W I N T E R   S O L S T I C E   G R E E T I N G S   -  2020 - 2021



A truly dreadful year!!

We wanted to send everyone a review of the year 2020 as seen from our extremely limited (especially at the moment) point of view.  But we actually did so little (in the way of exciting holidays, at least) in 2020 that we decided eventually to start this review of the past year by going back as far as August 2019 before the Pandemic had struck.  So this starts with Johnny, Andrew (his son) and his attention-seeking daughter up in 'The Christmas Present' - so named because, instead of buying the grandkids yet more plastic toys, we bought a key to Regent Gardens, a private gardens just below Calton Hill.  It's a great place for kids - they can't get out without a key, they can't get lost in it as it's not that big, there are multiple places to have lunch each with a different aspect, and there's a little mini-kids-play area with swings, climbing rack, etc.  But as well as being a great place for the grandkids, it's also been our salvation during the Covid Pandemic.  We've been going up there, on our own, regularly for a picnic at lunchtime, and just for a bit of solace from the four walls of the flat.

You can use Ctrl+ or Ctrl- to make the images bigger or smaller if you want. 

And Ctrl Up and Ctrl Down are easy ways to jump forward or backward.



August 21, 2019, up in 'The Christmas Present' for lunch with the Edgehead Bells including Cora and her parents.

Cora - our nickname for Persephone Bell - and our second, and youngest, grand-daughter.

She'd just been to a kids party in the Edinburgh Royal Botanical Gardens where she got her face painted.

She's very, very modest, and doesn't at all like showing off - as you can see.  And she NEVER seeks attention in favour of her older siblings.  - well, hardly ever!!!  Guess what??  We love her all the same.

August 21, 2019

Camping in 'The Christmas Present' with the oldest grandkids on the evening of the photo above.

That's Arthur's Seat in the background.

Needless to say everyone loves camping up there.

August 21, 2019

The view from the tent.  Not everyone can look out of their tent while camping and see a Greek Temple in the distance!

13 September, 2019.

Trip to Rome with the two eldest grandkids. 

Photo taken from a bridge overlooking the Tiber with the Castel Sant'Angelo in the background and the Vatican just out of sight on the left.

We decided to take the grandkids to Rome for four days during a school break and before we  started a holiday in Tuscany ourselves.  The highlights for them was going to the Coliseum and out to the Catacombs on the outskirts of Rome - and the via Appia!

15 September, 2019.

Same trip with the Grandkids.  - The Birthday Cake!

The Monumento Vittorio Emanuele.  That is VERY thick and very elaborate icing!

15 September, 2019.

The Pantheon right in the middle of Rome.  Long since converted into a church!

The Pantheon is made of concrete, and is one of the oldest buildings made of concrete!  The ceiling of the Pantheon was much copied in grand buildings for 2000 years after the original was first built.

16 September, 2019.

Then poor Grant was abandoned in Rome.  All alone, and by himself.  The others just left and deserted poor Grant there!!!  Poor, poor, Grant!  Boo-hoo!

So Grant tried to make the best of it all on his own.  Almost by accident he discovered the Galleria Doria Pamphili, one of the richest private art galleries in the world.  To get there just walk down the Corso with your back to the Monumento Vittorio Emanuele, then, in less than one street, turn left - and you're there!  The palace itself is stunning.  The furniture is stunning!  Everything about it is mind-blowing!

16 September, 2019.

AND the Galleria Doria Pamphili has this amazing ceiling in the entrance hall.  A wonderful bit of mannerist decoration.  -one of Grant's favourites!!

The paintings in the Doria Pamphili are all priceless.  And they're all MASTERPIECES!!  But they're not all Italian masterpieces, but representative of the whole of European Art History.

These are just a few of the many wonderful paintings in the Doria Pamphili.  But the statues, carvings, furniture, etc were all of the same standard.

This is by Jan Breughel (who was a chum of Ruckers!).  There's a good book about Ruckers that should be your bedside reading!!  And I can assure you it would put you to sleep very quickly!

This is by Albrecht Duerer!
This is by Pieter Breughel.
This old grump of a Pope is by Velasquez.

"According to the 18th-century British painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, the portrait of Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez, which hangs in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, was 'the finest picture in Rome'."  

Grant had no idea this ultra-famous painting by Caravaggio was here!
This exquisite painting is by Fra Lippo Lippi.
Another Pieter Breughel.


What a day!  Grant is so, so sorry that Johnny wasn't there to share it with him ;>((

17 September, 2019.

Having abandoned poor Grant to his own devices in Rome, Johnny (who deserves a medal for this) took the grandkids back to Edinburgh, turned around and met Grant again in Siena.

This is the Siena's enormous Piazza del Campo with the Palazzo Communale and its bell-tower - just out of sight on the right.

17 September, 2019.

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Siena in white Cararra marble.  Italian late Gothic at is best!!!!

17 September, 2019.

Inside the Duomo di Siena.

The Cathedral of Siena has fantastically beautiful black and white marble patterns on the floor.

Fresco paintings inside the Duomo in the Piccolmini Library.  By Pinturicchio.  That old Pinturicchio - he sure must have been quite a guy!

I think this is what they call 'The Renaissance'.  Now there's a thing - Re-born!!  Anyway, these guys really knew how to paint!

17 September, 2019.

Also in the Piccolomini Library.  A detail of The Descent from the Cross by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi - nicknamed 'Il Sodomo'.  And you can see why!

Enough of THAT!

20 September, 2019.

Now to our holiday.  From Siena we went to Montalcino, right in the heart of Tuscany's wine-growing area.  Home to the incredibly famous 'Il Brunello di Montalcino'.

However, we didn't really like the taste of it, and it was INCREDIBLY expensive.  So we just had to make do with some of the lesser red wines of the area.  Which we liked much better anyway!

This is the view from the window of our B&B looking toward the east.

20 September, 2019

A view, further to the right out of our window.

20 September, 2019.

No, it's not an old church or abbey.  It's the Montalcino Fire Hall.  Honestly!

22 September, 2019.

View of Montalcino from the South at the start of our walk to Sant'Antimo.  (We'll see 'Sant'Intimo below - oops!  It's Sant'Antimo!).

22 September, 2019.

The dusty, hot track to Sant'Antimo.

22 September, 2019.

The beautiful Norman Gothic Abbey of Sant'Antimo.

OK, sorry!  It's what WE would call 'Norman'.  For the Italians it would be 'Romanesca'.

22 September, 2019.

The simplicity of the interior of Sant'Antimo.

22 September, 2019.

A puzzled-looking scribe from a fresco inside Sant'Antimo.

22 September, 2019.

The ramparts of the old Fortezza of Montalcino.  Johnny looks like he's holding on for dear life - the total opposite of what was actually true.

24 September, 2019.

One day we walked east to Pienza.  This is the view from the ramparts of Pienza looking further east toward the Apennines.

24 September, 2019.

A REAL Italian bug for Xavier, who's bug mad!

26 October, 2019.

Back in Edinburgh and up for a picnic lunch in 'The Christmas Present'.

Autumn colours start coming on.  Even though winter still seems a long way away.

2 November, 2019.

Grandpa and Cora watching television in our sitting room.

1 December, 2019.

Another trip to Italy - this time in search of intarsias (a kind of 3-dimensional drawing in woods of different colours and textures).

We went, first of all to Savona where  we met and were introduced to the oldest (c.1510) representations of a harpsichord IN THE WORLD through the help and generosity of Maurizio Tarrini who has written about them.  This is one of the images in The Cathedral in Savona - not far from Genova.

Date of the intarsia = c.1500 to 1510.

What is this image telling us??  Look at the compass for a start!!!

2 December, 2019.

Here is Johnny on the steps of Genova Cathedra with Giampiero Buzelli, a colleague of Maurizio Tarrini.  Both of these gentlemen were extremely kind to us and showed us around and made all of the arrangements necessary to see the intarsias we wanted to see.  We have always found the Italians to be most kind and helpful everywhere we have been.  And we are very grateful to them for all of their help and hospitality.

Genova also has some very early intarsias of an early harpsichord and a virginal - both of the highest importance to me and to my current work.  The one in Genova is very similar to the one above, but of a slightly degraded quality.

3 December, 2019.

Johnny standing along the side of the main quadrangle of the University of Pavia where Grant now holds the post of 'Professore'!

That's Alessandro Volta's statue on the pedestal.  Shocking!

We took the grandkids to a concert just before Christmas, 2019.


A quick except from the concert (click here to see a small portion of the concert: The Christmas Oratorio by J.S. Bach

Scottish Chamber Orchestras and the Scottish Chamber Choir.

This was one of the last 'live' concerts we attended before the 2020 Lockdown.

28 December, 2019.

For our annual family Bell outing (cancelled in 2020) we all went to the English Borders and stayed in a hostel in Greenhead (almost on Hadrian's Wall).

This is a good view of Hadrian's Wall, just a bit west of Greenhead.

It's almost 2000 years old - and even older than the oldest harpsichord in the World!  Imagine - something even older than that!


The start of 2020!!



25 January, 2020.

We had only just heard of Covid when this photo was taken up in 'The Christmas Present'.

25 January, 2020.

While Canada is at -20° C and is carpeted in a deep layer of snow, this is the kind of thing that we are suffering!!

We do love 'The Christmas Present' even though we can't bring the grandkids up there any more - - -

25 January, 2020.

Rhododendrons already!  My sister calls them 'rhododendrums'.

Guess where???

5 March, 2020.

We take the youngest grandkids to an exhibition about dinosaurs in the National Museum of Scotland.  It's an IT, digital spectacular that had them enthralled!!!  That's Xavy just at the left of centre (behind the wee dinosaurs racing away from an enormous T-Rex chasing them from behind!).

21 March, 2020.

First day of Spring.

Lockdown starts!!!

21 March, 2020.

A magnolia.

The flowers in 'The Christmas Present' are a constant source of Joy!

17 April, 2020.

Johnny having his picnic lunch at our usual spot in 'The Christmas Present'.

He's not looking his happiest - but we ARE right in the middle of 'The First Lockdown'!

26 April, 2020.

A gorse plant in full bloom way up on Arthur's Seat.  That's the Firth of Forth and the North Sea in the background.

We get our exercise during Lockdown by climbing up Arthur's Seat and having a socially distanced picnic - with a view!!


26 May, 2020.

A view of the Old (Medieval) Town from Calton Hill with the Pentland Hills in the background.  We love walking in the Pentlands as well, but going out to the Pentlands would mean taking the bus - so we can't do it!!

25 June, 2020.

A visit from the Edgehead Bells in the Christmas Present!

Tash (Natasha), Andrew and Renae in the back,

Xavier, Cora (Sephie) and Alex in the front.

Not the best photo of any of them - except, perhaps, for Tash.  So sorry to the rest of the family!

02 July, 2020.

Scotland's National Flower - the prickly thistle.

29 July, 2020.

With restrictions lifted somewhat we take 'Goldie' down to Lincoln to get her decoration restored.  This is the front of Lincoln Cathedral which must be one of the longest cathedrals in the UK.

'Goldie' can be seen in the photo below - as yet unrestored!  What will she be like when she's all fully restored?  The restoration of the case and lid decoration is now finished, so I hope we'll find out later this year once Lockdown is over.

Photo taken 20 February, 2017.

This is the beast I've been working on for years and years.  Literally!!

She was made in Antwerp by an unknown maker in 1617.  Enlarged and improved before 1750.  Given a bass ravalement in 1750 by François Blanchet, Court Harpsichord Builder to Louis XV.  Decorated, also in 1750 by François Bouchet, Court harpsichord painter to Louis XV and by Christophe Huet, Court decorator to Mme de Pompadour also in 1750.  Given a further ravalement in 1786 by Jacques Barberini and Nicolas Hoffmann.

It then had an extremely dubious, although at times illustrious, story documented from 1879 to the present.  It is now one of the finest harpsichords I have ever played or heard!!

09 August, 2020.

Tummel Bridge, dated 1739.  General Wade used this bridge to get his troops up to the Highlands to subdue the Highland Revolt of 1745.  We went there with the Edgehead Bells (see photo above for 25 June, 2020) for a caravan holiday weekend - everyone was on holiday as it was the only weekend holiday in Scotland with no restriction before the school re-started.

But I'm trying to work out who the weirdo is whose only photograph of the family weekend is not of the family, but of a very old grey bridge??

15 August, 2020.

We go up to Kingussie (pronounced kin you see) to get some mushrooms.

Our B&B is right beside Ruthven Barracks - the Wade barracks used by Wade to suppress the Highland Revolt in 1745.

16 August, 2020.

Ruthven House, the very house we used as a base for the collection of mushrooms this year.

17 August, 2020.

Sunset from our B&B at Ruthven House.

17 September, 2020.

A second funghi foray!  Day 1 mushrooms out to dry off a bit.

17 September, 2020.

Chanterelles out drying.

18 September, 2020.

Day 2 Mushrooms.

26 September, 2020.

Back in Edinburgh and a wee snack prepared by Johnny!!

Lockdown is very, very hard!!

11 October, 2020.

Holyrood Palace and Calton Hill on the way back from lunch up on Arthur's Seat.

The weather, as you can see, is ALWAYS brilliant when we go out for a fresh-air picnic lunch.

21 October, 2020.

A brilliant American oak in the Christmas Present.

17 December, 2020.

The Golden Toley!  (Scots for 'The Golden Turd').

We feel really ashamed of this architectural disgrace in Edinburgh - a city noted in the past for its fine architecture.  It's in a new commercial development about 3 streets away from our flat.  Horrible!

25 January, 2020.

Johnny and Grant host the Gayfield Square Christmas!  We're on the neighbour's bridge.

The neighbours were away and, since they stay on the ground floor, there was quick and easy access to their fridge (filled - by us and not by the neighbours - with bubbly) and so we set up shop there.  All it then took was one of our lawn chairs, my firewood saw-horse turned upside down and made into a sturdy barrier (in order to ensure social distancing), a red tray of single-portion snacks, a supply of cleaned drinks' glasses (to be handled only by guests and visitors), a bucket on the right (out of sight) for used glasses to be sterilised later, etc. etc.

It was a great success and greatly appreciated by our neighbours and all of those passers-by out for their Christmas stroll.  We enjoyed it too!

27 December, 2020.

The view, with no leaves, from The Christmas Present.   Arthur's Seat centre back, Salisbury Crags right and a bit closer, the American Embassy on Regent Terrace in the foreground.

31 December, 2020.

At 23.00 on this day the UK leaves the EU, although the Scots had voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU in the EU referendum.

We are in mourning.

A tragic day for us and for Scotland.

We feel that Scotland's only choice now is to leave the UK and go back to the EU.  And our dear Ginger Cat says he's with us all the way (well, what choice does HE have??)

2 January, 2021.

We are absolutely THRILLED now to have some Ugandan relatives.  Our nephew Laurie married Secondina (on the right).  - with her son Norman (on the left).  After an enormous struggle that included bribing some Ugandan officials he managed to get them all visas and they came to Scotland about a month ago.  We all went (socially distanced, of course), sledging up on the fresh snow in the Christmas Present.  So we're going to start a Ugandan Bobsled Team - like Cool Runnings!

But for them - and for us - it was a good way to start a New Happier New Year!

6 January, 2021.


With a heavy heart, but still with all of his love for his American friends, colleagues and family, Grant has decided that he will never again return to the U.S. in his lifetime.  Grant says that he could not face the Americans in the street knowing that almost half of them had voted for Donald Trump.  How could a country fall so low??  America is now despised by the rest of the world.  The BBC have now unashamedly turned anti-Trump, Al Jazeera is speechless, and Russian Television is, of course, having a hey-day.  Not going back to the States - ever - is an action by Grant that is trying to get across the message that the US is not a good place.

"World media see Trump ignite an 'insurrection'."  We don't EVER want to hear anyone say that the US is a democratic country!  It is a country where democracy is DEAD and where democracy lies DEAD on the ground!


Johnny and Grant wish you all a much Happier New Year for 2021.  We look forward to Scotland in the EU and Biden in the White House!!


The above is our New Year's Message from Johnny and Grant.

But this link with take you to a Hogmanay Greeting from all of Scotland:  Fare Well - What's On - Edinburgh's Hogmanay 2020


Fare Well - Part 2 - What's On - Edinburgh's Hogmanay 2020


Fare Well - Part 3 - What's On - Edinburgh's Hogmanay 2020


The links above don't work in all browsers.  If they don't work for you, just copy and paste them into your favourite browser so you can see what the Scots can do and what Scotland is all about!!



Where does the Scots word 'Hogmanay' come from?  The most likely source seems to be from the French. In Normandy presents given at Hogmanay were called 'hoguignetes'."


Christmas cancelled!!

Hogmanay is regarded by some in Scotland as a bigger celebration than Christmas!!

We're a heathen bunch!



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