New Year, New Start: an End, a Beginning

It’s hard to know how to start this, but let’s go for it anyway. If you’re a regular reader/viewer of Contemplating the Clouds, have you noticed that the frequency of posts has dropped substantially over the last month or two? Well, there are at least three of you that probably have, but then agian that’s because you already know.

Know what? I hear you ask. Well, to put none-too-subtle a point to it, Contemplating the Clouds is coming to an end. In fact, this is the final post.

Bratislava at sunset

The final sunset of my three-city holiday in 2012: Bratislava Castle

After two and a bit years of blogging away, it is time to move on and move up. From my perspective, Contemplating has reached a natural point at which to stop and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you for reading. Whether you read virtually every post or just one or two, I do appreciate the fact that it is being read.

In the last 26 and a half months the blog has come quite a long way – and I hope very much for the better. From simple photos with barely even a title that no one really saw to certain posts which get traffic almost every single day, and from silence to long wordy rambles; it has, above all, been one gigantic learning curve. One that has made me realise some things I absolutely love doing, helped me to get and understand my job, and one that has allowed me to share my passion for various things in a way that people seem to quite enjoy.

The Giraffe, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The Giraffe in the NMS

Some of the most popular things that I’ve done are probably not too surprising: posts on the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the National Museum of Scotland and The Water of Leith all rank in the top 10 posts, in terms of visitors (with reviews on the NMS’s exhibitions on Mummies and Catherine the Great also featuring in the top 20). The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee gin-fest, the Olympics and my trip to Moscow are also up there, along with a couple of posts about St Andrews and Graduation (the latter two get visited almost every time either of them is in the news). All in all, I think I can say with some confidence that the blog that started out as a good way to procrastinate that looked more studious that staring out the window, contemplating the clouds, has morphed into something a whole lot more.

Tower bridge and the Olympic Rings

Tower Bridge, during the Olympic Games

There are definitely some things I’ve really enjoyed: going on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Virgin Money Festival Fireworks in 2011 was a treat, so was writing about the Olympics and my little holiday to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava last year. The two blog-birthday ‘Year in Photos‘ series also rank in my highlights, as do the G&T cheesecake and the Chilli and Lime gin.  The entire premise behind Instagrammers Anonymous has been great fun, and that’s without even mentioning St Andrews and some of the heartfelt posts about it.

A year in photos, st andrews, sunlight

St Andrews: Where it all began

But in this world all good things must come to an end. It is not without sadness that I’m hanging up my boots for Contemplating – and don’t worry, it will still be here if you want to read it, there just won’t be any updates – in fact, it was not an easy decision at all, but it’s time to move on to something more.

Chocolate and Ginger cake with Orange butter icing

The Chocolate and Ginger cake – the most viewed post

In the round up of popular posts above I ommited an entire category of posts: food. Food and drink is, as is probably fairly obvious to regular readers/people that know me, a big part of my life. I absolutely love it. I love making it, I love sharing it, I love tasting it, I love talking about it and I love writing about it. Of the top twenty posts on this blog, 10 of the top 20 are based around food or drink. And if you look at the search terms the blog gets found for then 14 of the top 30 relate either to food or drink. Can you spot where this is going?

If you’re curious, then the top two search terms, and the most read post relate to this: the chocolate and ginger cake with orange icing that I made for my Mum’s birthday back in 2011. The searches in positions four and five relate to the second most popular page – the Gin and Tonic Cheesecake. Thinking about it, there’s a fairly obvious direction that we’re heading in.

Sure, I could have just continued on Contemplating and just altered the blog’s theme to be more foodie-orientated, but I took the difficult decision to start over a little while back. Since late November I’ve been writing a few posts and getting a few things sorted out elsewhere on the big bad world-wide web and now seems like the right time to take it to the rest of the world. Please let me introduce you to The Usual Saucepans. Here you will find my latest kitchen adventures, my successes, my ‘must do better next time’ dishes, my love for all things local, and many other things besides. Over the next twleve months I hope to add more and more to this little recipe list and maybe throw in a few exciting twists here and there. So why don’t you pull up a stool, grab a plate and a glass and join me?

I’ve had a lot of fun writing Contemplating the Clouds, and have learnt many valuable leasons from it. But with a new year comes new priorities, new opportunities and so much more. I hope you will come over to The Usual Saucepans and join me there, but first and foremost let me say thank you for reading Contemplating the Clouds and making it such a pleasure to write.

Until the next time,


The first photo to ever appear on the blog

The first (and last) photo to ever appear on the blog

Instagramers Anonymous: A Week in the Life

Not sure if I mentioned it, but I got a new phone last weekend. One of the first apps I downloaded was Instagram and I have been addicted ever since. So here are three photos to describe the week and highlight that I now have a serious Instagram-ing problem (as anyone who follows me either on Instagram or Twitter will no doubt testify).

The Scott Monument in Silhouette

Intagram, Edinburgh, Scott Monument, Silhouette

The *insert multiple expletives here* tram works on Princes Street

Intagram, Edinburgh, Trams

A cheeky lunchtime milkshake to perk up Friday afternoon
(oh, and some landmark I’ve never taken a photo of before in the background)

Intagram, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Castle, Milkshake, Shakeaway, Princes Street Gardens

From a Giraffe to a PlayStation, Via Ancient Egypt

On Friday (29th July) Edinburgh reopened one of its best attractions. After three years and £47 million of redevelopments the National Museum of Scotland is finally open to the public once again. The goal of the redevelopment was “transforming the magnificent Victorian part of the National Museum of Scotland (formerly the Royal Museum) into a must-see attraction for people from Scotland and around the world.”*The Refurbished National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

I went for a ‘quick look around’ the following day when I was in town, just to see what they had done. I left over three hours later. The Victorian section has indeed been transformed and is most certainly magnificent. So as not to clutter this up too much I have included only a few pictures, to view the whole set go to flickr by clicking here.

Entering the building through the new, street level, entrance you immediately realise that this museum is seriously big. Although not particularly high, it is the length of the vaulted expanse, with its glass staircases and lifts contrasting the stone, which tells you that you are in a Victorian museum with a distinct 21st century vintage.                                                    I was greeted by a very friendly member of staff and given a map and pamphlet that I promptly put in my back pocket so I wouldn’t get distracted in my whistle stop tour. Whoops… I also got a badge as well with a Baboon on it, but I’m afraid they were for the first weekend only.

Walking up to the Grand Gallery, National Museum of ScotlandTaking the staircase up from the cellarly entrance you are taken to the atrium, the old entrance hall which has been properly restored to become what it was originally meant to be – The Grand Gallery. The lack of fish ponds aside I have to say that looking up I got the same sense of awe as I did as a little kid. The mammoth gallery is a masterpiece of Victorian architecture; with it’s huge vaulted glass ceiling (based on the original Crystal Palace) and now lets in an extraordinary amount of light. This feeling of space is definitely a theme running through the galleries and despite being there on the second day I didn’t feel as though I was sandwiched in the middle of a crowd, despite the throng of people there`.

The first gallery I headed to was one of my favourites in the old museum – Science and Technology. This one is aimed at connecting kids (of all ages) to the science of the exhibits, mainly through hands-on exhibits, and exciting things such as rockets and racing cars. I think I was roughly about ten years old for the duration of my time in this gallery.               Turning slowly on her pedestal in pride of place is one of the gallery’s (if not themuseum’s) most important pieces of recent times – Dolly the Sheep. For those who are not aware, in 1996 Dolly became the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell (in this case a mammary gland cell) and thus was instrumental in proving that a cell from a specific part of the body could recreate the entire body. She resides in the NMS because she was created by the Roslin institue which is located just outside Edinburgh.

Dolly the Sheep, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

     With the obvious appeal of the exhibits sitting on the floor, there is also a lot of reason to look up in here. There is a rocket towering up through all three floors at one end, and a satellite hanging at the other. Alongside the satellite there is also a gyroplane – a bizarre looking invention, with both wings and rotor blades, that would eventually give rise to the helicopter. This particular one was one of the first to ever be built, and was constructed in Perthshire.Science and Technology, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

I have to say that the ‘Industry’ gallery doesn’t look much different, however, I would at least partially down to the nature of the exhibits in it. Many of the items of interest in here werePlayStation, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh the dizzying height of technological achievement in their day, but now they just look a bit bulky. What I find most interesting about this gallery is the evolution of technology, and how much of it originally arose out of necessity, but went on to flourish. It also makes me wonder if the makers of some of these objects ever imagined the impact they’d have on modern life (mobile phones, down to the radio), or if they ever thought that their device would end up in a museum. The case that shocked me most was the last one. In it sit an old iMac computer, and a Sony PlayStation. I remember both of these when they were new, and things that came before them. Surely these aren’t old enough to be in a museum? Or perhaps am I just getting older too?

One of the biggest draws of the museum (and consequently rather busy) was always, and continues to be the ‘Animal World’ gallery. The new incarnation was utterly packed when I visited – both with exhibits and visitors – and there are some spectacular exhibits on display. There were loads of kids jumping about, all very excitable, with the accompanying adults all looking like they’d quite like to do the same. Hardly surprising really, with a T. rex, an elephant, a giraffe and a whole ‘family’ (not going to be the biologist do a full explanation on that) of lions it is clearly designed to excite kids both young and old.

The Giraffe, National Museum of Scotland, EdinburghMy only one criticism (and I admit, I probably only say it because I’m a pedantic biologist) is that the layout is rather lacking a proper scientific layout. Whilst I can see the intrinsic value in ‘senses’ section – it does make sense putting items together that have similar hearing styles (for example) – why is there a section on ‘babies’ and the rest put around the floor in what appears to be a very tenuous aggregations? Surely there is much more educational merit in putting the ‘baby’ alongside their ‘parents’ (as in the lions), and sort the majority of the collection along some sort of taxonomic order? Seemingly not. Having raised this question on Twitter I was (rather condescendingly) informed (by a member of museum staff, on a personal account, so ‘not representing the NMS’) that it was developed by “extremely well-qualified zoologists” and whilst I do not doubt this, I feel there may have been designers involved along the way, who might have pushed it in certain directions. Also, without further description of said zoologists’ qualifications I have to point out that I could describe myself as that, so perhaps it is not such an impertinent question after all.

All of this, however, must not be taken as my dismissal of the gallery – I did enjoy it. For what it is, I think they have done a fantastic job. I appreciate the intrinsic value of teaching visitors about convergent evolution and so on, it’s just not how I expected it to look.

I passed through most of the other galleries at a fair speed – you’ll probably be glad to hear – the only other exception being my other old favourite: Ancient Egypt. Call me slightly pathetic, if you will, but I’ve been fascinated by the ancient Egyptians since we did a project on them in primary school. The new gallery, I’m very pleased to say, is light-years on from how I remember the old one. In the museum of old, I remember it being a small corner gallery (it’s a bit of a hazy memory, so I may be mistaken), so I was glad to see its new spacious third floor expanse. The collection of smaller items (idols, figurines, etc.) is truly astounding, as are the hieroglyphic papyruses and carved stone exhibits. I also like the dioramas depicting scenes around temples and the building of a pyramid. Special mention, however, has to go to the collection of sarcophaguses on display: they are fantastic, and something I will have to learn more about on my next visit.

Ancient Egypt, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

      My favourite moment in this gallery, however, was none of the above. It wasn’t even an exhibit – it was a person looking around. To be more specific, a little boy, who clearly had no interest and was blatantly rather bored, despite the tour he was getting from his parents. Whilst they were extremely well-informed individuals, I get the impression that this had happened in every gallery and the little boy had had enough. He, very earnestly, pointed towards one case and turned to his dad and asked: “Daddy, why does that little boy in the painting look so confused? Is it because his daddy was a mummy?” Cue mortified parents and a crowd of people all doing their up most not to laugh (but failing miserably in several cases).

In summary (if you’ve got this far, sorry it was a bit long winded) I think the ‘new’ museum is truly fantastic. The Grand Gallery is just that – a feature, more than just a glassy atrium and entrance (as it was previously). I really like its extension down into the ‘vaults’, and back towards Potter Row – the Millennium Clock looks like it was designed specifically for its new spot – and the five-floor display case is truly a sight to behold. The Grand Gallery is now the sun-drenched centre-piece of a truly wonderful museum. The once dark, tired, cramped museum has indeed been transformed into the light, airy, vibrant, 21st century museum it should be, and is most certainly a must-see for everyone, be they a local or from the other side of the world. I cannot wait until my next visit.The Grand Gallery, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh


Home Town Tourist

One of my favourite things in the world is walking up the ramp at Waverley Station (Fun Fact: Waverley boasts a ground area of 101,000 square metres, making it the second biggest station, by area, in the UK.). I realise that that probably sounds a bit odd but please, bear with me. This started a couple of years or so ago, but it’s only recently that I’ve really begun to understand it.Edinburgh Castle from Waverley Bridge, Scotland, Britain

Scott Monument, EdinburghWhen I walk up that ramp I see a bank. A monument (one, I mightThe Mound - Bank of Scotland Head Office add, that bears a striking resemblance – in my eyes at least – to Thunderbird 3, albeit with an extra leg). 18th century ‘multi stories’. Two art galleries. A large expanse of gardens. A castle – No, THE castle. In short, I see a picture-postcard of Edinburgh. But it’s also more than that; I see a little bit of home.

I have lived in Edinburgh for most of my life and it would be more than a lie if I said I wasn’t quite fond of it. Over the last few years being away has made me notice quite how stunning it is – especially at sunset, or perhaps that’s just my fascination with such things setting (pun fully intended) in again – and has made me appreciate it all the more. I now understand what really brings the flocks of tourists from across the globe to our city. And I have to say that I am a little captivated by it as well. But how much do I know about my home? Well, not very much it transpires.

General Assembly Building of the Church of Scotland

Before I go away anywhere I always do a little bit of background reading to find out why the place deems itself special, to see what I might do. To the best of my knowledge, however, I have never done the same for ‘The ‘Burgh’. That’s not to say I know nothing, my parents were very good at taking me to see the sights and explaining why they were important when I was younger, but It appears that I just wasn’t listening.Edinburgh Castle, Thistle

 I mean I know the basic functions of most of the buildings, and roughly when various things were built, but when I’m in town the chances are I’m in a bookshop, having coffee (and perhaps occasionally in the pub); I’m not climbing the Scott Monument, or looking out from the Castle. I know it’s all there, but because of that I’ve never got round to seeing a lot of it; it will always be there for ‘when I’ve got the time’, which remarkably never seems to appear.

The best way, I have decided, to rid myself of this woeful lack of local knowledge is to do the research, visit the places – to play the tourist in my home town. Over the coming months I will be visiting many of the city’s most enchanting attractions, sharing what I find along the way. I will also try not to get run over by our mythical trams (unsurprisingly the June 2011 deadline for 2 fully operational lines was missed by a country mile – not a single tram has yet run).

If you have any suggestions for places I should visit please get in touch below and I’ll add them to the list.

You can also follow the action live via Twitter (@contempclouds), which will be updated with fun facts and (perhaps on occasion) photos of the places I’m visiting.


A Quick Trip to the Park and a Scratch Behind the Ears?

I am currently a member of the great ranks of graduates who are scouring the globe for someone who wants (or can be persuaded) to employ them. However, I don’t think the dog sees it that way. Without too much anthropomorphism, she appears to think that I have come back to be her personal walker and feeder, with nothing better to do with my day but give her my undivided attentions.

I actually quite enjoy walking the dog, fresh air, exercise, and it’s quite a handy escape every so often as well. It should also be ample opportunity for going out with my camera, but sadly it’s not. Our daft mutt sadly isn’t allowed off her lead (it is 9 metres long, so don’t feel too sorry for her) as she is a) scared of other dogs, but usually deals with it by jumping at them; b) deaf as a post; and c) is a little bit stupid – likes peering over cliffs/large drops, and out at traffic.

For a little while I’ve been thinking about creating some sort of stop-motion video thing, and walking the dog seemed like a fairly easy place to start. I selected yesterday pretty much because I was on my own – so if it went horribly wrong I could just pretend it didn’t happen. The other reason for doing it now is that I’m going to be away the next two weeks, most probably without the internet, and thus would have the time to sort it out if it took forever. Luckily, it was a fairly simple process – erm… I mean vastly complicated and impressive… – and turned out fairly well for a first attempt, if we ignore the rain. Might even make another soon, but in more clement conditions.

It actually took two attempts to go out for the walk. I decided to go out about mid morning, but whilst I was getting my boots from the door the dog stuck her nose out, gave me a look that would roughly translate as ‘You’re kidding, right?’ before turning and heading back to her bed. As I was not particularly enthused about going out either we decided to reschedule it for later.  When I decided it couldn’t really be put off any longer we headed out, camera in hand (modified to be a little more shower-resistant, in the most classy fashion…), into the pouring rain. Camera Prepared for the RainBasically, we were out for about 40 mins and I took a photo roughly every ten steps. That resulted in about 350 photos, now 1 min 18 seconds of video.

For your delection: Walking the Dog in the Rain…