Winter trees and Next Generation Poets 2014

December 17, 2014

It’s only a week now until the shortest day in Scotland and the sun sets in the late afternoon at present. One of the pleasures of a cold and bright winter’s day – and we get a good share of these on the east of Scotland – is getting rugged up (an Australian expression for wrapped up), going for a long walk and enjoying the last of the sunshine. On a recent walk near Smeaton Gardens  in the village of East Linton (good photos), my wife and I enjoyed seeing the setting sun through the winter trees. The photos below show the elegant outlines of the bare trees against the blue sky and the illuminating sun. George Szirtes‘ has a poignant and humorous poem Winter Trees :

Aren’t you cold and won’t you freeze,
With branches bare, you winter trees?
You’ve thrown away your summer shift,
Your autumn gold has come adrift.

Dearie me, you winter trees,
What strange behaviour, if you please!
In summer you could wear much less,
But come the winter – you undress!

Winter tree at Smeaton Gardens

Winter tree at Smeaton Gardens

Winter trees at Smeaton Gardens

Winter trees at Smeaton Gardens

Winter trees at Smeaton Gardens

Winter trees at Smeaton Gardens

With my latest Choice from the Poetry Book Society came a booklet featuring the Next Generation Poets 2014 – see cover below. This project, subtitled Twenty Exciting Voices for the Future is a selection of what is regarded as a list of the most promising poets of 2014. Most, but not all, poets are in their 20s and 30s and have recently won prizes for their collections. On the project’s website, you can click on the names of individual poets and see examples of their work. I’m only half way through but have already enjoyed poems by Sean Borrowdale – on a honeycomb “Its tear-easy skin of skeletal reef/(Best use of space for minimal effort”; Rebecca Goss – a poignant address to her 2nd child – “So extraordinary was your sister’s/ short life, it’s hard for me to see/ a future for you…. [But]…Come and hold my hand, little one/ stand beside me in your small shoes,/ let’s head for your undiscovered life, your mother’s ready now, let’s run”; and Emma Jones – from Waking – “There was one morning/ when my mother woke and felt a twitch/ inside, like the shifting of curtains./ She woke and so did I. I was like a bird/ beating. She had not time for anaesthetic”. All the links to the poets cited include videos of them reading poems.

Next Generation Poets

Next Generation Poets

Early Spring flowers and North Berwick walk

December 9, 2014

On an outing last week, my wife and I stopped at The Walled Garden which is situated between the villages of Gullane (pr Gullin – good photos) and Direlton (pr Dirlton – good photos on site). We were going for coffee, tea and cake. Outside the restaurant/shop, were buckets with spring flowers in them for sale – a bit disconcerting at the start of December. It would be interesting to know how recently spring flowers became available so early – last 5-10 years perhaps? Despite my personal dislike of having these flowers before the New Year, I still took some nice photos – see below.

Early hyacinths

Early hyacinths

Early tulips

Early tulips

From the Walled Garden, we headed for North Berwick – just along the road – for a walk on the beach. We started at the West Beach where, on the headland, there stands an old anchor, painted black. This is appropriate for a former fishing town, where the harbour is now populated with yachts/dinghies of various sizes. The photos below show the anchor itself and a shot through the top of the anchor, showing the Bass Rock in the distance.

Anchor at West Beach North Berwick

Anchor at West Beach North Berwick

Anchor at West Beach North Berwick

Anchor at West Beach North Berwick

At the end of the West Beach is the town’s harbour, the home of a thriving yacht club. While there is little sailing in December, you cannot visit this harbour without seeing a couple of people doing maintenance on their yachts. It’s a picture postcard harbour as the photo below shows.

North Berwick harbour

North Berwick harbour

Next to the harbour is the busy Seabird Centre which has an excellent exhibition, including online cameras and live broadcasts of nesting gannets and puffins, and new seal pups at different times of the year. Outside the centre, there are sculptures of penguins and terns, and a statue of a man with binoculars looking out towards the Bass Rock – see next photos.

Penguins at N Berwick Seabird Centre

Penguins at N Berwick Seabird Centre

Tern sculpture at N Berwick Seabird Centre

Tern sculpture at N Berwick Seabird Centre

Statue at N Berwick Seabird Centre

Statue at N Berwick Seabird Centre

North Berwick is an interesting place to visit and is popular with tourists all year round. Walking over the 2 beaches or along the High Street or climbing up North Berwick Law, there is always plenty to see in this coastal town, which is 13 miles (21K) up the coast from Dunbar.

 

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge – Shell

December 4, 2014

Another good challenge for photophiles this week. Mine are below but see Sue’s website for many more great shots.

Shells on Tauranga Beach, NZ

Shells on Tauranga Beach, NZ

Boot among the shells on Dunbar East Beach

Boot among the shells on Dunbar East Beach

Oysters at Somerset Cottage Restaurant, Tauranga NZ

Oysters at Somerset Cottage Restaurant, Tauranga NZ

Prawns at Dunbar Harbour

Prawns at Dunbar Harbour

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


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