Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Body discovered on beach at Culbin Sands, east of Nairn

Apparently there a "no suspicious circumstances" surrounding the discovery of the body of a lady confirmed as being that of Melinda Simpson at Culbin Sands, about four miles east of Nairn. Apparently she was employed at Raigmore Hospital catering department and the 43-year-old was last seen in the Millburn road area of Inverness between 7pm and 8pm on Wednesday and was walking away from the city centre. In the time-honoured phrase - "A report will be made to the procurator fiscal." - this is a normal part of the procedure under Scots Law when investigating unusual occurrences. I suspect that, very unfortunately, there is a very tragic story behind the events reported in the source articles below.

- Body of woman discovered on beach
- Body found on beach confirmed as missing Inverness woman
- Woman’s body found on beach
- Body found on beach in search for missing woman

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

"Crazy pilot" forced out of cockpit by co-pilot

No, it would appear this is NOT an early "April Fools" day jest, but a deadly-serious and no doubt (for those involved or who know the stricken pilot) a very troubling event:

According to The Telegraph: "Passengers on-board a US flight from New York to Las Vegas are forced to subdue the plane's captain after he suffered a "meltdown" and began shouting about a "bomb"."
- a most alarming event and illustrative perhaps of the fact that human mental stability can be somewhat fragile. There but for the grace of ...

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

London 2012 - Olympic Torch to pass 'near-ish', but not through, Nairn

The detailed route to be taken by the Olympic Torch as it is carried around the UK later this year prior to the Opening of the London 2012 Olympic Games has been published yesterday and a summary page can be found here.

Although the Olympic Torch will not pass through Nairn, it will pass reasonably close by on two days - Saturday 9th June, travelling from Glasgow to Inverness and Monday 11th June, travelling from Stornoway to Aberdeen (both linked files are in .pdf format).

You can search for the names of the Torchbearers so far announced on the London 2012 website here - by name, location or date.

As I wrote last November, when the approximate route to be followed by the Olympic Torch was announced, I am not going to be in the UK during much of this period, but will certainly be following its progress from afar.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Harriet Harman - not exactly on the ball is she?

The mouthy, preachy Labour loser Harriet Harman lost something of her usual polish and charm (well, she never had much of that, ever) in this television interview today; most amusing:

Her usual style of "sound-bite" and "bash the bankers" ill-thought policies suffered complete collapse under just the most cursory scrutiny. And about time, too!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

By-pass the banks and get currency at much better rates

For most people, sending money abroad for various purposes (replenishing an overseas account, making payments when buying a property, etc) or simply buying some foreign currency banknotes as a part of funding a holiday abroad, has traditionally involved popping along to the bank and arranging the transaction. It will work pretty efficiently most of the time - the bank will make a charge for doing a transfer and, unless you are dealing in pretty large amounts, they will most probably 'sting' you with a pretty poor exchange rate.

When I was making the stage payments for the purchase of my holiday home abroad several years ago the individual payments I had to make were pretty substantial, so like most people I did the transactions though a foreign exchange trading company. For the very finest exchange rates, 'inter-bank' transactions normally begin at GBP5million and up, but if the individual amounts are rather lower (in the several tens of thousands of Pounds, typically the case when buying a property in a series of stage payments as the project progresses) one can still make very significant savings by going though a dealer, rather than simply going along to the bank branch, because even if they call up their own exchange centre to arrange the deal the margin they will take on the deal will be a lot greater than from a foreign exchange dealer. In addition, the foreign exchange dealer will not charge for the actual transfer, unless the deal falls below its own thresh-hold amount. Obviously one still needs to get the funds into the hands of the dealer so they can do the trade; in the days before internet banking (not so very long ago) that would probably mean sending the dealer a sterling cheque, which would take a few days to get there and be cleared by them, or (for a fee) arrange a domestic transfer through the local bank to the bank account of the dealer.

More recently I have been transferring funds once or twice a year to a currency dealer using my internet banking facility with my British bank in order to replenish my account abroad with the funds needed for my extended stays there; doing it only a couple of times a year means both better exchange rates because the amounts are a bit bigger and secondly no transfer charges because the amounts exceed the foreign exchange dealer's minimum amounts for free transfers - their profits come from the spreads they still make on the exchange rate, albeit a lot smaller than the local bank would levy.

However, I like to travel with some of the local currency of wherever I'm travelling to (unless the exchange control rules of the destination country preclude this) so that at least I can pay for a taxi on arrival or perhaps buy meals on the first day or so, before I can get to the bank there to change some money, in the old days in the form of travellers' cheques, in more recent years by sticking a piece of plastic in a cash-machine - and avoid the 'gouging' rates that exchange bureaux at airports typically indulge in. For this initial spending-money cash I have usually just gone to my bank, ordered the money a few days ahead and gone back to pick it up when delivered, paying the currency-note rate charged by the bank and thinking I had few realistic alternatives (apart from, say, going to the Thomas Cook branch in nearby Inverness) where perhaps the rate might be very slightly better.

However, having just a week or so ago done a relatively larger transfer to replenish my Spanish account using a foreign currency dealer (for reference this was World First), with me transferring the payment to them on-line via the internet and it reaching the destination two or three days more quickly than doing it direct from my own bank, as well as achieving a much better exchange rate (with a saving of about 3.5%) I began to wonder if I could get a better rate on-line for currency notes too, for that initial local spending money in Euros - a Google search threw up the website and the stark divergences in rates offered. The firm at the top of the list Travel FX seems to get a great number of uniformly-positive reviews so I thought I would give them a try. In a nutshell I booked a transaction with them last Saturday morning, transferred payment to them on-line during the weekend and received the Euro bank-notes today (via Royal Mail 'special delivery'), saving myself 3.99% compared with what I would have been charged by my bank locally, in fact the notes rate was not so much different from what a foreign currency dealer would have been offering for a funds transfer, whereas the margin on notes from local banks is usually much greater than for transfers, resulting in a much less favourable deal for bank-notes even than for transfers. As this was the first time I had ordered foreign currency notes over the internet I was slightly anxious that my notes would turn up as promised, but I have to report that I was kept fully informed by email at each stage of the process and the notes turned up here on time today, as agreed when I placed the order last Saturday. I shall most certainly consider using this method and this firm in future. It really is a "no-brainer" so far as I am concerned - technology and the internet have made such processes possible and it would be foolish not to use them.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Comparison of three different watering regimes for Parsley

On 25th February, in an on-line forum I read (one of several for owners where I have my home in Spain) I saw a link to a rather alarmist (and potentially alarming) story about the alleged dangers inherent in using a micro-wave for heating or cooking food and this prompted me to write three tweets as follows:

First tweet here

Is cooking in a #microwave safe? I always thought so, but since reading about it, now I'm not so sure. Just search internet for the dangers.
- in response I got a couple of responses from Twitter acquaintances, prompting a further two tweets:

Second tweet here

@seafrontbloke @SeanLXIV May be all nonsense but take a look at this

Third tweet here

@seafrontbloke @SeanLXIV I'm going to do my own experiment with 3 tubs of cress -1 tap water, 2 cooled m'wave water, 3 cooled boiled water
- after writing that third tweet I went out to visit my local main supermarket, with the intention of buying three tubs of growing cress, having often bought it there before - I like to sprinkle cut cress over salads and certain cooked fish - with the intention of running my own experiment. In the event, the supermarket that day had only two tubs of cress left, so I drove to a nearby town and in one supermarket there bought three quite large pots of healthy-looking growing flat-leaf parsley, very similar in growth and general vigour to my eye and thought, well, I'll try it with these instead.

When I got home a little later I thought the plants looked pretty healthy and although the soil wasn't 'dry' I thought they probably needed some water fairly soon, but that it would do them no harm to wait several hours until I had prepared the different 'types' of water.

- For the 'micro-waved' water, I boiled tap water as hot as I could get it in the micro-wave in a ceramic mug and transferred the resultant boiled water to another ceramic mug, covered it with a saucer and let it rest about 6 hours so that it reached room temperature;
- For the 'boiled' water, I boiled tap water in my electric kettle (made of stainless steel with a concealed element), filled a ceramic mug with the boiled water, covered it with a saucer and let it rest about 6 hours so that it reached room temperature;
- For the 'tap water', I filled a ceramic mug with tap water, covered it with a saucer and let it rest about 6 hours so that it reached room temperature.

I watered each plant with exactly the same quantity of water on each occasion, using for the purpose either a stainless steel 1/4 cup measure, or a stainless steel 1 tablespoon measuring spoon (I have a set of American-style measuring cups and a set of measuring spoons, both made of stainless steel) and I dried/cleaned each utensil before and after watering each plant. On the first evening, each plant was given 2x 1/4 cups of water, because as I wrote earlier I thought they probably needed it. After that I watered each plant mostly once a day in the morning, or occasionally a second watering took place late in the afternoon - usually one 1/4 cup each or 1 or 2 tablespoons each, depending on what I thought they needed. In all cases each plant was given exactly the same quantity of water.

For the first 4 days, the plants were kept in a place (a corner of my kitchen) where although they had plenty of light it was mainly from vertically above (a skylight) and rotated twice a day to try and ensure they received similar levels of light. However, by day 4 I began to think they were becoming somewhat etiolated, so I moved them to another room, a spare bedroom, where they had a much larger window which receives much more of whatever light and sun is available in these northern latitudes and it so happens that for the past several days we have had bright and sunny days and although pretty cold out of doors, my apartment is very effectively centrally-heated, again each plant was rotated twice a day to try and ensure very similar light levels for each plant.

You will perhaps notice that in the photographs on days 5 and 7, the 'micro-wave' plant is looking rather bedraggled, with the 'kettle' plant only a little better, but with the 'tap water' plant looking somewhat better. However by day 9 all three plants seemed to be healthier-looking and much more similar in growth and by day 11 (today) all three were to my eyes very similar. It was also very noticeable that all plants were using more water - that is to say, excess water was not quickly draining through onto the plate on which each plant-pot rested and the increased levels of light now available to them made them after a few days all look rather healthier and much more equal in growth and general health than on days 5 and 7.

My general conclusion is that the experiment linked to in my second tweet above is a load of alarmist baloney. Interestingly enough, one of the comments in the second tweet above links to another experiment which draws much the same conclusions as my own experiment.

I mentioned in a fourth tweet the following:

See it here

@SeanLXIV @seafrontbloke LOL - but I'll post results with photos in 10 or 11 days. Meantime I won't be using my microwave. No hardship.
- so this article is the result of my experiment, as promised, into this supposed phenomenon. Suffice to say I will, from tomorrow, be using my micro-wave oven again to cook certain foods when I feel like it - I have micro-wave steamers which I have often used to cook/steam vegetables and fish and even occasionally chicken. I have tried it on one occasion with steak - rib-eye, my favourite cut - but that was NOT a success. Below are the photographs taken during my experiment with, in each photograph, the plants being the 'micro-wave' at left, the 'kettle' in the middle and the 'tap water' at the right. Larger images are available to view by clicking on the links below. Judge for yourself. You will notice that in the later photographs all three plants look somewhat 'yellower' and less intensely green - my conclusion is that when I bought the plants in the supermarket, they will have been grown under ideal commercial conditions, using most probably artificial light of a wavelength closely duplicating optimum sunlight, whereas after a few days in my dubious 'care' the poor plants had to content themselves with the natural light available at a latitude/longitude (57° 35' 0" N / 3° 52' 0" W) of the northern Scottish town of Nairn in late-winter. The photographs below were all taken in exactly the same position in another corner of my kitchen under as similar lighting conditions as I could manage to achieve:

Comparison of three different watering regimes for Parsley
(25 February - 6 March 2012)

Click here to see enlargements of all these photographs.

Day 1 - 25 February 2012 - start of experiment

Day 3 - 27 February 2012

Day 5 - 29 February 2012

Day 7 - 2 March 2012

Day 9 - 4 March 2012

Day 11 - 6 March 2012 - end of experiment

Click here to see enlargements of all these photographs.

Juggling act for Nairn chicken producer

I have often noticed the mobile chicken sheds in a farm field near the main road from Nairn to Inverness - my observations have been that the sheds remain in one position for a few months at a time before being moved to other parts of the farm, some visible from the road, some not. I've also noticed the lengthy mounds of chicken manure that seems to rotate in one part of a large field. It is very interesting to learn more of this agri-business in an article in Farmers Weekly (not of course a publication I read regularly, it must be said).

Farmer Willie Lean also owns one of the best and most popular restaurants in Nairn, The Classroom Bistro, and much of the produce used and served there is locally-sourced, including of course chickens from his own farm, but also pork and beef from other local farms. Prices in that restaurant are not cheap, of course, but then quality and named-sourcing from local producers costs money, specially when supermarkets tend to force down the gate-price for their large contract purchases.

Bright youngster from Nairn wins prestigious sail-design award

Nine year old budding sailor Mariah Weller from Nairn has won a nationwide sail-design competition, open to young designers under the age of 16, at the RYA Volvo Dinghy Show 2012 in London and is now the proud owner of a new RS Tera dinghy. Mariah and her family were on hand to receive her prize as the family had flown to London on learning that she had been short-listed amongst the 6 best entries.

The competition was to design a sail for an RS Tera dinghy and among the finalists from the entrance list of about 80 was four-year-old Martha Oakley from Huntingdon. The other finalists were 11-year-old Emma Bennett (Lymington), 12-year-old Zoe Burden (Kilcreggan), Oliver Guess, 14 (Weston Super Mare) and 13-year-old Rebecca Lewis (Rugby).