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

A Word a Week Photography Challenge: Between

June 27, 2014

Another intriguing word, open to wide interpretation. Here are my suggestions – all from my time in Australia – and see many more excellent attempts at Sue’s Website.

Kangaroos between the trees at Pomingalarna, Wagga Wagga

Kangaroos between the trees at Pomingalarna, Wagga Wagga

Between hand and fork - a dangerous brown snake, also at Pomingalarna

Between hand and fork – a dangerous brown snake, also at Pomingalarna

Between the gum trees on the Murrimbidgee River at Wagga Wagga

Between the gum trees on the Murrimbidgee River at Wagga Wagga

Paddlers on the Murrimbidgee - between the gum trees

Paddlers on the Murrimbidgee – between the gum trees

Endless farmland between the rocks and the tree at The Rock, NSW

Endless farmland between the rocks and the tree at The Rock, NSW

 

Faro and chicken and chorizo dish

June 20, 2014

No blog last week as we were on a week’s holiday in Portugal. There’s nothing worse than people showing you cheesy photos of holidaymakers smiling grimly at their holiday destinations, but none of that here. We were based in Faro which is in the far south east of Portugal, not that far from the Spanish border. Faro is a very historic town and the Municipal Museum has an excellent display of archaeological items and there is a magnificent Roman mosaic floor (Photo 1). The building itself was a former convent and has attractive cloisters (Photo 2), as well as an impressive array of 16th and 17th century paintings. Even more impressive is the town’s cathedral, with its magnificent clock tower and huge bells (Photos 3 and 4). You can climb the narrow stairway to the tower and get up close to the bells – one of which you can ring – and get superb views across the Ria Formosa, a natural park with lagoons, sand dunes and salt marshes. Another very interesting feature in Faro are the nesting cranes (Photo 5) which can be seen on lampposts, on the cathedral roof and on top of the entrance to the old town. Cranes are large birds which are very elegant when circling above you but less elegant looking when standing on their nests.

Roman mosaic Faro

Roman mosaic Faro

Cloisters in Faro Municipal Museum

Cloisters in Faro Municipal Museum

 

Faro Cathedral clock tower

Faro Cathedral clock tower

Bell on Faro Cathedral

Bell on Faro Cathedral

Nesting cranes in Faro

Nesting cranes in Faro

Just before going on holiday and inspired by my sister’s lunch cooking, I made chicken and chorizo for the first time. This is one of these dishes that is a traditional, rural  all in one pot meal. I started with the Nigella Lawson recipe and added a red pepper and slices of orange to that recipe. It’s all very simple – just coat the chicken thighs, chorizo, red onions, and red pepper in olive oil, add the oregano, orange zest and orange slices and put it in the oven on a high heat for an hour, basting after 30 mins and turning the chicken, chorizo, potatoes and pepper. The photos below show the before and after dish. For a simple dish, it is very tasty, as well as looking good on the plate.

Chicken and chorizo uncooked

Chicken and chorizo uncooked

Chicken and chorizo - cooked

Chicken and chorizo – cooked

Kailzie Garden Restaurant, rain and evening sky

June 5, 2014

On our trip to Peebles (see 28 May posting), we enjoyed a pleasant walk along the River Tweed (nice photos on this site a) and enjoyed the reflections of the trees in the river – Photo 1.

River Tweed at Peebles

River Tweed at Peebles

 

After our walk, we went for lunch to Kailzie Gardens Restaurant. This very attractive restaurant, set in an old stables building, is part of Kailzie Gardens, an extensive area of garden with spectacular displays of flowers at different times of the year. We go back to this restaurant because of the quality of the food and the service. The lunch menu presents the visitor with a problem – what to choose? The very tasty smorrebrod or the flavoursome quiche or the smoked haddock risotto, which is light in texture but has a depth of taste. I enquired on a previous visit how the chef got his risotto so light and he said that it was done simply with butter and parmesan – yes, and a lot of practice. There are always specials on the board and on this visit, I went for the pork belly with mash potatoes and savoy cabbage. I like pork belly but am wary of ordering in restaurants unless I know it will be crisp on the edges and full of flavour in the middle. This pork belly – see Photo 2 – was the best I’ve had. The crackling was very crisp but not overdone i.e. it does not threaten your teeth with its hardness, the meat was tender, the mash was creamy and the gravy had the depth and quality of a good red wine. On the photo, you will see a small sliver of smoked eel at the side of the plate. On of our party had smoked eel and scrambled eggs, and the eel was gently cooked and I liked the mild taste, never having tried eel before. There ensued a discussion in our party about how best to scramble eggs. We all knew how not to scramble eggs e.g. as served in cheap B&Bs and made with eggs and milk. My wife cooks her eggs only with butter, while I like to add a little crème fraiche to mine. We asked about these eggs and were told that the chef used butter, a little rapeseed oil and a teaspoonful of cream. If you visit this restaurant, you must try the warm border tart with ice cream and butterscotch sauce. Border tart comes in a variety of forms and recipes differ e.g. this recipe includes a lemon glaze, which I would not recommend. The Kailzie border tart has crisp pastry with a very fruity filling and the butterscotch is light but adds much to the dish, as does the local ice cream. This is one of the best puddings/desserts I’ve ever had. I forgot to take a photo but you can see one here. This is a restaurant for food lovers, with the food freshly cooked and served by friendly and informative staff, and a chef who is very approachable.

Pork belly dish at Kailzie Gardens restaurant

Pork belly dish at Kailzie Gardens restaurant

Today in Dunbar, the rain was relentless all morning, driven by a cold NE wind – welcome to June in Scotland. Having said that, this is a cold interval in between warmer and sunnier weather. The other day, I turned over my poetry calendar and found the poem Rain by Linda Pastan. It’s a poem that has striking images – “A rage of rain/on the tin roof;/ a hammering/ as of a thousand/ carpenters;/ …. bright sheets/ of water/ blowing about/ in the wind/ like translucent laundry”. John Lennon sang “When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads” in the song Rain and Thomas Hardy’s We sat at the Window has the lines “And the rain came down like silken strings/ That Swithin’s day./Each gutter and spout/ Babbled unchecked in the busy way/    Of witless things”. I like to watch the rain fall from indoors – it’s less alluring when it’s hammering down on your bike helmet, as it was on Monday, and you’ve 10 more miles to go.

Last night was the first brilliant sky of what I hope will be many this summer. There was truly a red sky at night and while this may traditionally be a shepherd’s delight, and promise a beautiful day to come, this morning’s deluge proved it to be an exception to the rule. I love the range of colours you get in skies like these, and never tire of taking photos of these wonder displays of shapes and colours – see Photos 3, 4 and 5.

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

A Word a Week Photo Challenge – Orange

June 2, 2014

Here are my photos for this week’s challenge – see many more at Sue’s enchanting website.

Parachute landing near Wollongong

Parachute landing near Wollongong

Fishing boat in Dunbar harbour

Fishing boat in Dunbar harbour

Lifeboat in Dunbar harbour

Lifeboat in Dunbar harbour

Poppy in full bloom

Poppy in full bloom

Red admiral butterfly

Red admiral butterfly

 

Orrest Head and Peebles signs

May 28, 2014

On our trip to Windermere, we walked up the steep track to Orrest Head. It’s a short walk – about 25 minutes for us – but it is very steep and quite rocky near the top. The climb is worth it, however, as you get an increasingly panoramic view over Lake Windermere. When you reach the top, you can see across all the main peaks of the Lake district, such as Scafell Pike and Wansfell Pike (excellent photos on this site). Orrest Head is also known as the place which inspired the Lake District writer Alfred Wainwright to undertake his walks around all the Lake District peaks and valleys, and to inspire thousands of people to walk these routes, using his extensive collection of books. After his visit to Orrest Head, Wainwright wrote “‘I was totally transfixed, unable to believe my eyes. I had never seen anything like this. I saw mountain ranges, one after another, the nearer starkly etched, those beyond fading into the blue distance. Rich woodlands, emerald pastures and the shimmering water of the lake below added to a pageant of loveliness, a glorious panorama that held me enthralled”. Photos 1-3 below show the view across the peaks from Orrest Head, the sign showing the list of peaks, and a view of the undulating Switzerland-like countryside behind Orrest Head.

View across Lake Windermere from Orrest Head

View across Lake Windermere from Orrest Head

Orrest Head Guide

Orrest Head Guide

Behind Orrest Head

Behind Orrest Head

We took some relatives on a day trip to Peebles, a historic town in the Scottish borders. It’s a very attractive town with the river Tweed flowing just near the town centre, and there are many interesting walks near the town (See site for good photos). On this trip, it was signs in or near the High Street that caught my attention. Photo 4 shows the door of a painter and decorator business, but this door is ornately decorated with the scope of the original business, and includes decorator, paperhanger, gilder, glazier, sign writer and bellhanger. I looked up the latter and it is indeed someone who hangs bells, I tried to pursue my research on this but found very little – maybe this firm installed bells in churches?

Ornate door in Peebles

Ornate door in Peebles

Photo 5 shows a sign which is on the walls of one of the buildings in Peebles High Street. It shows Greenwich Solar Time. I looked up Greenwich Solar Time and, if I understand it correctly, solar time relates to the apparent movement of the sun in the sky, but this is not regular, as the sun seems to speed up and slow down at different times. So, the website explains, “That is why it is necessary to take an average, or mean, of the length of all the days in the year. It is this Mean Solar Time that we set our clocks too”.  I stand to be corrected on this – and please do correct me – but I think that the photo shows that Peebles’ latitude and that the sundial is showing 12.85minutes difference from GMT.

Peebles sundial

Peebles sundial

 

Photo 6 shows a sign which is above a door in a courtyard just off Peebles High St. The courtyard contains an ornate war memorial, with a mosaic Celtic cross and a copper roof (Photo 7). The sign reads “He that tholes overcomes”. The word thole in the Scots language means to put up with adversity. Doing a search for the phrase, I found that the 1835 book The Spirit of Chambers’ Journal states that “He that tholes… he who, however sorely afflicted, however sorely tried with calamity, suffers his pains with patience and manly fortitude, triumphs over them, and is in reality the same as if it were not his fate to be so tried”. So we Scots – probably of a certain age – will say that we’ll just have to thole it, if something bad happens.

Sign in Peebles' courtyard

Sign in Peebles’ courtyard

War memorial in Peebles

War memorial in Peebles

 

 


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