London trip: camellia tree and Hampton Court walk

April 16, 2014

The blog is delayed until today (Tue 15 April) from last week as we were on holiday in the London area from Wednesday to Monday. We stayed in the pretty village of Thames Ditton. We were staying with relatives and in their back garden, the camellia tree was in full bloom. As the weather is milder in the south east of England, camellia trees grow extensively in gardens, whereas they are much rarer in the colder south east of Scotland where I live. I took photos of a bed of leaves which lay under the tree and my photographer’s luck was in, as a whole flower had fallen to sit in the middle of the spread of leaves, which lay as if waiting for a fairy princess to lie down in the pink softness. The 2nd and 3rd photos below show a single and a double camellia flower.

Bed of camellia leaves

Bed of camellia leaves

Single camellia flower

Single camellia flower

Double camellia flower

Double camellia flower

The day after arriving, we went for a walk to Hampton Court, via East Molesey. We walked along the river, past the well known Molesey Lock, which was built to allow large vessels to sail the river Thames. As you walk along the river, you see a variety of houseboats, some very narrow and some much larger. I took the photo below of a larger boathouse, as it was beautifully reflected in the river. Further along, we passed a  cherry tree in full blossom, with the flowers being a very similar colour to the camellia tree - see next photo.

Houseboat on the River Mole

Houseboat on the River Mole

Cherry blossom

Cherry blossom

On to Hampton Court itself, with its magnificent buildings and barley sugar chimneys – see here for a blog report on a previous visit, showing the chimneys. While all the daffodils had passed their best and were looking like weary revellers going home after an all-night  bacchanalian party, the tulips were standing proud and there were many varieties on show. The final 2 photos show a bed of tulips and other flowers and another bed next to the gates of Hampton Court. From there, we went on to Bushy Park, a wide expanse of grass and trees, and you can see where the avenues were created in the times when Henry the Eighth went hunting there. There are still herds of deer in the park and they often lie in the grass quite near the footpaths which transverse the park.

Tulips at Hampton Court

Tulips at Hampton Court

Tulips at Hampton Court gates

Tulips at Hampton Court gates

Forward Prizes, spring garden and free will

April 4, 2014

I have just finished reading The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. It’s an annual collection of poems submitted for various elements of the Forward Prizes. The best collection was by Michael Symmons Roberts entitled Drysalter which I’ve referred to in the blog. Taking the book off my bookshelves and opening it at random, I find Discoverers including the lines “History as layers of paint, sedimentary/ and underneath them all, spread/ like a painless contagion, stone”. The best first collection prize went to Emily Berry for Dear Boy, which includes the truly original prose poem “The International Year of the Poem” in which the poet imagines poems being seen as internationally subversive and governments taking action e.g. an Israeli prime minister stated that “We have now declared war on the poems of Gaza….we will treat the population with silk gloves/ but we will apply an iron fist to poems”. If you don’t normally buy poetry books, buy this one and read one or maybe two poems a day – your imagination will be richly stirred.

For the last 10 days, the east of Scotland and most of the east coast of  England has been covered in low cloud, with the occasional slow inrush of haar (sea mist) and the temperature has hung about 6 or 7 degrees. At times, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s sentence at the beginning of his novel The Road – “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world”. Now in The Road, the world has suffered a disaster – possibly nuclear war – and the sun has been permanently blocked out. The sun will return next week here but the image of a “cold glaucoma” is startling. Despite the ubiquitous grey in the sky and on the sea, my spring garden provided some relief and welcome colour, in the form of wallflower. grape hyacinths, daffodils and tulips in the 1st photo below. The 2nd photo is a pot with pansies, red and white tulips and daffodils. The 3rd photo shows the aftermath of the rain on a cyclamen plant.

Spring garden

Spring garden

Spring pot

Spring pot

Cyclamen after the rain

Cyclamen after the rain

Out on my bike this week, I listened to an episode of In Our Time, the weekly radio programme hosted by Melvyn Bragg on free will. This episode is from the programme’s archives. It was a fascinating discussion and it did not get too bogged down in terminology. Proponents of free will argue that we have freedom over our actions – will we choose the chicken or the fish in a restaurant? – although this is not complete freedom as our choices will be influenced by factors such as societal pressures, our experiences and our tastes. Opponents of free will – the determinists – argue that everything we do is determined e.g. by nature or by divine intervention, so we cannot have free will. However, if everything is determined, why don’t we just act as we like, possibly irresponsibly, as what we do is determined anyway? Some philosophers argue that if we have moral responsibility for our actions, then we don’t have complete free will but they also reject determinism. As with all things philosophical, there are many arguments and counter arguments e.g. we must try to define “free” and “will” before we can discuss it. So, while it looks like you have free will with regard to reading this blog post or not, you don’t make that decision uninfluenced.

A Word a Week Photo Challenge: contrast

April 2, 2014

Here are my photos involving different types of contrast. Many more excellent specimens at Sue’s website.

Please note that I’m unable, at the moment, to make photos open in a new tab – looking for a solution.

Height of man and height of termite mound in Litchfield National Park,  NT, Australia

Height of man and height of termite mound in Litchfield National Park, NT, Australia

Bright sky and dark shore at Belhaven Beach, Dunbar

Bright sky and dark shore at Belhaven Beach, Dunbar

Silhouettes against sea and sky, Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Silhouettes against sea and sky, Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Burj Khalifa dwarfs 70 storey buildings in Dubai (Photo taken from car)

Burj Khalifa dwarfs 70 storey buildings in Dubai (Photo taken from car)

Contrasting colours in the summer sky above

Contrasting colours in the summer sky above the summer night sky in Dunbar

Upright donkey, leaning tower in Pisa

Upright donkey, leaning tower in Pisa

Wenlock Edge, potato dreels and bored sheep

March 29, 2014

An intriguing and poetic entry from Paul Evans in a Country Diary in The Guardian this week. It begins “At wood’s edge, on a rabbit-scrabbled bank, a patch of white sweet violets, five yards square, glows under trees. There is so much energy in the air: a flash of sunlight catches the flowers and is gone under heavy cloud; in a matter of minutes there’s rain, then snow”. Evans goes on to tell us that sweet violets were dedicated to the Greek goddess Persephone one of whose roles was to encourage spring growth. Evans is also the author of an article How to be a nature writer and he gives an excellent list of what to do and what to avoid.

Out cycling yesterday and there was an east wind that would cut your cheeks off if you stood still for long enough. So, I headed out towards the local cement works, with the Barns Ness lighthouse on the shore to my left, and on to Torness Power Station, which admittedly, is not the bonniest sight around our countryside, but if you ignore the power station, and concentrate on the fields, beaches and the sea, it’s a rewarding cycle. Near the power station, 3 tractors were planting potatoes (aka tatties in Scotland) and forming rough furrows, which are then smoothed out and de-stoned in the process. Around here, these furrows are called dreels and when you see a newly planted field of tatties at this time of year, it heralds the onrush of Spring, although the stinging east wind tells you otherwise. I went back and took my camera. Photo 1 shows the rough dreels which contain the newly planted potatoes and photo 2 shows a tractor de-stoning and smoothing. Seamus Heaney’s poem Digging has images of his father ” Stooping in rhythm through potato drills/ Where he was digging”. His father was digging up the grown potatoes. Heaney uses drills instead of dreels.

Rough potato dreels

Rough potato dreels

De-stoning and smoothing

De-stoning and smoothing

Just beyond  the power station, I passed a field of sheep, which appeared to be ewes with swollen bellies in preparation for lambing. On going back with my camera, I discovered an anatomical indication that told me that these ewes were in fact rams. Now, I know that anthropomorphizing is not always recommended, but these sheep looked particularly bored with life. On our bikes, my pals and I pass many sheep on the country roads and some sheep can be seen merrily chewing at grass, or lambs can be greedily feeding, or some sheep can have a philosophical look, as if they might be trying to work out the implications of Hume’s arguments on human nature. The sheep I saw yesterday (see 2 photos below) definitely looked as if the world was not doing them any favours i.e. they were stuck in this field again, grass for breakfast, lunch and dinner, no conversation, no jokes, no laughter,  and not even a mountable ewe in sight. Or maybe they saw me on my bike, and then back with my camera, intruding on their personal space – without even asking permission! – and wondered what was wrong with ME.

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Carol Barrett, time travel and enjoy the daffodils while you can

March 22, 2014

A visit to the excellent SOC Donald Watson Gallery in Aberlady to see a stunning exhibition of paintings by Carol Barrett, entitled Under An African Sky. The exhibition features Carol’s paintings from trips to Botswana and to Tanzania. There’s a wide variety of birds and animals depicted in the exhibition and it’s only when you consider the amount of detail in many of the paintings e.g. birds such as the Crowned Crane or any of the cheetah paintings, that you realise how skilled and imaginative this artist is. I emailed Carol and she kindly sent me photos of what I thought were the two standout paintings in the exhibition and they are posted below. The first is a large painting of 3 elephants and it appears to be an affectionate family portrait, to be enjoyed by all. What I also liked about it was the abstract quality of parts of the painting e.g. the lines on the elephants’ trunks. The second painting is an extraordinary portrait of an ageing lion, and you can almost see the years of experience in his eyes. There’s also, for me, a melancholy aspect, as if the lion might be bemoaning that his best days are in the past, although there is still menace in his eyes. The detail and the delicate background in this painting are of the highest quality and I returned to the painting several times. If you are in the area, it’s a must see.

Tender Giants by Carol Barrett

Tender Giants by Carol Barrett

Fading Monarch by Carol Barrett

Fading Monarch by Carol Barrett

This week, I finished my free online Philosophy course presented by a range of expert lecturers from Edinburgh University. The final week was on time travel and it focussed not on the possibility of time travel but on the logic of time travel. Dr Alasdair Richmond posed a number of intriguing questions about the logic of time travel e.g. could you go back in history and kill Hitler before he came to power? Given that the history of the world since the 1930s has happened and is believably recorded by almost everyone, it would not be logical to argue that this could be done. However, it might be logical to suggest that a time traveller could go back and see Hitler before he came to power, as long as history was not changed. A further logical possibility – however unlikely – is that there could be multiple worlds I.e. not just our own, and that, in another world, Hitler might well have been killed and not come to power. Now, all this could be dismissed as navel gazing but what it does do, is make you think carefully about what you are listening to, what you read and what sense you make of all this.

The daffodils are out in people’s gardens, in forests and in municipal displays at roadsides and roundabouts, and they are a delight to the eye. However, this week we have had very strong winds which have tested the daffodils’ strength severely and there have been many casualties, such as the ones in the photo below, taken at the back of my house. So we have to enjoy the daffodils while we can. At least the daffodils are stronger than the crocuses shown in the previous post, all of which were blasted into oblivion by the wind.

Blasted daffodils

Blasted daffodils

 

Blog up and running again

March 18, 2014

Terrible gremlins appeared from, presumably, Gremlinland, over the past week, but the blog seems to be up and running OK again. Apologies if you tried to get on to the last post and couldn’t. As we say around here “It wisnae me” i.e. it wasn’t me.

 

“Poetry is the bomb”, making chowder and crocuses

March 15, 2014

I recently bought The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. I buy  this anthology  every year as it is a collection of poems which were considered for the Forward Prizes each year. The best collection, I was very happy to see, went to Michael Symmons Roberts for his book Drysalter which I have featured on this blog e.g. here. The foreword to the book, written by Jeanette Winsterston, has a dramatic start. Winterson writes “POETRY IS THE BOMB [original capitalisation] and the safe exploding of the bomb”. The author acknowledges that this may be “too violent an image” but argues that the world is besieged by the rich, environmental and religious problems, and by information overload. Winterson concludes that “The poem as the bomb is the poem as the flash of energy capable of blasting an opening into our private bunker”. You can read the foreword by clicking on the book cover here. Today, I read one of the poems At Llantwitt Beach by Oliver Dixon, which includes the imaginative lines “the sea itself now/ that giant loom/ perpetually unravelling/ the striped tapestry/ it’s just woven”. The book is a snip at £8.99, so buy it now.

There are many, many recipes for chowder including fish – just do a search. I’ve been making smoked haddock chowder for a long time, and I started off only including smoked haddock along with leek, carrots, potatoes (mashed and chopped), fish stock, milk and crème fraiche or cream. Recently, I have started adding salmon to the chowder and including some celery. So, my method is to sweat a large, thinly chopped leek, 2 carrots diced small and 2 sticks of celery. I then put the smoked haddock and salmon, cut into big chunks, on top of the vegetables. I turn the fish and cook until it’s steamed and then I add half pint of fish stock, made up to a pint with milk. To this I add previously cooked mash potato and chopped potato. To finish, I add the crème fraiche or cream and simmer for about 10 minutes. Serve the chowder with a crispy baguette warmed in the oven, and 2 servings of this constitute a full meal. You can of course, add prawns, mussels or other fish, as chowder is one of the most flexible of soups. It tastes delicious.

March sees the crocuses emerge from grassy areas here in Dunbar and there’s a magnificent display in the nearby village of West Barns, which is known to some of its former residents as The People’s Republic of West Barns. The photos below are from Spott Road in Dunbar, just up the road from my house. The crocus is one of the oldest known flowers and following on from the snowdrops, the crocuses provide a welcome splash of bright colours at (you hope) the end of winter. Thomas Hardy’s poem The Year’s Awakening asks how the crocus bulb knows that winter might be over and that there will be “mild airs that do not numb”. Once the crocuses are above ground, however, you have to admire their beauty because, as soon as strong winds arrive, their delicate petals are threatened.

Crocuses on Spott Road

Crocuses on Spott Road

Crocus close up

Crocus close up

 

Crocus bunches

Crocus bunches

Crocus close up

Crocus close up

 

 

A Word a Week Photo Challenge: Run

March 14, 2014

This week’s challenge is both easy and difficult for me. It’s easy as I have many, many photos of runners. For 14 years, I was the non-running president of Dunbar Running Club and both my wife and older son have run marathons, half marathons and 10K races. It’s difficult as I have to choose from them. My criterion is that I’ve included running photos with scenic backgrounds. You can see many more at Sue’s website.

 

Kilted runner at Carnethy

Kilted runner at Carnethy

Traprain Law Hill Race

Traprain Law Hill Race

Race start with snowy Pentland Hills to come

Race start with snowy Pentland Hills to come

Haddington Half Marathon at harvest time

Haddington Half Marathon at harvest time

Start of coastal marathon on Alnmouth Beach

Start of coastal marathon on Alnmouth Beach

 

 

 

 

 

In Dubai: Dubai aquarium and Masters Tennis

March 7, 2014

One of the astounding features of the Dubai Mall is the aquarium, which is located in the centre of the mall and is on two floors. The first time you see the aquarium, it seems an offence to your senses i.e. a huge aquarium situated in a shopping mall doesn’t seem at all right. You can stand outside the aquarium – with many others – and watch the sharks, sting rays and human divers inside, but paying to visit is a hugely better experience. You firstly walk along the outside of the huge tank and watch the amazing variety of fish, then you are in a tunnel where you get up close – but fortunately not and personal – with big sharks, whose life-destroying teeth are only the thickness of the glass away from, and when you look up, stingrays float majestically above your head. I think that only watching a catch stretch and relax can match the calm ease displayed by the stingrays. See photos below.

Shark's teeth

Shark’s teeth

Stingray

Stingray

You then go upstairs to what is known as the underwater zoo and it is a series of tanks with many varieties of fish but also other sea creatures. One of the most impressive features of this part of the aquarium is the range of colours of the fish. What I should have done was take a pen and paper and write down the species I was photographing, but I didn’t, so I don’t have names for the fish below – just enjoy the colours.

Bicolour Angel Fish (maybe)

Bicolour Angel Fish (maybe)

Unknown fish

Unknown fish

Unknown fish

Unknown fish

The final section of the aquarium is given over to other species such as huge crabs, dwarf crocodiles and penguins. What I did feel in this section – more than with the fish – was that these creatures were even more confined, and that I felt uncomfortable watching them being very still – the giant crab and dwarf crocodile below – or being very active, but in a small space – the penguins below.

King crab

King crab

Dwarf crocodile

Dwarf crocodile

Feeding the penguins

Feeding the penguins

Another highlight of our visit, was having season tickets to the Dubai Masters Tennis tournament, which took place at the impressive stadium, attached to which is the Irish Village, a collection of pubs and a shop selling Irish souvenirs. The tennis, featuring many of the world’s top players, was amazing to watch. These players hit the ball with ferocity but also control and have the ability to return balls which are practically on the ground. The top match which we saw was the semi final between Roger Federer (1st photo) and Novak Djokovic (2nd photo) and it was an intriguing 3 setter with Federer, who appeared to the more motivated of the two players, winning, and this delighted the full house, most of whom were supporting the Swiss player. Federer also won the final against Tomas Berdych. One cultural anomaly that I noticed each day, was that, while in the stadium, men and women were in T shirts and shorts, and some were drinking beer or wine, and in the background, you could hear the Imam calling from the mosque. An anomaly certainly, but also and example of tolerance.

Note: This is the 400th posting on this blog since it started.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

In Dubai: Burj Khalifa and Amal Restaurant

February 25, 2014

A rather belated blog entry as we flew to Dubai on Wednesday to stay with our son, daughter in law and two gorgeous 2 year old twin grandchildren Abigail and Lola. So we come back to Dubai, a city, for those affluent enough to enjoy it, of spectacular architecture, rampant (as some would see it) consumerism, and unashamed luxury. On Friday (first day of the weekend here) we were taken out to the excellent Amal Restaurant which is one the third floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. I’ve included photos of this architectural wonder – of course, not everyone would agree with my evaluation – in the blog before, but I’ve only taken photos in the daytime. At night, the Burj Khalifa becomes even more of a building out of science fiction. Night photography is not my best – I need to do much more homework but below are two photos taken from the restaurant balcony and looking up to the top of the building, which has 160 storeys.

Looking up to the top of the Burj Khalifa

Looking up to the top of the Burj Khalifa

Looking up to the top of the Burj Khalifa

Looking up to the top of the Burj Khalifa

The Amal Restaurant is by a country mile, the best (and yes, most expensive) Indian restaurant that we have been in. It is part of the Armani Hotel – representative of the unashamed luxury referred to above) which has the modest strapline of “A world of sophisticated beauty”. The restaurant has a very tall ceiling and it is decorated with (thin) arches to give it a cathedral like appearance. The complimentary starter made of semolina and fruit was delicate but very tasty – picture below.

Semolina cake and fruits

Semolina cake and fruits

 

I had intensely flavoured lamb and my wife had sea bass with a mild curry sauce, which she voted best ever. One of the biggest differences from “ordinary” (but still very good) Indian restaurants that we’ve been to in the UK and Australia, was in the quality of the naan bread. This was small, delicately herbed and spiced and cooked in a tandoori oven – pictures below of the naan bread and of a chef taking one out of the oven, taken in the kitchen (with permission) near to where we sat.

Nan bread in the Amal Restaurant

Nan bread in the Amal Restaurant

Taking nan bread out of the oven

Taking nan bread out of the oven

 

We are also going to the Dubai Masters Tennis tournament while we are here – more sophistication, more luxury – watch this space, as we live like part of the other half for  12 days.


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