fit. There was something black and round. I gave my buddy a puzzled glance and looked again. Then suddenly my mental search area shifted from the camera frame dimensions to the whole rock ledge and I gasped. I was looking at Continue reading

Life’s a beach

I spend most of my life in, on, under, beside water of one sort or another,  so Water as this week’s theme for the Gallery seems particularly apposite.  It is raining at the moment. It has been raining non stop for about three days.  However, it has not all been rain this summer and so to celebrate the fun days I thought I’d show you some of the watery things I’ve been up to.

Common Dolphins in the Sound of Canna – they have to bring a smile to your face! There were seals and puffins on Skokholm, although I swam around underwater wondering if it might be one of the last dives I would do. It won’t be but I was feeling particularly mortal at the time.  And then it rained in Edinburgh. Torrential rain, hailstones, forked lightning over Arthur’s Seat, thunder and lightning every few minutes for over an hour, floods in Morningside. We sat outside the dive shop waiting for the rain to ease so that we could sprint across the road.

It might have rained in Edinburgh but it was sunny in Donegal when we dashed over for a few days. Continue reading

Black and white in colour

Tara’s Gallery theme this week is Black and white which seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  This photo of a sea anemone is one of my favourites and my Facebook comrades will recognise it from my profile picture. I took it years ago in the late 1980s on an expedition to St Kilda. There is an underwater cave about 25m down, right below the peak of the island of Dùn in Village Bay; the roof of the cave is covered with sheets of these white cluster anemones (and I’m sorry, we have to do Latin here) Parazoanthus anguicomus.  This photo might not win prizes or be technically the best but I like it.  It evokes for me a wonderful dive site and some great trips to the very edge of Scotland.  Happy times!

This little anemone (each one is about 1cm across) is always found in good places.  It lives along much of the west coast of Scotland, although it doesn’t make it further south than the north coast of Ireland, but the brightest, whitest ones live in the clear offshore waters, and particularly on the specatacular underwater cliffs of St Kilda.  It has a yellow sibling species, which, preferring warmer waters, only makes it as far north as south west Scotland;  rather like Will and Ed the Grundy brothers, the two are only rarely seen in each others company.

Anyone who has dived in British waters will know that they frequently have to justify their strange proclivities to the unbelievers of this world.

“Oh, it must be so cold!”  Well yes, it can be, but so’s skiing. You just have to wear the right gear.  “And surely there’s nothing to see. Isn’t it all dirty brown?”  So, just to show you that it’s not all black and white and dirty brown in underwater Britain, I’ve put in a few other sea anemone-type photos.

And in case this counts as cheating, here’s a post I wrote early last year which has some proper black and white photos.  I was contemplating writing something using these pictures when I remembered that I’d already done it.

Tempting fate

It was three years ago, give or take a day or two, that I went down to St Abbs for the day to meet Jane and go diving.  It was a beautiful day but it didn’t quite go to plan as you’ll realise if you read this.  Little did I know that day that it was the start of a rather grim couple of years.   A broken ankle was followed rather too swiftly for my liking by that cancer diagnosis and all that that entailed.  It all seems slightly unreal now and it is with only a small amount of trepidation that I’m off to St Abbs again tomorrow to meet Jane, over for her annual visit.  I’ve dusted down the diving gear and found a tank with some air in it. I suspect that this time there’ll be plenty of helping hands to steady my return to the boat. I’m looking forward to a lovely sunny day with puffins and guillemots and wolf fish and sea anemones.

And let’s hope that this really does mark the end of all that nasty stuff.

Into volcanoes

I’ve dived in one of Iceland’s active volcanoes.  It wasn’t erupting at the time, you understand, and no planes were grounded for our dive, but it was most definitely active. There was snow around the edges but the water was warm and clear, chemical blue.  I’ve never seen water that colour anwhere else.  We swam afterwards in a pool next to the main crater lake and that was steaming yellow and smelt of sulphur, hinting of subterranean goings on.  Somehow sulphur sounds better than rotten eggs, doesn’t it?  The volcano was Askja, not Eyjafjallojoekull which has reawoken after almost 200 years.

Our dive was one of my highlights of an expedition to Iceland in the early 1980’s. Continue reading

Home again, home again, jiggety-jig

“It hasn’t stopped raining for two days! I haven’t been able to get any washing out” GP1 said.

Head snaps round. Eyes swivel left. Is that my son talking?  The one who had six wet towels on his bedroom floor the last time I arrived home from fieldwork?  Well, I have to confess it was those six towels that did it, particularly when combined with the five more I found on his brother’s floor and the distinct absence of clean, dry, sweet smelling towels in the airing cupboard. But I’ve already told you about those.  What I maybe didn’t tell you was that I threw a wobbly and when shortly after I left for yet another two weeks work, there were rules.  Continue reading

Neglect, n.

Neglect.  As in My blog has fallen into a state of neglect.  I haven’t written anything. It has accumulated spam comments (now deleted, I hope).  There are real comments, including some from Reluctant Memsahib, one of my favourite reads, and I haven’t responded.   I’ve been busy. I’ve been away. I have lots of excuses.  I don’t really like excuses, though.   My sister has taken me to task. “Why doesn’t your blog work? It won’t load” she asked.   I think it’s sulking.

It’s not that there’s a shortage of material.  The holiday, for instance, is begging to be told.  Stories about the fading American lady in Fiji Continue reading

The Grand Tour

Port Douglas beachWe’re back.  We’ve been, we’ve done it, we’ve come home again, the inheritance and all future salaries are spent.  600+ emails, 700+ piles of laundry and millions of raindrops and I know we’re back.  Singapore-Port Douglas-Sydney-Fiji-San Diego are already memories.  I have pictures and posts planned but am dashing off to Shetland for 2 weeks and first have to finish the work mountain that kept me busy before we left on our Grand Tour.   Although, given that I’m still waking up at 5am courtesy of jet lag, I really should make use of those early mornings.   But, with the promise to myself that I really will write down some of our tales, here are a couple of photos to make you envious. Or not, as the photo uploader won’t play.

Father and sonGP2 and giant clam


Spending the inheritance

I’ve been shaking out the piggy banks and flexing the credit cards for the past few weeks, eyes screwed up and fingers firmly in my ears.  The BBC series South Pacific has become compulsory Sunday night viewing in the Guineapig household.  We’re going on holiday.  Had I mentioned that?  A BIG holiday.  The sort of holiday that consumes the boys’ inheritance.  We’re off to the other side of the world.

I wasn’t much older than GP1 when I first decided I wanted to dive.  We lived in Jamaica at the time and I had already spent many hours snorkelling over the coral reefs.  Diving was the obvious next step.  Being one of six children, though, nothing came on a plate Continue reading

On friends

I’m sure we all have friends hovering on the periphery of our consciousness. Friends who have been important in a particular stage of our life but with whom we may have lost touch. Even so, we think about them often and know that if we were to meet up, we would pick up just where we left off all those years ago.  Julia was one of those friends.  We were at University together in Durham, mainstays of the diving club.  Every weekend we all piled into the university minibus and headed off up the old A1 to St Abbs where we dived off the shore, either at Petticowick or outside the Harbour.  Petticowick was a slog; a steep, grassy slope down with the gear and, of course, back up at the end of the dive. 

My first dive in Britain was at Petticowick, after learning to dive during a gap year in Jamaica.  I vividly remember my introduction to the cold, greenish murk of a November kelp forest, shivering in a too big borrowed wetsuit with a piece of orange canvas that purported to be a life jacket around my neck.  “Wasn’t that wonderful!” proclaimed my buddy, Tim, later of Eden Project fame, as we staggered out of the water. “Drifting down through the kelp, in that beautiful clear water!” He clearly hadn’t been on the same dive as me.  Still, I perservered and learned to like, if not love, kelp forests.  The following year Julia and Chas arrived in Durham and joined me in the diving club while I switched subjects and joined them in Zoology lectures.  We became firm friends within a wider group Continue reading

The Auchenstary Aspirants

I’ve been tagged by Lynne to tell you seven things.  I’m not sure there’s much you don’t know about me, as I’ve already dumped a large proportion of my life into these blog pages.  However, prompted by some old photographs I came across the other day, here goes (and apologies if you’re heard most of this already):

1  The first alcohol I ever drank was Red Stripe beer. It was in Daphne’s bar, a roadside shack with reggae blaring out, somewhere by the road between Cow Bay and Kingston on the Jamaican south coast.  We used to dive at Cow Bay every Saturday morning and stop on the way home at Daphne’s for escoveitched fish, sourdough bread and ice cold Red Stripe beer.

2  I was the 2nd woman to land on Rockall – by 5 minutes.  The first woman went on Woman’s Hour to talk about it!   But GPD and I are pretty sure we were the first people to dive with sharks at Rockall.

3  I did the Nevis River race in 1979 or 80, with a crazy bunch of mountaineering friends.  We had to hurl ourselves into a raging torrent clutching a lilo,  shoot the rapids and jump over the waterfall Continue reading

A step back in time

lobsters-nouphead.jpgA week or so ago I was on the Menai Straits in Wales inspecting the underside of boulders.  As you do.  More of that another time, I hope.  I came home to find, amongst the usual glut of emails, one telling us that Ken Farrow, a fellow diver and long time friend, had died suddenly, probably whilst I was wandering the Zostera beds of Foryd Bay.  He had surfaced from a dive with his wife Alison, off the wild and spectacular Noup Head on Orkney, climbed onto the rocks nearby and simply gone to sleep.  It may be the way to go, but what a gap he has left behind.

We have known Ken and Alison for over twenty years, our friendship dating from when GPD and I moved to the marine station at Millport on the Clyde.  Ken and I were fellow National Instructors, and all the Scottish NIs would converge on the Clyde Continue reading

All emotional

I went for my diving medical on Tuesday.  I passed, despite having to step up and down off a chair for five minutes, which may be fine if you’re a 6ft North Sea commercial type but not if you’re little me.  I left clutching my certificate and on the verge of tears.  I’d put it down to hormones if I had any left.  It was at last year’s medical, in August, that this same doctor spotted the offending lump and so set in train the medical saga of this past winter.   He retires in June and so it will be a different doctor next year.   GPD saw him earlier in the year for his medical and thanked him for, in effect,  saving my life.  Sounds corny, but it’s true.  I’d had no symptoms so the cyst could have gone unnoticed for many more months and I would then have found myself in a totally different place.

The next couple of weeks mark an anniversary of sorts Continue reading

Please explain

Long ago, in the days when I was naive, innocent and, dare I say, young, I thought that diving was the planet’s main repository of acronyms.   SCUBA, BSAC, PADI, NAUI, ABLJ (remember those?), BC, AAS, ITC, PIE, TIE, IFT, NDC, NDO…  The list could be very long.  And boring.  And growing – let’s add in ERD.  But then I discovered education.  I had of course encountered education before, but only as an end user, one who sat in a classroom and did as she was told.  I didn’t realise that that Latin teacher whose life we made such a misery – yes, even in a respectable girls’ grammar school we could make life hell for an innocent  – I didn’t realise that she was probably an NQT.   I did have to find out what an UCCA form was but really, that was about it.

Now, however, in my present incarnation as an enormously responsible and troublesome parent, I’m having to learn a whole new vocabulary of acronyms and jargon.  Continue reading

Whacky science

Salmon and Inland Fishing - Varanger.comI’ve just read Salmon fishing in the Yemen which should, I think, be compulsory reading for all scientific civil servants.  It was certainly compulsive reading, and very funny, with its descriptions of a whacky project to establish a North Atlantic salmon run in the Yemen desert, the inevitable political machinations that arose and the talk of big money.  Running through it all is a sad but funny story of a sterile relationship and a career obsessed woman for whom the glass ceiling is merely a skylight in her penthouse suite.  I charged through it in a couple of days and it set me thinking about strange projects I’ve been involved in over the years.

Suspend disbelief for a moment whilst I tell you that the Lost City of Atlantis lies just off the north coast of Ireland in Rathlin Sound.    I know this is true as Continue reading

Home again

p1010010.JPGWinter arrived in Perthshire last week or it felt like winter as the air temperature plummeted with a high pressure system bringing sun and winds from the north.  Fortunately there was no rain to speak of and the water temperature lags behind the air, so spending several hours a day snorkelling around freshwater lochs was not as uncomfortable as it might have been.  The water was quiet and still and searching the loch floor for rare plants was like looking through a muffling brown fog.  It was a case of breathe in, hold it, dive down fighting the buoyancy in the dry suit but helped by lots of lead, catch a glimpse of a small patch of vsnorkeller-balloon-marker.jpgegetation, swim as far as the breath allowed, shoot back to the surface, repeat.  We would each do this for an hour or so and then take a turn in the boat, putting in markers for each other around the edge of the loch and continuing around the perimeter until we reached the beginning.  In this high tec world in which we live, we used bamboo canes and balloons to mark out 100m sections – tempered by the use of GPS to record their positions.  Simple but effective.

The plant we were searching, Continue reading


Slender naiad I’m off into the wilds of Perthshire for a week or so, milfordhaven.jpglooking for Slender Naiads – no, not water nymphs but a rare species of plant that grows in some of the freshwater lochs up there.  After that, I’m off to Wales, weather and engineers permitting, to dive on the only Welsh maerl bed, conveniently located right in the centre of a l-corallioides.jpgmajor engineering project.  It should therefore be very quiet in this corner for the next couple of weeks.  I have a list of things to do as long as my arm and really should not be sitting here blogging.  Must go.  But first…

GP2 said the other day, in a very accusing tone of voice, “You are going to be here for my birthday this year, aren’t you?”  “Well yes, but it looks like I’ll miss GP1’s.”  “You’ve missed mine for the past two years.”  I’m not sure that’s strictly true, personally, as I think I only missed last year’s, but the guilt strings have been suitably twanged.  Poor neglected children.  There’s a post over on Mother at Large all about the evils of leaving your child with a minder (she’s reporting the opinion of others, I must point out).  What would they say about missing your child’s birthday?  Will I be struck down by a bolt from the heavens? And what age are children when they stop minding that you’re not there for their birthday? When do they stop counting down the days?  I’ve a feeling I’ve got some way to go on that front.

An announcement or two

  • I passed my HSE diving medical today.  I thought I’d share that nugget with the world in general.  It occurred to me that perhaps I should adopt an annual injury ploy as the doctor didn’t make me do the dreaded step-up-on-the-chair-to-see-if-you’re-fit test, on account of my unfortunate ankle.  But on second thoughts… On a related theme, those wonderful people at Otter Watersports are putting a new drysuit in the post to me today, at a more than reasonable price.  I like their suits and the service they offer is always fantastic and very personal, despite the growth in the company. And they still make their suits in the UK. 
  • Mother at Large just gave me an award! How about that then.  [Thoughtful+Blogger+Award+Black_242x41.jpg]I’m very flattered, and constantly amazed that anyone actually reads my ramblings.   So thank you for the encouragement.  I will pass the award on in due course, after I’ve admired it on the mantlepiece for a day or so.
  • I have it on good authority that another parent is about to start blogging on the EduBuzz site.  Welcome!  I’ve also noticed an equally welcome flurry of blogging activity from Ross High this week.

In celebration of these events, and with an awards ceremony pending, a girl needs an outfit (well OK, we have a wedding to go to), so I called into M&S on my way back from a medical/physiotherapy type of morning.  I tried on this and that but then it struck me – “What on earth do I wear on my feet?”.  I have an ankle like a tree trunk and one foot still considerably larger than the other.  I did squeeze said foot into a drysuit last week, fins I can do and I’m hoping I can manage wellies for tramping round on Welsh mudflats next week, but smart shoes???  I have scuffed around in scruffy trainers for the last 6 weeks as even my comfortable sandals were uncomfortable; perhaps I could just put the trainers through the washing machine and make do.  Anyhow, I just looked.

The holiday from hell?

Superfluous to requirements on holiday:-

  • Shorts
  • Cropped trousers
  • Sun hats
  • Rounders bat
  • My crutches!

Would have been useful:-

  • More fleeces
  • More waterproofs
  • GP2’s current wetsuit (ie not the one he grew out of 2 years ago)
  • More warm things for under my drysuit
  • Wooly hats
  • Flask.

But I’m glad we left at home:-

  • The tent.

I’m sure you get the idea.  On our last two holidays on Coll we experienced weather hotter than the Mediterranean. In fact, the last time we were there, there was a drought and water had to be shipped in by tanker.  That was the time we were being kept awake in the tent by corncrakes in the adjacent field. 

The weather wasn’t really that bad, this time.  It was a mixture of wind, showers and patches of sunshine and, as the wind came from the north and west, we could body board on the glorious, deserted beaches of the west coast and dive on the east coast.  And yes, I went diving.  Continue reading

A Scottish summer

The boys are back, exhausted and happy.  They’ve had a ball and the concert yesterday was fantastic, a really high standard. They’re full of stories and are both set on going back again next year, so 6 hours a day of music and a hectic social scene has enthused rather than discouraged them.  GP2 went straight to bed when we got home yesterday at 7pm and slept for 14 hours solid.  I suspect he’d been surviving on adrenalin for the last day or so! Plus the odd dousing in North Sea waters, given the state of the clothes that are going into the washing machine. 

So we have a few days at home and then it’s off to Katie Morag country for a week with the dive club.  Continue reading