1950 Whales, cycling and the Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

September 24, 2014

One of the most striking events that I’ve uncovered in my local history research project on Dunbar in 1950 is the beaching and death of 147 whales at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar. The whales were discovered by two local boys who could see a few whales on the beach but many more in the water. There was an attempt to put some of the whale calves out to sea, but they immediately swam back to their parents. The whales attracted huge crowds and it was estimated that around 33,000 people came to the site. This is a remarkable figure, given that very few people in 1950 had cars. The local paper The Haddingtonshire Courier (now the East Lothian Courier) reported that “hundreds of vehicles, including specially chartered buses” arrived at the scene and people had to walk 2 miles in some cases to see the whales. The photo below – from the Illustrated London News of 1950 – shows the whales and the onlookers. As part of my research, I’m going to be interviewing people who went to see the whales.

Stranded whales at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar, in 1950

Stranded whales at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar, in 1950

We’ve had a great summer here in Dunbar and we’re now into an Indian summer, a term which  has its origins in North America, where the native Americans needed warm and settled weather in September in order to get their crops in. The fine weather has meant that I’ve been able to do quite a lot of cycling. This week’s cycles around the East Lothian countryside have seen me accompanied overhead by huge skeins of pink footed geese, heading for Aberlady Nature Reserve. The extended V shapes in the sky are a great sight and you can hear some of the geese calling out. These calls are to keep the younger geese in line and to prevent them from getting separated from the main group. The countryside itself is changing. The harvest is over and the ploughs are back in the fields, turning the fields from the post-harvest yellow to shiny brown. The poet A E Houseman features ploughs in his poems, including Is my team ploughing? which opens with “Is my team ploughing,/ That I was used to drive/ And hear the harness jingle/ When I was man alive?”/ Ay, the horses trample,/ The harness jingles now;/ No change though you lie under/ The land you used to plough”. Horse ploughing in small fields is no more and today’s satnav enabled tractors with their shiny, flashing blades ease across the fields, leaving a glistening brown wake behind them.

Hilary Mantel, the author of the excellent Thomas Cromwell centred novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies has a new collection of short stories out, under the arresting title of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. The title story was published in full in The Guardian at the weekend and an intriguing read it is. A woman in a flat near a hospital where Mrs Thatcher is being treated answers her door, expecting the plumber and lets the man in as he might be the plumber’s son. The man turns out to be an IRA assassin. I’ll let you read the story yourself via the link, and decide for yourself whether this is up to the high standards set in the two Cromwell novels.

Weekly photo challenge – endurance

September 23, 2014

Another word with different meanings for this week’s challenge. Here are mine and see many more suggestions at Sue’s website.

Brad Khalefeldt from Wagga Wagga winning the 2006 Commonwealth gold medal for the triathalon

Brad Khalefeldt from Wagga Wagga winning the 2006 Commonwealth gold medal for the triathlon

Runners on the tough Traprain Law Race

Runners on the tough Traprain Law Race

Horse stoically enduring a very hard frost

Horse stoically enduring a very hard frost

The ruins of Dunbar Castle - 900 years old

The ruins of Dunbar Castle – 900 years old

Evening sun on the Bass Rock - 350 million years old

Evening sun on the Bass Rock – 350 million years old

Flowers and trip to York

September 14, 2014

There’s a distinctive floral theme in this week’s blog. Firstly, my gladioli and sword lilies are now in full bloom. Searching for information about gladioli, I came across the British Gladiolus Society, which has the intriguing website name britglad.com, which sounds as if it might be a website for people glad to be British. Given the upcoming Scottish Referendum, this might have been a great website name for the No Thanks campaign – which we are strongly supporting. Gladioli are of African origin and the name is derived from the Latin gladius meaning sword. Now sword lilies are a bit harder to pin down as they are known as gladiolus murielae and Abyssinian gladiolus and Abyssinian sword lily. No matter, they have beautiful, delicate, multiple heads with a white flower, which has a glowing purple interior. The two photos below show gladioli and sword lilies on our decking and a close up of a sword lily.

Gladioli and sword lilies

Gladioli and sword lilies

Sword lily

Sword lily

Last week, we went to spend a couple of days in York, in an apartment not far from the centre. Like Edinburgh, York is a wonderful city for walking around, taking in the old and new architecture and reading the history. The main focus tends to be on the magnificent York Minster which towers above the narrow streets. The Minster is out of view mostly and it can be a shock when you emerge from one of the streets and are met with this extensive structure. It’s a very pleasant walk around the outside of the Minster (see Photos 1 and 2 below) and we visited the Treasurer’s House (good photos on this site) which has a charming garden in front, with anemones in full bloom (Photo 3).

York Minster

York Minster

York Minster through the trees

York Minster through the trees

For a real ale enthusiast, York has an extensive range of pubs, serving beers from all over the UK. I went into the eccentric and wonderfully named  House of Trembling Madness . On the ground floor, there is a shop with a huge range of bottled beers from across the world, and upstairs there is a bar, which has 800 year old beams. It’s a small bar, with a low ceiling but the beers on offer, which change regularly, are very tasty. On the wall, they have a Yard of Ale glass (Photo 4). I remember this from my student days – the advice was always to spill as much as possible down your front.

Yard of Ale

Yard of Ale

One of the busiest places in York is the famous Betty’s Tea Room, an upmarket shop and restaurant. There was a long queue , so we went to the Café Tea Room. Bettys is much more expensive than your normal café but what you pay for is exquisite cakes, such as our pear tart (Photo 5), white-aproned waitresses and waiters, silver tea pots and very personal service in a very well furnished tearoom. On the first the evening, we ate in Café Concerto which, despite its name, is an excellent restaurant serving very good quality food – their courgette, pea and mint soup was superb. The second evening saw us in the very busy Rustique restaurant. Again, very good food here but not of the quality of Café Concerto.

Pear tart with fruit and cream

Pear tart with fruit and cream

We also went on a Cruise on the Ouse (pr Ooze) which was an informative trip up and down the river Ouse, with the captain giving us a commentary on the history of York and its bridges, such as the Lendal Bridge from where Photo 6 was taken.

River Ouse from Lendal Bridge

River Ouse from Lendal Bridge

Blazin’ Fiddles, Borders cycle and sunlight on rocks and bridge

September 6, 2014

On Sunday, we went to Haddington (11 miles/18K from Dunbar) to see the final act of the Trad on the Tyne Festival – the very lively Blazin’ Fiddles. This is a 6 member group, led by Bruce MacGregor, who hosts the excellent Travelling Folk radio show (available worldwide, so check it out). In the group, there are 4 fiddle players, one guitarist and one keyboard player. The show is a mix of fast and furious group fiddle playing and individual cameos by the fiddle players. One of the outstanding individual sets was a a very melodic slow air played by Jenna Reid. The band have a well rehearsed set of often humorous introduction to their sets of tunes and they do appear to enjoy playing with such gusto, especially at the end of the show, with a few rousing tunes to send the audience home happy. It was very enjoyable to sit in the tent on a warm summer evening and be entertained by a set of lively and highly talented musicians.

Yesterday, Val and I ventured down to the borders with my cycling pal Alistair and his wife Di. We drove to the tiny village of Heriot, unloaded the bikes from the rack and set off on a very pleasant, quiet, rural route to Innerleithen, down a long 4 mile descent, following the Leithen Water. This attractive wee town is most famous for Robert Smail’s Printing Works which is a National Trust property now but was once a prosperous business in the town. The Smail Archive  contains many examples of the variety of publications produced at the works and much of the machinery survives and is well maintained. This is well worth a visit if you are in the area. We had coffee/tea and scones at the excellent Whistle Stop Café (good photo). We were given a friendly welcome and were even given locks for our bikes. The café has attached rings to the outside wall on to which cyclists can lock their bikes – what a service!. From there, the route took us to Clovenfords where we had lunch, having cycled 22 miles (36K). Thereafter, there was a 15.5 mile (25K) cycle which took in some stiffish hills but also exhilarating downhill freewheeling. At one point, we passed through the extensive Bowland Estate and to our right, for about 10 miles, we could see the construction of the new Borders Railway which will go from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.  So, a great day out and a lovely part of the country – must go back and take my camera with me.

Two recent walks with my camera were on sunlit evenings and I captured some different effects of the late sunlight. Firstly, a walk along the promenade at the back of our house. When the tide recedes, there is revealed a series of rocks of different shapes and some appear to be landscapes in miniature e.g. ragged mountain ranges. If you can catch the sun on these rocks at the right time, there are some wonderful colours, as in the 3 photos below (click to enlarge).

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar's east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar’s east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar's east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar’s east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar's east promenade

Sunlight on the rocks off Dunbar’s east promenade

The second walk went past Belhaven Bridge – featured before on this blog. There was a biggish sun on the horizon which brought out the bridge’s structure well and the sun reddened the shallow water under the bridge.

Belhaven Bridge at sunset

Belhaven Bridge at sunset

Belhaven Bridge at sunset

Belhaven Bridge at sunset

 

 

 

Weekly Photo challenge: Technology

September 2, 2014

Here are my suggestions for this week’s challenge. See many more excellent examples at Sue’s website.

Two icons of modern technology: Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House

Two icons of modern technology: Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House

Traditional technology in Rutherglen (Victoria) blacksmith's forge

Traditional technology in Rutherglen (Victoria) blacksmith’s forge

Early record player in Gaudi's house in Barcelona

Early record player in Gaudi’s house in Barcelona

Four Wells Square in Zadar, Croatia

Four Wells Square in Zadar, Croatia

Anchor in Paphos, Cyprus

Anchor in Paphos, Cyprus

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Osteria, making soup and natural shapes and contours

August 30, 2014

Last week, we went up the coast from Dunbar to North Berwick to have a meal at the Osteria Restaurant. We’ve been before and once again we were treated to excellent personal service and high quality food – most of it locally sourced – cooked in a way which brought out the depth of flavour of the ingredients. Osteria is an Italian restaurant but not in the normal pizza and pasta sense. In fact, many people go to Osteria without having pasta dishes at all, although these dishes are a treat e.g. from the Primi menu “SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA CON GRANCHIO: Homemade guitar string spaghetti tossed with crab meat, monkfish and cherry tomatoes”. If you talk to customers who’ve been to Osteria, the main word they will use is fish. I had prawns and scampi on skewers for a starter and my wife had asparagus and pea risotto. We had a taste of each and they were delicious. For mains, I had the fish platter – delicately cooked monkfish, sea bream, scallops and scampi. The fish is cooked so that you enjoy the individual flavours of each fish/seafood. My wife had chicken but not just any chicken dish. The menu describes it exactly as “POLLO CON SPECK: Succulent chicken breast stuffed with smoked italian ham served on a bed of warmed fine beans and potatoes and drizzled with a pesto sauce”. This dish has superb depths of flavour. The service is very attentive but not in an intrusive way, and there is always a very good atmosphere in the restaurant, which was packed on the night we went. Quality is the keyword for Osteria and while it may not be a cheap option, the value for money is way above what you get in most restaurants. Osteria kindly let me copy 2 of their dishes from the restaurant website.

Prawn dish from Osteria

Prawn dish from Osteria

Fish of the day dish from Osteria

Fish of the day dish from Osteria

The summer is nearing its end here in the south east of Scotland but my garden has been productive in terms of courgettes/zucchini, runner beans and coriander. I have made courgette, leek and basil soup a few times but decide this week to use up some the coriander which is growing at a rate of knots in my herb tub. Coriander has a long history of use in many countries and the word has Greek origins. It also has medicinal applications and is recommended for people with indigestion related problems. You will mostly find recommendations to use coriander in carrot and coriander soup but we prefer to include a sweet potato with the onion, carrots, ground/dried leaf coriander and fresh coriander. It’s the simplest of soups. You sweat the onion, add  the ground coriander, then the chopped carrots and sweet potato, cook for a few minutes and add the fresh chopped coriander. You then add 2 pints (1.1 litres) of chicken or vegetable stock – I use stock pots – and cook for about 25 minutes. Let it cool, then blitz the soup to your own preferred thickness – I blitz on normal for 10 seconds and then on pulse for 10 seconds, as this makes it not too smooth. I like to add some crème fraiche when the soup is served. The photo below shows the finished product. It’s very tasty – although not at the Osteria level!

Carrot, sweet potato and coriander soup

Carrot, sweet potato and coriander soup

I looked up from my book yesterday and saw that there was crane fly (aka daddy long legs) which had attached itself to the outside of the window. When you look up close, you can see that the crane fly is a delicate creature with geometric legs, a slender body and constantly flapping wings. It was the shape that attracted me as it’s almost abstract. The legs appear to have been created by adding lines at different angles, and the body resembles an early aeroplane. The photo below shows these aspects.

Crane fly on the window

Crane fly on the window

A little while later, I looked up again from my book and the day had changed from bright sunshine to heavy clouds and rain. Above the horizon there was an unusual sky – dark and looming, but what attracted me (and my camera) was the shapes and contours in the rain clouds – see photo below. The dark and threatening sky reminded me of some of Ruth Brownlee’s paintings – see the website for many examples of her new work.

Looming sky over the Firth of Forth

Looming sky over the Firth of Forth

 

Harvest time, Creole Belle and Jersey Boys film

August 23, 2014

It’s late August in the south east of Scotland and that means it’s harvest time. Over the summer, I have watched the barley, wheat and oats turn from green to beige/yellow in the fields and the heads of the crops grow. Now sees the onset of the large combine harvesters which waddle into the fields clumsily and then launch a series of destructive sweeps along the field, taking out sections one by one, and where you had barley gently swaying in the wind, now there is only bare stubble. Most farmers seem to have abandoned any aesthetic sense of what a post harvest field should look like, and immediately take away the newly born bales. The field is suddenly vacant of its previously active life and the stubble gives it a shocked look. Where the farmers do leave the bales in the fields, you have a newly installed art exhibition – of round bales apparently placed haphazardly across the newly shorn crop. This is an iconic view of late summer, as there is something very peaceful about the bales resting in the field and – who knows? – perhaps in the night’s dark, when no-one is around, they unravel themselves and stretch out casually, before curling up again pre-dawn. The photos below show a combine harvester at work and bales, which appeared only yesterday, in a field about 3 miles out of Dunbar.

Combine harvester

Combine harvester in the evening

 Combine harvester in the evening

Combine harvester in the evening

Bales in a post-harvest field

Bales in a post-harvest field

Tightly bound bale

Tightly bound bale

I’ve just finished reading James Lee Burke’s novel Creole Belle. I’ve read a good number of Burke’s novels over the years and this novel shows Burke’s love for his city of New Orleans and the bayou nearby, as well as his anger at threats to that environment. This time, the background for the criminal action in an intriguing story, is the BP oil spill which threatened many livelihoods. Burke does get rather over wistful in the final chapter – the Epilogue – but the book is full of well wrought characters, including the hero Dave Robicheaux, his well meaning but violent pal Clete Purcel and Gretchen Horowitz who is trying to escape from working for the mob. You can hear an interview with James Lee Burke (scroll down for Creole Belle)  by Kacey Kowars. If you haven’t tried this novelist as yet, it’s time you did.

We went up to The Filmhouse in Edinburgh to see the Clint Eastwood directed Jersey Boys. Now, I’m not one for musicals and would not have gone to see the stage show of this film, which is about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. However, a film directed by Clint Eastwood is usually worth going to see. My wife loved the film – the music and the story of the group’s formation, connections with the mob and eventual break up. While I liked the music and while the film was an entertainment on a wet Thursday afternoon in Edinburgh, some parts were hard going and some of the dialogue fairly wooden. So, a mixed bag for me and certainly not the film by which Eastwood will be remembered as a director.

 

A walk along Belhaven beach: surfers, patterns and terns

August 16, 2014

Today, we went for a walk along Belhaven beach on a calm, mostly cloudy but occasionally sunny day. It will be a very different experience tomorrow with gale force winds forecast. When the tide is out, there is a wide sweep of beach and the sea is quite a distance away. It’s a very refreshing walk both now in  the summer and in winter when, if you get rugged up (as the Australians say) you can enjoy a brilliant December sunshine. It’s walk with contrasting views. As you head west, the sea is on your left and the Lammermuir Hills are in the distance on your left. Today, there was a fair swell on the tide and many surfers, canoeists and stand up paddlers were enjoying the waves. Surfing (Photo 1) has taken off at Belhaven in the past 10 years and the local Surf School does a roaring trade.

Surfing at Belhaven beach

Surfing at Belhaven beach

One of the joys of walking along a beach which is familiar to you is that the beach is never in exactly the same condition as the last time you were there. The patterns on the beach are constantly changing – indeed, they change with each incoming and outgoing tide. You may walk along the dry part of the beach with hardly a stone in sight and then, for no apparent reason, there is a line of stones which have been deposited by the last tide.

Stone pattern on Belhaven beach

Stone pattern on Belhaven beach

Then there are the patterns made in the sand by the sea. Firstly a line of ragged edges on the sand where the tide had created numerous little inlets and it was like viewing large sea inlets from a plane as you walked along.

Jagged patterns on Belhaven beach

Jagged patterns on Belhaven beach

The beach is full of patterns made by people walking or running on the sand, by birds leaving pretty patterns with their feet and lines large, deep imprints made by horses galloping along the beach. When I was growing up in Dunbar, the race trained George Boyd used to train his horses on Belhaven beach and on occasion, there were several horses on the beach, making a loud, pounding noise as they sped along the sands. You can still see horses on the beach regularly, but fewer in number and certainly not of the quality of George Boyd’s notable race winning horses. The patterns on the sand are quite dramatic.

Horses' tracks on Belhaven beach

Horses’ tracks on Belhaven beach

At the west end of Belhaven beach, there is, for a few weeks in summer, a protected colony of sandwich terns and people are advised to keep away from the nesting terns, so as to a) give the birds privacy and b) keep people away from diving terns which are likely to make direct hits on approaching human heads. The tern time is now over and the warning signs lie in a heap, until next year.

Tern colony warning signs on Belhaven beach

Tern colony warning signs on Belhaven beach

Velvet Scoters, Digital Quotient and harbour evening

August 9, 2014

As a member of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, I receive the quarterly journal Scottish Birds which has a number of peer-reviewed research articles, as well as other articles and notes about birds in Scotland. This may sound like on of the publications featured on Have I Got News For You such as the Underwater Dwarf Hunter’s Gazette but it is a very attractive publication, not least for its excellent photography. The latest issue has photos of velvet scoters on the front cover and more photos and a report on the group of birds inside. The joint author of the article and editor of Scottish Birds, Ian Andrews, kindly sent me the two photos below – the front cover of the birds in flight and a second photo of the male birds splashing in the water, while trying to attract the attention of a single female.

Velvet scoters at Musselburgh

Velvet scoters at Musselburgh

Velvet scoters at Musselburgh

Velvet scoters at Musselburgh

An article in The Guardian on what OFCOM called the “digital quotient” of children and adults attracted my attention. The article in its title, rather confusingly claims that ” six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults”. The key word here is understand as the article – rather unsurprisingly – reports that children between the ages of 6-15 know more about technologies such as mobile apps such as Snapchat, are quicker to learn how to use apps and spend most of their time communicating by text or video message, than most adults. This is similar to my own research in schools, which showed that school students were quicker to learn about using the web or how to use multimedia e.g. within a blog or a website, than adults were. What neither the OFCOM study nor my research showed was that children understand technology. For example, most adults between the ages of 40-60 do not use their mobile phones in the same way as 15-24 year olds do and this is because 16-24 year olds have a clear purpose in sending text and video messages to each other, while most 40-60 year olds do not. Those 40-60 year olds who have a clear purpose in using apps for example, are equally able to understand the uses of technology. While this is an interesting study, it is clearly about use and not understanding.

We have had some beautifully sunny warm evenings in Dunbar this summer and we went along to Dunbar Harbour which is not far from our house. The sun was shining on the harbour and the fishing boats and dinghies were hardly moving, with their reflections clear in the water. Harbours feature in many poems across the world e.g. Sydney Harbour and I found 2 which appealed to me – one from Ireland by Eavan Boland ( I have some of her books) called The Harbour,which begins “This harbour was made by art and force./ And called Kingstown and afterwards Dun Laoghaire./And holds the sea behind its barrier/ less than five miles from my house”. The second poem is in Scots and is called Harbour by Alison Flett. The poem is about a woman taking her girl child to the harbour to see the boats coming in and they call on the boats – Girl Mina and John L and others – as they approach the harbour. The poem contains the lines “lets go down tay thi harbour/ ah sayz tay ma lassy/ ma first born/ see thi boats cummin in/ an we stood taygither/ at the endy thi peer/ lookn outwards”. The photos below are of a peaceful Dunbar Harbour at 8pm on an August evening.

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge: Transport

August 1, 2014

Another very flexible topic this week. Here are my photos and see lots more at Sue’s website.

Ducking gondalier

Ducking gondolier in Venice

Materials transport on the canal in Venice

Materials transport on the canal in Venice

Horse carriage in Pisa

Horse carriage in Pisa

Old bus on tiled wall in the Algarve

Old bus on tiled wall in the Algarve

Old buggy in NSW

Old buggy in NSW


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