Michael Longley, Goats’ Gallop and Homesman

November 27, 2014

The Winter Poetry Book Society  Choice was put through my letter box by the postman yesterday and this reminded me that I had not yet started to read the Autumn choice – Michael Longley’s The Stairwell (cover photo below). There is a wide range of poems in this superb collection, many of which feature aspects of death – including the poet’s own – and birth – allusions to his grandchildren and their then pregnant mothers. Longley is  superb nature poet e.g. Two Otters:

“She toddles to the lake without a name,

Your two-year-old and watches an otter,

Her first otter, half expected by you

Because, when you were expecting her,

You last watched an otter from this spot,

Your body a holt for otter and child”.

The word “holt” means the den of an otter and the woman’s body being a holt for her child, protecting the child, and the otter’s protective home, is a superb metaphor. Longley loves language and cites many Irish names which are often onomatopoeic e.g. Dooaghtry, Allaran and Lackakeely. There will be more quotes from this outstanding collection in future posts.

The Stairwell by Michael Longley

The Stairwell by Michael Longley

At the weekend, my wife joined runners from Dunbar and Haddington to do the 9.5 mile (14.5K) Goats’ Gallop run. The route takes the runners over Lammer Law and down through rough heather to the Hopes Reservoir (good wintry photos on this site), followed by 2 more very steep climbs and a fierce descent through large stones back to a nearby farm. I wasn’t there this year but took photos last year – see my Photopeach page. So, a very tough run and not much time to admire the wonderful autumnal scenery around the reservoir, as in the photos below.

Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

This week, we went up to The Filmhouse in Edinburgh to see the film Homesman. The setting is frontier society in the USA and involves 2 unlikely people transporting three women who have gone mad across wide open spaces to a destination where they can be reunited with their families. While the plot occasionally requires a stretch of the imagination, there is a powerful narrative , in which scenes of danger, humour and potential love are intermixed. There are strong elements of tragedy in the story but it is a vibrant film with a pacey script and some impressive scenery. Go and see it if you can.

 

Visiting Dubai and Newcastle Upon Tyne

November 18, 2014

Another visit to Dubai to see our son, daughter in law and (of course) gorgeous 3 year old twin grandchildren. I always say to people that being a grandparent is intellectually stimulating – you have to be sharp and inventive to amuse 3 year olds – and physically a reality check, as you forget how much energy 3 year olds have and how your ability to cope with this has declined since you were a young parent yourself. My wife and I went into the huge Dubai Mall and one of the most interesting features – for a non-shopper (books excepted) like me – is the Waterfall (video). This is a stunning site inside the mall, with the constant falling water and the diving figures, which sometimes seem to be moving down with the water. The 2 photos below show the Waterfall with the United Arab Emirates flag moving down the wall, and a close up of one of the divers. The Waterfall comes in two parts, both 30 metres wide and 24 metres high and it is a mesmerising site.

Dubai Mall Waterfall

Dubai Mall Waterfall

Diver at the Dubai Mall Waterfall

Diver at the Dubai Mall Waterfall

If the Waterfall is mesmerising, then the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building – is mesmerising in the extreme. When you walk out the back of the Dubai Mall and look up to the Burj Khalifa, it’s hard – as my wife noted – to believe that it’s real. It’s as if a giant Meccano set has been dropped next to the mall and the lake. It is only when you realise that the buildings around the Burj would be classified as skyscrapers anywhere else in the world i.e. they are 60+ storeys high. It’s just that the Burj dwarfs them and makes them look much smaller than they are. Photo 1 (taken from the car) shows the Burj and surrounding buildings and Photo 2 shows the actual structure which, no matter how many times you stare up at it, still astounds.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

We landed back in the UK at Newcastle airport and in the afternoon, we got an email saying that a piece of property had been found in the seat next to my wife’s – my camera! I’d taken some photos from the plane of snow capped mountains (but the quality was poor through the plane window, so I did not keep them) and we managed to leave it on the aircraft. It’s an ill wind that blows no-one any good and we had to go back to Newcastle to get the camera so, a day out in Newcastle was our reward. We got the train from Dunbar and were in Newcastle 70 min later. The city of Newcastle is properly known as Newcastle Upon Tyne and locals stress the 2nd syllable, so it should be pronounced Newcastle and not Newcastle. It’s a very interesting city architecturally, with many 19th century stone buildings and equally impressive modern buildings. We headed for the Baltic Centre – a large building which used to be a flour mill but now has 6 floors which house a gallery of contemporary art. The restaurant on the 6th floor has views across the city through the large windows. It also has excellent service and food. The Six Rooftop Restaurant menu provided us with a choice of interesting dishes. For example, I had a delicious chorizo scotch egg and salad – the scotch egg was halved, with a slightly runny yoke and a crispy chorizo and sausage coating as a starter. For the main course, my wife had a leek and mushroom orzotto. This was a new dish to us but we found out that orzotto  looks like risotto but is made from barley, with orzo being Italian for barley. Both starters and mains were of a high standard and very good value.

The exhibition we went to – next to an outdoor viewpoint with even better views of the city – was entitled They Used to Call it the Moon and is described as “A group show exploring the enduring presence of the moon and the rich iconography of space on the popular imagination of artists”. When you enter the exhibition, there is a large and imposing cylinder which is like a round mirror – see photo below. There are also photographs of the moon, imaginative videos and science fiction books – altogether a fascinating and varied exhibition.

Baltic Centre Exhibition

Baltic Centre Exhibition

Newcastle is well known for its many bridges, most notable The Tyne Bridge. Popular myth has it that the Sydney Harbour Bridge was based on the Newcastle bridge, but in fact, it was the other way round. the photos below show the Tyne Bridge and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

Tyne Bridge

Tyne Bridge

Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Gateshead Millennium Bridge

 

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge – Companion

November 13, 2014

Here are my photos on the is topic – for many more, see Sue’s website.

Novak Djokovic and companion at Dubai Masters Tennis

Novak Djokovic and companion at Dubai Masters Tennis

Contemplating companions

Contemplating companions

Mother and child kittiwake on Dunbar Castle

Mother and child kittiwake on Dunbar Castle

Companions of elegance

Companions of elegance

Bovine companions at St Abbs Head

Bovine companions at St Abbs Head

Trip to Kirkcudbright and Dumfries

November 8, 2014

No blog last week as we were in Dubai – see next week’s blog. On a recent visit to my sister in Dumfries, we went to the attractive town of Kirkcudbright (Pr Kirk – ood – bri). Kirkcudbright is a fishing town on the far south west of Scotland, but is also known as an artists’ town, because of the large number of artistic and craft people who love there. We first visited the harbour, with an impressive wooden sculpture which is dedicated to families who lost fishermen at sea. The photo below shows the sculpture.

Wooden sculpture at Kirkcudbright harbour

Wooden sculpture at Kirkcudbright harbour

There are many interesting buildings in the town, including McLellan’s Castle (good photos) and an impressive curved building – like something you might see on a crescent in Bath – in the High Street – photo below. We went to an excellent food fair in the town hall where there was a wide variety of locally produced vegetables, cakes and pies. An example of the vegetables – delicious dirty carrots – is shown below.

House on High Street Kirkcudbright

House on High Street Kirkcudbright

Kirkcudbright carrots

Kirkcudbright carrots

The main part of our visit was in Dumfries, the county town of Dumfries and Galloway. Dumfries (good photos) is a very historic town, dating back to 1186 and was, over the centuries, involved in skirmishes between the English and the Scots, and loyalties amongst the townsfolk often shifted from one nation to the other. It’s a town whose distinguishing natural feature is the River Nith which flows rapidly near the centre. there are a number of bridges – old and new – across the river, the most impressive of which is the DevorgillaBridge, originally built in the 13th century. The photos below show the river and its bridges.

Devorgilla Bridge Dumfries

Devorgilla Bridge Dumfries

Autumn at the River Nith

Autumn at the River Nith

River Nith

River Nith

Bridge over the River Nith

Bridge over the River Nith

Atocha Station, visit to Toledo and walk up Lammer Law

October 23, 2014

Two different countries and two different experiences this week. When my pal Roger and I were in Madrid, we took the advice given to us by many people to catch the train to Toledo. We travelled from the architecturally striking Atocha Station. This is not your ordinary railway station, as the exterior (photo below) is made of steel and glass, and the curved roof is also of glass. As you walk into the station, you pass the extensive botanic garden, which gives a freshness to the environment. At the end of the a garden is a pond, where we saw goldfish in the water and lots of small turtles wither swimming or lying on the rocks.

Atocha Station, Madrid

Atocha Station, Madrid

The train was full – a good piece of advice is, if going to Toledo, always to book the day before via the ticket machine – and very comfortable. On reaching Toledo, you have the option of a 6 Euro taxi ride or a 1.50 Euro bus ride or a mile/1.62k steep walk. It says a mile walk at the station but it seemed longer on the bus. We headed for the famous Toledo Cathedral (many good photos on this site) and bought tickets, which included an audio tour. The cathedral, both externally and internally is a stunning building. The audio tour was excellent as it told you the history of the building e.g. it was built on the site of a mosque, and took 267 years to complete, and pointed out the different architectural and design features in the cathedral. It also indicated the religious significance of parts of the cathedral. Humanist or theist, you cannot help but be impressed by the grandeur of the internal pillars, the painted ceilings, the frescos, the impressive metallurgy on the many altars, and the world famous paintings by El Greco. We were only in Toledo for 5 hours and that is not enough. The streets are thronged with tourists and full of little alleyways. We happened upon an exhibition about Leonardo the Inventor which was a fascinating display of wooden models of some of Leonardo’s inventions relating to lifting weights and – the most interesting – flight. While he did not actually invent a flying machine that could actually fly, Leonardo da Vinci designed machines with all the elements of modern aeroplanes. You could easily spend a couple of days in Toledo, seeing its many other attractions, for example  the very attractive Toledo Station (good photos on this site) – see photo below.

Toledo Station

Toledo Station

Last week, my wife and I went for a longish walk to the top of Lammer Law (good photos on this site). We parked at woods near Longyester Farm and there it was a steady climb up the Law (Scots word for hill). As you climb, the views get more panoramic. Interesting sights on the way up (and down) were extensive stone walls (1st photo below), autumnal grasses (2nd photo), glimpse of the Hopes Reservoir (previously featured on this blog here) (3rd photo),  a stunning view of the 3 volcanic edifices, from left to right  – North Berwick Law, the Bass Rock, Traprain Law and  (4th photo), and a determined looking bullock (5th photo).

Stone wall near Lammer Law

Stone wall near Lammer Law

Autumnal grasses on Lammer Law

Autumnal grasses on Lammer Law

Hopes Reservoir from Lammer Law

Hopes Reservoir from Lammer Law

Panoramic view across East Lothian from Lammer Law

Panoramic view across East Lothian from Lammer Law

Staring bullock at Longyester Farm

Staring bullock at Longyester Farm

 

 

Trip to Madrid: Prado Museum, architecture and Santiago Bernabeu

October 13, 2014

Last week, my pal Roger and I flew to Madrid for 5 days – to see the city and to go to the football match between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. Madrid is a stunning centre of European Culture and also a lovely city to walk around. In terms of culture, pride of place goes to the world famous Prado Museum. The Prado is more than just an art gallery, as it is housed in a very impressive building, surrounded by tall trees and well kept gardens. Inside, it is a succession of halls which contain some of the most important works of art in the world. You can’t successfully get round the Prado in one day, or if you do, you are not likely to remember what you’ve seen. We did part of the Prado in 2 x 1 hour sessions, and there was much, much more which we did not see. In the first hour, we concentrated on Spanish painting and in particular, Velazquez (See photo of his statue below – taken on my mobile phone). The Velazquez paintings cover a range of topics, including some religious works, but it was the portraits and images of the king and queen of Spain on horseback that most impressed. One outstanding work, in terms its amazing detail is of Queen Isobel on horseback. If you click on this link, you will see the amount of work that Velazquez must have put into the painting e.g. the intricate detail of the queen’s dress. Another famous Velazquez work is The Drinkers, or The Triumph of Bacchus  and if you click on the link to see the picture in detail, you will see how the artist has captured the slightly inebriated faces of the men brilliantly. On the return visit, we focussed on Rubens e.g. the intriguing and beautiful The Three Graces and El Greco e.g. Caballero anciano. Again, if you click on the link and see the detail in the ruff and the man’s beard, you cannot but be mightily impressed. A good tip here is to book online and doing this, we avoided what looked like up to an hour’s queuing.

Statue of Velazquez outside the Prado Museum, Madrid

Statue of Velazquez outside the Prado Museum, Madrid

Madrid is also a city of architecturally outstanding buildings. When you walk around the main part of the city, you come across grand plazas, surrounded by huge buildings, often with statues on the top. Walking up the wide street of the Gran Via towards the city centre, looking up to your left, you see the Banco de Bilbao V A building, with the two Quadriga on top. The Quadriga is a Spanish word meaning a chariot drawn by four horses. This is what it looks like from across the road (taken on my mobile).

BBVA Bank with 2 Quadriga on top

BBVA Bank with 2 Quadriga on top

A second example of grand architecture in Madrid is the Plaza Major, which is right in the heart of the city. This large square, which reminded me immediately of St Mark’s Square in Venice (click for 360 view on this site), is a large open space, surrounded by elegant looking apartments and lined with cafes. There is an imposing statue of King Philip II on horseback and this dominates the square – a clear message in 1616 to the locals about respecting the monarchy. The photos below show the square and the statue.

Plaza Mayor Madrid

Plaza Mayor Madrid

Philip II King of Spain

Philip II King of Spain

There are many, many more visually attractive buildings in Madrid, such as The Royal Palace and next to it, the Gothic Almudena Cathedral, which was built on the site of a former mosque. It is highly decorative inside, with one room containing intricate mosaics. The photos below show the Royal Palace and an example of superb metallurgy in the cathedral.

 

Almudena Cathedral Madrid

The Royal Palace, Madrid

Silver metallurgy in Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

Silver metallurgy in Almudena Cathedral, Madrid

The sporting highlight of our visit to Madrid was to go the football (aka soccer) game on the Sunday night, between Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. We got the metro to the magnificent Santiago Bernabeu stadium. The stadium holds 81,000 people and there were 78,000 on the night we went. The atmosphere inside the stadium is one of pulsing noise, enthusiastic songs yelled out by the Ultras – a large group of flag waving zealots, loud cheers (Real Madrid score) and whistles (a RM player is fouled). The football – featuring some of the best players in the world, indeed Christiano Ronaldo, who is arguably the best player in the world at the moment – was of a very high quality. The leader of the orchestra was Luka Modrich some of whose passes, struck with the outside of his right boot, were sublime. He split open the Bilbao defence on a number of occasions with consummate skill and apparent ease. The game finished 5-0 to RM, so wasn’t a great contest between 2 evenly matched teams, and our tickets were expensive, but this was an experience that will be reflected on for many years.

A Word a Week Photograph challenge – spray

October 9, 2014

Here are my photos from a stormy day at Dunbar Harbour. See Sue’s website for many more.

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Seal in the harbouring ignoring the spray

Seal in the harbouring ignoring the spray

Lisa Hooper, Start the Week and Dunbar harbour (from the west end)

October 2, 2014

At the weekend, we paid another visit to the excellent Waterstone House in Aberlady, to see an exhibition of original artist’s prints by Lisa Hooper. This is a varied exhibition, not just in the wide variety of birds on display, but in the different techniques that Lisa uses to such striking effect. The techniques, including Japanese woodblock and paper batik, present the viewer with a range of effects, including some which make the birds stand out on the canvas. This exhibition has some stunning works, such as Pinkfeet Rising in which the artist presents three pinkfooted geese taking off against a background of stark black trees and a harvest moon. Lisa has kindly sent me 2 photos of her work, Pinkfeet Rising and Oystercatchers and these are shown below. There is a new book by Lisa Hooper – First Impressions - and my wife has bought it for my upcoming birthday. As with my other bird books, I will put the book on a small lectern and turn a page every day. I find that doing this – rather than having the book lying on a table – means that I go through the book slowly and pay more attention to the individual paintings. If you can’t get to the exhibition, visit Lisa’s website and of course, buy the book!

Pinkfeet Rising by Lisa Hooper

Pinkfeet Rising by Lisa Hooper

Oystercatchers by Lisa Hooper

Oystercatchers by Lisa Hooper

Now that it’s October, some of the radio programmes which have had a summer break are back. One of my favourites, which I listen to (safely) as a podcast while out cycling, is Start the Week.  The programme has a theme each week and typically features authors who have written books on the theme. This week’s programme (available across the world, not just in the UK) featured guests Karen Armstrong, Justin Marozzi and Christopher Coker who discussed war and religion e.g. is religion to blame for most of the wars in history or is religion used as a cover for the power hungry? There are no right and wrong answers and the listener is presented with a variety views, which may or may not influence what s/he thought about the subject prior to the programme.

My wife and I regularly walk  to Dunbar Harbour, as it is just along the road from our house and I’ve featured the harbour many times on this blog. What we don’t often do, is cross the harbour bridge which separates the harbour from Lamer Island, and walk along the north side of the harbour. You get a different perspective on the harbour from the north side and, looking back from the end of the pier, just across from Dunbar Castle, you notice that the small yachts in the harbour are facing you directly, and that you can see past the harbour, giving you a view of the Lammermuir Hills. The photos below show the harbour at its best – on a warm, sunny September evening.

Yachts in Dunbar Harbour

Yachts in Dunbar Harbour

Dunbar Harbour and bridge

Dunbar Harbour and bridge

Dunbar harbour and Lammermuir Hills

Dunbar harbour and Lammermuir Hills

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


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