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

Refraction, sunset and Bill Wyman and the Rhythm Kings

July 31, 2014

We were having a meal outside the other night, on a warm and clear evening. The sea was calm and the sun was still quite high in the sky at 9pm. From our house, you can see the Isle of May (aka May Island) and at first, we had a normal view of the island in the distance – it’s 12.7 miles (21K)away. We then noticed that the island was changing shape. This was due to refraction which distorts the image. At first, the lighthouse on the top of the island turned into a column, then the island seemed to split into two, with 2 columns in between each layer. Finally, the island took on the shape of an anvil. All this happened slowly over about an hour and a half and my wife and I and our 3 visiting relatives were fascinated. My brother in law, who is a former ship’s captain, once told me that refraction caused him to see a ship coming toward his ship upside down. Photo 1 shows the Isle of May in normal view during the day.

Isle of May - normal view

Isle of May – normal view

Photo 2 ( this was the best image I could get) shows the first effect of refraction.

 

Isle of May refraction

Isle of May refraction

Photo 3 shows the island changing to an anvil shape.

Isle of May refraction

Isle of May refraction

That same evening, there was a glorious sunset over Dunbar and in Photo 4, you can see the refractory effect on the setting sun and, in Photo 5, the changes in the colour of the sky. So, it turned out to be a very entertaining evening, watching the refraction on the Isle of May close up through my x25 magnification scope, seeing the constantly changing colours of the sunset, and enjoying some very tasty Coonawarra wine.

Sunset with refracted sun

Sunset with refracted sun

Sunset over Dunbar

Sunset over Dunbar

 

On Sunday, I went to the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh with another brother in law, to see Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings ably supported by the energetic 69 year old Maggie Bell’s Band. The theatre was packed by women and men of a certain age and it turned into a very enjoyable and entertaining evening. The Rhythm Kings, fronted by ex Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, were a 9 piece band with 2 energetic saxophonists, a piano/keyboard player, a drummer, 4 guitarists and a powerful vocalist Beverley Skeete. The band played rock and roll, the blues, soul, rockabilly and Americana, and were given a standing ovation at the end. A Youtube search will provide many good (if legally suspect?) examples of the band and Skeete’s vocals. The Rhythm Kings change the line up constantly and if you get the chance to see them, don’t pass it up.

NT Live, Kevin Powers and summer garden

July 23, 2014

We went to the Brunton Theatre last week for a new theatre experience. The National Theatre has organised live screenings of plays from London, in a new venture called NT Live. This means that people around the country can see live plays without having to go to London. The live screenings are, of course, in a film/TV format i.e. while you see the whole stage at first and from time to time, you also get close-up views of the main characters. My own experience was that I had been to see a live theatre production, as you soon forget that you are watching a filmed version of the play. The play was Skylight by David Hare (good interview on this link). The 2 main characters were played by Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan and they gave an enthralling performance in a play about class, money, family, relationships and economics. David Hare’s play was first performed in 1995 but is still relevant today, given the extension of inequalities in UK society in the 21st century. It has sparkling dialogue between ex-lovers Nighy and Mulligan and is also very funny. We’ll be going back for more NT Live.

The latest Poetry Book Society Choice is Kevin Powers’ Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting. The author is a former US soldier who served in Iraq who wrote the best-selling novel Yellow Birds which is about a soldier’s experience before, during and after the war in Iraq. Powers’ poetry is often very moving, as in the title poem – “I tell her I love her like not killing/ or ten minutes of sleep/ beneath the low rooftop wall/on which my rifle rests”. Powers has some telling lines, as in Improvised Explosive Device “If this poem had wires/ coming out of it, you would not read it”. Many of the poems interweave the author’s thoughts on life and examples of what happens in war. His mother also features in many of the poems and there are affectionate descriptions of his mother e.g. not willing to have here photo taken – “I was raised by a woman/whose face was the palm of a hand”. I’m only half way through this impressive collection, which is chilling at times but also hopeful.

It now being the last week of July, my garden is showing the amazing fecundity of plants which not long ago were seeds, seedlings, and short stemmed strugglers, then mature greenery, and full flowering abundance decorates the garden. The photos below show a hebe which has come into its own this year; a flower from a burgeoning begonia; a much more subtle geranium flower; and 2 shots of tubs on our decking at the back of the house.

 

Hebe in full flower

Hebe in full flower

Begonia flower

Begonia flower

Geranium flower

Geranium flower

Flowering tubs on the decking

Flowering tubs on the decking

Flowering tubs on the decking

Flowering tubs on the decking

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge: Traditional

July 16, 2014

Another intriguing word for challengers around the world. Here are my suggestions and you can see many more fine photos at Sue’s website.

Sheep shearing in Coolamon, NSW

Sheep shearing in Coolamon, NSW

Blacksmith in Rutherglen, Victoria

Blacksmith in Rutherglen, Victoria

Kilts for a Scottish wedding

Kilts for a Scottish wedding

My two sons and me – dress rehearsal for my older son’s (on the right) wedding in 2006.

Sorting prawns and fish manually in Dunbar harbour

Sorting prawns and fish manually in Dunbar harbour

While there have been many mechanical and digital advances in fishing, sorting out the catch is still done manually, as it’s aye (always) been.

Traditional letter box in Pisa, Italy

Traditional letter box in Pisa, Italy

 

Robert Greenhalf and kittiwakes on Dunbar Castle

July 15, 2014

A recent visit to the Scottish Ornithologists Club at Waterstone House to see an exhibition by Robert Greenhalf and two other artists. I left a message on all 3 artists’ website and Robert Greenhalf replied and kindly sent me 2 photos of his work. Robert’s work covers woodcuts, watercolours and oils and his portrayal of seabirds particularly caught my eye. In Robert’s paintings, there is a sense of movement as well as delicate colour – see for example, his Feeding Godwits. Photo 1 – Common Terns – has a lovely mixture of blue on the birds and the waves. Photo 2 – one of my personal favourites from the exhibition – Oystercatchers – is a dynamic portrayal of the birds taking off in unison. This type of collective launch can often be seen at the west end of Belhaven Beach in Dunbar, on the other side of town from which I live.

Robert Greenhalf: Common Terns

Robert Greenhalf: Common Terns

Robert Greenhalf: Oystercatchers

Robert Greenhalf: Oystercatchers

Sticking with the sea bird theme, I made my annual 0.5 mile walk along to Dunbar Harbour with my Canon 1000D camera and my Tamron AF70 lens, which I use for close up photography at a larger distance than I can get on my “normal ” lens. Each year, I go along specifically to photograph the kittiwake chicks on the walls of Dunbar Castle. The kittiwakes are small gulls which return to the nesting site each year, although at Dunbar Castle, it is noticeable that numbers are declining, and this is attributed to the shortage of their main food, sand eels. Over the years, I’ve tried to capture the perfect Kittiwake Madonna and child(ren) photo – so I’ll keep trying. Kittiwakes are intermittently very noisy birds and one bird returning to a nest and giving a welcoming cry (supposed to sound like Kit – ti – wake) can start off a collective, high-pitched  yelling. Photos 3, 4 and 5 show the mothers (I think) and chicks in various poses. In fact, in Photo 3, the birds seemed to have posed for a family shot.

Kittiwake family

Kittiwake family

In photo 4, both parent and chick look determined to remain straight-faced, while in Photo 5, the parent attends to the chick’s needs.

Kittiwake family

Kittiwake family

Kittiwake family

Kittiwake family

Photo 6 shows how the kittiwakes live cheek by jowl in the nesting site on the castle wall. the red sandstone of the walls provides a colourful and wind-blown background to the nests.

Kittiwake nests on Dunbar Castle

Kittiwake nests on Dunbar Castle

Stoical cycling, strawberries and post-rain flowers

July 7, 2014

In a Guardian article on Stoicism, the writer states that stoicism “brings about three specific qualities: the life of good flow; freedom from negative emotions; and beauty of soul. In contrast to all the aforementioned stereotypes, then, stoicism aims for human flourishing in a very full sense, and an ability to find ways through times of crisis”. For cyclists, stoicism is very apt. You need a “good flow” when on the bike e.g. a steady rhythm, whether on the flat or going up a hill. You certainly need to avoid “negative emotions” although this is very hard – sometimes you can convince yourself that a slight tiredness is an all encompassing fatigue or that slight pain in your leg is an oncoming thrombosis. The “beauty of soul” of course, is getting to the summit of a big hill and freewheeling down the other side. cyclists have  many “times of crisis” – in their heads mainly – and many would doubt the use of crisis in these situations. I needed my stoicism this week.  I was getting back on my bike, after having a drink half way through a fairly hilly route. I put my shoe into my right cleat, pushed forward to go off but I was in too high a gear. There was a moment of stillness and motionless and then my hip whacked the tarmac i.e. instead hitting the road, I hit the road. I now sport a bruise, the colours of which would not be out of place in a painting depicting dark purplish, rain-filled clouds. Stoicism finds a way.

For the last fortnight, we have been enjoying strawberries from the garden. It’s a very satisfying experience to go out each evening and pick strawberries that you have cultivated yourself. However, it’s easy to over romanticise this and think that gathering in your own produce is a constant pleasure. For people who have had to grown their own food to survive, gathering vegetables or fruit was a daily chore, not a leisure activity. Despite this, there is a definite feeling of achievement – and possible smugness – in bringing in the fruit. Photo 1 shows today’s crop – and, of course, they taste much better than those for which you have paid.

Strawberries from the garden

Strawberries from the garden

Those of you of a certain age will remember The Move’s song Flowers in the Rain but it’s not just the sound of the rain ( you can listen here for 2 hours!) that I like, but the after effects of the rain on flowers in the garden. Like many other would be serious photographers, rain is a promise of close-up photos. Photo 2 shows raindrops on a begonia flower. Begonias are big, showy, in your face, big bright red flowers and some regard them as rather too showy. Photo 3 is of a more gently coloured geranium. Geraniums look more refined than begonias. You might see a begonia returning from a trip to Spain with a kiss-me-quick hat on, but a geranium would be in business class, with a smart outfit. Photo 4 shows raindrops on the leaves of not yet flowed cornflower. There’s an abstract quality here – can you see a serpent’s tongue?

Begonias after the rain

Begonias after the rain

Geranium after the rain

Geranium after the rain

Rain on cornflour

Rain on cornflower

 

 

Tavira, door knockers and local countryside

June 29, 2014

On our holiday in Faro (see previous post), we went by bus to the exquisite town of Tavira. From the bus station, it’s short walk by the river Gilão to the architecturally stunning town square (Photos 1 and 2). The buildings are immaculately clean and the upright rods above the arches of the town house building add a distinctive quality to the scene. From the square, there is a pleasant walk along the riverside to the small fishing port, where you can see boats with unusual looking creels, as well as the ferry which takes people to the long, clean and uncrowded beaches of Tavira Island. Alternatively, you can cross the river by going over one of the bridges – including the 7 arched Roman bridge (Photo 3) – to the meandering streets and squares. Tavira is full of churches, the most famous being the Igreja da Misericórdia which has stunning expanses of wall tiles depicting religious stories. Photography is not allowed unfortunately.We did not have time to visit the municipal library (good photos on this site) which has won prizes for its design. Tavira is a must see if you are ever in the Algarve.

Tavira Square

Tavira Square

Tavira Square

Tavira Square

Roman bridge Tavira

Roman bridge Tavira

I’ve always liked taking photos of doors, especially in Mediterranean countries, but one feature I saw in the Algarve towns we visited were door knockers in the form of hands. These are apparently influenced by Moorish design and legend has it that they are placed on the door to keep away evil spirits, and the house is protected by the Hands of Fatima, who was said to be the daughter of the prophet Mohammed. Some are in better condition than others – see Photos 4 and 5 – but they add a real touch of elegance to the doors.

Ornate door knockers in Tavira

Ornate door knockers in Tavira

Ornate door knockers in Faro

Ornate door knockers in Faro

At the weekend, we had a visit from my ex-colleague and good friend Bob Pymm (aka Doctor Robert). We took Bob firstly to Hailes Castle which is an impressive building which is situated on the River Tyne. the castle has an outer wall to keep enemies at bay and any intruders would have great difficulty approaching from the river side as a) they would be seen and b) they would be faced with a huge wall to climb. We then went up Traprain Law (good photos on this site) and told Bob about the discovery of Roman silver on the Law (Scots for hill), and the next day we went to see the silver in the National Museum of Scotland. There are impressive views from both the castle and the Law. Photo 6 is looking north from Hailes Castle. Photo 7 shows the cairn at the top of the Law and the rolling countryside out to the sea. Photo 8 shows the shadows of clouds slowly meandering across the burgeoning crops.

View from Hailes Castle

View from Hailes Castle

Looking north from Traprain Law

Looking north from Traprain Law

Cloud shadows on the fields

Cloud shadows on the fields


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