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

A Second Year In Photos: Making Friends With The Animals

As a semi-reformed (OK, not at all reformed) biologist and a dog lover it’s hardly surprising that pictures of animals have made several appearances here so to celebrate day 1 of A Second Year In Photos, I’ve decided to go for two of my favourite animal photos of the last 12 months. Most of them have, of course, been my dog Keira, but one or two others have sneaked in there too.

Her Majesty, AKA Keira, has a thing for rugby and tennis balls (and for crying at the TV when the players won’t let her take part), which oddly enough mirrors my own sporting preferences – although I don’t cry/shout at the TV as much. Usually. This photo was my desktop image for a good deal of this year, so it had to feature here.
Rugby, 40 days of photos, super saturday

When I was in London last December it was a fantastic day, and whilst wandering through St James’ Park I made a couple of new friends, this guy being the most entertaining.London St James' ParkCr

A Second Year of Contemplating

Picture the scene: It’s Monday evening after a long day in the office. I’m sitting on the sofa  slurping my way through a bowl of my roasted tomato and red chilli soup, mopping up as I go with a big hunk of crusty bread; the dog is, as ever, lying at my feet trying to soften my heart of ice with those big brown eyes. It was then that I had a thought. I dismissed it as a little ridiculous to begin with, but as I was finishing off my follow-up ‘course’ of a glass of lovely red wine left over from Sunday night’s dinner the thought came back to me and this time I couldn’t shake it – tomorrow is the 16th October. Contemplating the Clouds is two years old.

Yes, in the disorganised chaos of my daily life – it’s my preferred choice for organisation, it would seem – I almost forgot the blog’s birthday. This wasn’t the case last year – oh no – then I was so organised that I even went out and bought it a cup cake and a number 1 candle (have a look over here, if you don’t believe me). This year, the dog and I are sitting staring at the screen, wondering what to write (or in the dog’s case, why there isn’t cake involved this year).

The first year of Contemplating the Clouds was my first foray into the blogging world. It started with just photos, then was transformed by the addition of words. This time last year I thought that perhaps I was getting better at both the photos and the words; now I feel – I hope – that they have improved again – I know there are certainly fewer typos (and thanks to the friend that has no qualms about calling me out on them if they do appear; I do appreciate it, even if I don’t always sound grateful). But what of the theme and overall purpose of Contemplating? Well, that too has solidified a bit. This is a blog about a 20-something living, working, procrastinating, eat and drinking in Edinburgh. Oh, and about the adventures I run off on every so often.Edinburgh, Carlton Hill, Old Town, Lent, 40 Days of photos

I said last year I had no idea what the coming year would hold, and whilst it hasn’t been without its share of appearances from the drama-llama, I think it’s been a fairly settled one. At birthday numero uno I was three weeks into a temporary job that could end with virtually no notice in a company that had less than six months before it ceased trading  to say it was a little uncertain is a bit of an understatement, and the fact that I had no idea what ‘proper’ job I was ever going to get (if I would get one at all) was weighing pretty heavily on my mind. As it transpired I temped at the exporters for five months, and only left because I found gainful employment in the real – or perhaps that should be the surreal – world. I’ve now worked in internet marketing for the last seven months. It’s a massive jump from the world of academic biology that my university days in St Andrews were filled with, but I really enjoy it. Of course it’s tough at times and after seven months I feel I have only just begun scratching the surface of all there is to know – but that is part of the fun of it. Working mainly with the travel industry is also something I really enjoy – even if I do get pretty severe travel envy at least once a week – but perhaps what’s surprised me the most is how much I love writing. That may sound rather stupid from someone who writes an often fairly word-y blog, but when this started it was all about photos. My writing still has some way to come, I think, but we’ll see what the future holds on that front (although I wouldn’t hold your breath for a novel, quite yet).Defender of the Nation, Edinburgh Castle

The other thing I mentioned last year was that I’d like to go on holiday again. It was very much a passing remark, however, I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have made it in at all, had it not been something I really wanted to happen. And happen it did. With friends scattered across the country – and indeed the globe – I have been lucky to go away several times over the past twelve months, in fact travels have come to rather define the year. There was a little trip to London last Christmas time, followed Buxton, Peak District, Millers Dale, Wriggly Tin, quarry, hiking, viewpointvery quickly by another to St Andrews, the early new year was a bit dull, but the end of February saw the adventure of the Wriggly Tin (a long weekend to the Peak district, partying it up the likes of which Buxton has never seen before…). It took a while after that, but as the season that held the somewhat misleading title of ‘summer’ rolled around I put those accumulating holidays into use: first was my trip to Yorkshire for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and less that eight weeks later I was heading south again – this time bound for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Olympic Games in my capital city: London 2012. For anyone that was reading the blog around then, you’ll know that I had an absolutely fantastic trip, I didn’t shut up about the Olympics for weeks. But as the Jub-Olympic summer was drawing to a close I had other travels on my mind – my whirlwind trip to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava. Let’s be honest, my summer’s travelling has dominated the last twelve months, it was utterly extraordinary, and something I doubt I will ever get the chance to repeat.My tickets for the Olympic Tennis - so excited!

Icing dribbling over the side of the cakeAnd that neatly brings me to the present day. Whilst I have no idea what the coming twelve months will hold I am pretty safe in suggesting that it will certainly hold more of three things that have filled the blog with lots and lots of images this year (away from all my gallivanting). They are, of course, dog walking (Keira isn’t going anywhere, after all), my attachment/addiction to a single app on my phone, Instagram, which has spawned the weekly round-up of Instagrammers Anonymous, and my other huge and overriding passion – food and drink. These three things have kept me busy over the last twelve months and I have no doubt that they will continue to flourish – who knows where they might take me.

To celebrate one year of Contemplating the Clouds I ran a week-long series called A Year In Photos, which involved me picking out my favourite 12 photos from the year (plus perhaps a bonus one on the side). Whilst the connections between the paired up photos were sometimes pretty tenuous, we all struggled through and seemed to quite enjoy them, so to advance on that it’s my self-promoting pleasure to follow this long-winded essay by seven days of (considerably shorter) posts – A Second Year in Photos.Monument to Peter the Great, the Moscow river and the cathedral of christ the saviour

All that’s left now is to say thank you. There would be very little point in me writing this blog if I didn’t think there were others out there reading it, so I’d like to extend a thank you to each and every one of your who reads the blog; much as it is an enormous cliché to say, it does mean a lot to me. It doesn’t matter whether you read every post, or just the odd one or two; if you’re the person in Edinburgh or Auckland that visits virtually every time I write a post, or you’re the person in Singapore, the Bahamas or Kazakstan who has visited just a handful of times, the very fact that you read it makes me happy.

And here is the perfect time to raise a glass of whatever is you happen to have handy (mine’ll be a G&T, please) and say here’s to a fantastic year of Contemplating the Clouds and procrastinating to our hearts’ content; and here’s to the future, whatever it may bring.


Weekend Wanders

And once again it’s Monday. Where the weekend goes is anyone’s guess, but this time round I think mine was quite busy. Oh, and the sun shone!

Dog looking at green fieldSaturday saw that busiest of mornings – the lie in and read the paper sort – with no one else at home (except Keira, the dog) ‘pyjamas ’til lunchtime‘ was the order of the day, for the second day on the trot (I was working from home on Friday, thus PJs, slippers and coffee was all the rage). When I finally got my lazy behind into gear it was time to walk the dog. It was definitely a case of making the most of the distinctly non-autumnal weather, so Keira and I went up the path that goes beside the River Almond.

Over the course of our four mile wander we encountered two rabbits, a squirrel, a dozen or so planes (the end of Edinburgh Airport’s runway is near a bend of the river) and a pair of pheasants. Both my arm and the lead were definitely a little stretched by the end of it, and Keira was in a mood because I wouldn’t let her chase the pheasants across the harvested wheat fields.Dog looking out over corn field

Having spent Sunday morning doing dull domestic things and attempting my first ever baking that involved yeast, dog walking time was a spot of light relief. We just took her up Costorphine Hill (it being nearby), but our laziness paid off as we discovered some fantastic bramble/blackberry bushes – watch this space for a jam making session soon – and some equally wonderful views.Edinburgh city centre, castle, arthur's seat and murrayfield golf course from costorphine hill

But alas – at time of writing – it’s Sunday evening, I’m full of gammon, apple crumble and red wine, and it’s time for Downton Abbey; the weekend is almost at an end. Looking on the bright side though, I’ve got lots of freshly made cinnamon buns to eat and a four day week as I’m off to Yorkshire on Friday morning. Win.Sun, clouds and a harvested wheat field


The Name’s Bond, James Bond

From the first “Bah Bah! Dum. Bah Bah! Dum” I’m well and truly hooked. That white circle scans back and forth across the screen, but too late for the person on its trigger. Bang! The blood flows down the screen. Bond has begun.

Since I was little there has always been James Bond; both my dad and older brother are fans, although for many years I associated them with Christmas, because that’s when they were on TV. But pretty soon my brother started getting them on VHS and we watched them until the tapes were stretched almost as much as my family’s patience. We even got our N64 as part of the ‘Goldeneye package’ (still the best game there ever was for it) – the box for which remains in the attic to this very day.

From the witty one-liners, obligatory car chases, glamorous locations and even more glamorous Bond Girls to the surreal plots and bad guys in hollowed out volcanoes, each film is the escapist dreams of every little boy’s dreams. From the age of ten when I decided that I wanted to be James Bond (or perhaps Q) ‘when I grew up’, I’ve been a Bond-addict and over the years it’s been a friendship making process.

James Bond DVD box setThe most recent of these has to be two summers ago, when I was working in St Andrews. There weren’t many people around, but I did spend a lot of time with Kat and Mel. One the many things we bonded over (pun fully intended) was our mutual love of all things James Bond. Well, Mel and I did, Kat hadn’t seen them! This obviously had to be rectified, so with the help of box sets purchased from Ebay we watched through each and every film. Fans for life.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Bond’s first big-screen performance. On the 5th October 1962 Sean Connery gave the first performance of Ian Fleming’s legendary spy at Dr No’s London premier. Little did they know what the enduring global appeal for this character would be, and I don’t imagine they even dreamt that it would become the longest running film franchise of all time.

To mark this anniversary – and to get us all excited for Skyfall, which is released in a mere 3 weeks time – I thought I’d run down my ten favourite moments from the first 22 films. These are the moments that make me laugh, cringe and shudder in disbelief; so get those booming soundtracks on, and here we go.Bond Box Set

10. “Sorry we’re late, we had some problems at the airport” Kamran Shah, of the Mujahideen, who has come to the Viennese performance of Karla Malovy complete with guns and ammo strapped across his chest. There are so many excellent/cringe-worthy moments in the Living Daylights, but this is my favourite, mainly for M following up with a barely audible mutter “I can’t think why”.

9. That scene on the beach in Dr No when Ursula Andress strolled out of the sea and set the tone for pretty much every Bond Girl since. The scene would be higher if it wasn’t for the awkward Sean Connery singing moment and staged conversation that follows it. Please note: the Halle Berry imitation scene in Die Another Day does not feature on this list, it’s awful, although it does have some hilariously awful dialogue.

8. “There are men in the crater! Men in the crater!” This line shouted in the control room of Blofeld’s You Only Live Twice. A film about rockets and hollowed-out volcanoes, this was definitely a firm favourite when I was younger – members of my family still groan at the prospect of watching it again.

7. “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” Of all the bad guys over the years, there’s still something about Goldfinger that makes him stand out as one of the most evil and sinister.

6. Never is there so much blatant innuendo than in the Roger Moore era, the height of which must be Octopussy and the most hilarious of all – Bond asking about Magda’s tattoo “why that’s my little Octopussy”. I found that hilarious the first time I saw it. I still do.

5. Of all the recurring characters my favourite, beyond all doubt, is Desmond Llewellyn’s Q. Through his 17 films his scenes are always some of the film’s best. When I was younger I definitely wanted to be him when I grew up. In fact, I like him so much he appears twice in this list. The first time is at the end of Moonraker when he’s staring at another screen when Bond appears on the big screen in a rather compromising position: Defense Minister: “My God, what’s Bond doing!” Q: “I think he’s attempting re-entry”

4. Quantum of Solace wouldn’t come very close to my list of top Bond films; however, it does have the best chat-up line in the franchise’s history. In his (obviously successful) attempt to win over Strawberry Fields he utters the ridiculous line: “I can’t find the…um…stationery. Want to help me come look?” Hideously cringe worthy, yes, but also so fantastically Bond.

3. Q’s second appearance in this list has been one of my favourites since I first saw Goldeneye (it’s also the only time a Brosnan film features – for good reason), but I now more associate it with the image in the footer of Mel’s blog Sharky Oven Gloves. Go have a look, hover over the picture of the duck. The quote is simply this “Don’t touch that! It’s my lunch!” Oh Q…

2. “Red wine with Fish. Well that should have told me something.” This ridiculous line showing the fine moral high ground that Bond’s Britain holds over his (he thinks) Russian counterpart comes from From Russia with Love, but is also, I think, a great example of the self-mockery of the films. I could have chosen any number of lines from From Russia with Love – it’s definitely my second favourite Bond film – but this one always cracks me up, so in it went.

And finally…

1. Casino Royale is definitely my favourite of the Bond films. It has all the aspects of a good Bond film, but a solid, gritty storyline that really makes it stand out (the book is also excellent, go read it if you haven’t alread). Daniel Craig also has some incredible lines in it. I was going to go with the quote from the final scene Le Chiffre and Bond share – the one every guy winces at, every time – “I’ve got a little itch, down there. Would you mind?”; but there’s one better, in my opinion. Coming back to the poker table after being poisoned and his heart restarted, the line is plain, it’s simple, but it’s dripping with sarcasm and menace: “I’m sorry. That last hand… nearly killed me”

So happy birthday, Mr Bond, you are one of the world’s most enduring characters and you’ve been my hero since I saw my first Bond.

Now where’s that DVD box set, I’ve got 3 weeks to watch all 22 films before Skyfall comes out – THREE WEEKS TODAY!!!!!!


(Film photos, curtsey of IMDB.)