Archive for the ‘New books’ Category

Harvest time, Creole Belle and Jersey Boys film

August 23, 2014

It’s late August in the south east of Scotland and that means it’s harvest time. Over the summer, I have watched the barley, wheat and oats turn from green to beige/yellow in the fields and the heads of the crops grow. Now sees the onset of the large combine harvesters which waddle into the fields clumsily and then launch a series of destructive sweeps along the field, taking out sections one by one, and where you had barley gently swaying in the wind, now there is only bare stubble. Most farmers seem to have abandoned any aesthetic sense of what a post harvest field should look like, and immediately take away the newly born bales. The field is suddenly vacant of its previously active life and the stubble gives it a shocked look. Where the farmers do leave the bales in the fields, you have a newly installed art exhibition – of round bales apparently placed haphazardly across the newly shorn crop. This is an iconic view of late summer, as there is something very peaceful about the bales resting in the field and – who knows? – perhaps in the night’s dark, when no-one is around, they unravel themselves and stretch out casually, before curling up again pre-dawn. The photos below show a combine harvester at work and bales, which appeared only yesterday, in a field about 3 miles out of Dunbar.

Combine harvester

Combine harvester in the evening

 Combine harvester in the evening

Combine harvester in the evening

Bales in a post-harvest field

Bales in a post-harvest field

Tightly bound bale

Tightly bound bale

I’ve just finished reading James Lee Burke’s novel Creole Belle. I’ve read a good number of Burke’s novels over the years and this novel shows Burke’s love for his city of New Orleans and the bayou nearby, as well as his anger at threats to that environment. This time, the background for the criminal action in an intriguing story, is the BP oil spill which threatened many livelihoods. Burke does get rather over wistful in the final chapter – the Epilogue – but the book is full of well wrought characters, including the hero Dave Robicheaux, his well meaning but violent pal Clete Purcel and Gretchen Horowitz who is trying to escape from working for the mob. You can hear an interview with James Lee Burke (scroll down for Creole Belle)  by Kacey Kowars. If you haven’t tried this novelist as yet, it’s time you did.

We went up to The Filmhouse in Edinburgh to see the Clint Eastwood directed Jersey Boys. Now, I’m not one for musicals and would not have gone to see the stage show of this film, which is about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. However, a film directed by Clint Eastwood is usually worth going to see. My wife loved the film – the music and the story of the group’s formation, connections with the mob and eventual break up. While I liked the music and while the film was an entertainment on a wet Thursday afternoon in Edinburgh, some parts were hard going and some of the dialogue fairly wooden. So, a mixed bag for me and certainly not the film by which Eastwood will be remembered as a director.

 

Ten Poems about Bicycles, wet cycling and Auld Year’s Day

January 1, 2014

One of the presents I received this year from my wife was Ten Poems about Bicycles. I’ve only dipped into it so far but the first poem is by the famous Australian balladeer Banjo Paterson and is entitled Mulga Bill’s Bicycle. There a very good reading of the poem on Youtube by Daryl Barclay and it’s a wild ride for Mulga Bill. There’s also an excellent poem by the American  poet Michael Donaghy. whose poem Machines has the wonderful first 3 lines: “Dearest, note how these two are alike:/ This harpsichord pavane by Purcell/ And the racer’s twelve-speed bike”. The ten poems in the pamphlet are aesthetically presented by the Candlestick Press.

There are no poems about cycling in the rain in the pamphlet, although Mulga Bill does get wet, but I could have written one myself yesterday. I looked at the weather forecast and it said heavy rain by noon. I set out at 10am and at c10.20 the first spots started to appear and it got steadily heavier and heavier. You have to be stoical to be a cyclist in a Scottish winter, so once you are out, you are out and you have to complete the course. I was only doing a short 20 mile/32K ride but by the time I got home I was drookit (soaked) – my helmet was dripping and I had to wring out my cap, gloves, leggings and socks, as well as stuffing my wet shoes with newspaper. One thing about cycling in the rain, is that the faster you go, the heavier the rain gets, but the faster you go, the quicker you’ll get home, so it’s motivational rain and good for your fitness. Well, that’s what I was telling myself on the way home and also consoling myself that it was a mildish 7 degrees – not bad hereabouts for 30 Dec.

This being the 31 December and what we in Dunbar call Auld Year’s Day and Auld Year’s Night – we eschew the word Hogmanay as being from the West and North of Scotland. However, this is very local and you are unlikely to hear these terms used even in nearby towns or in our capital city Edinburgh, 28 miles/45K away. We are going for a meal at the award winning Creel Restaurant with our son and daughter in law, and will then bring in the New Year at home, and welcome 2014 in the a nice malt whisky from Locketts, my favourite wine shop, which is in North Berwick, 13 miles/21K along the coast from Dunbar. For some of you who read this blog, 2014 will already be here, so to you and everyone else who visits the blog, I wish you an effervescent and exciting 2014.

Hopes Reservoir, grey sea and Alice Munro

November 28, 2013

The blog is a week late as I had trouble accessing it. However, I went on the WordPress forums with my problem and someone has fixed it – thank you to whoever Raincoaster is.

On Sunday morning, my wife and some fellow members of Dunbar Running Club headed off up country about 14 miles (22K) to take part in the annual Goat’s Gallop run, organised by another local club HELP. On the way, you drive through the bonnie village of Gifford which is resplendent at this time of year with a carpet of dying but colourful leaves along the edge of the road near the park. The run starts at a local farm and from there, the runners face a long, steep climb to the top of Lammer Law (scroll down for walking route). The runners come off this route and run across the uneven swathes of heather – thus the goat’s gallop name – and continue towards a cliff, from where they face a vertiginous descent, before joining the track again, taking them past the Hopes Reservoir. Photos 1-4 show views approaching the reservoir, and across the reservoir, while it was still misty, one of the runners on the track near the reservoir, and a view over the reservoir when the sun had come out and provided a spectacular reflection. For the full set of photos – and a classic song – see my Photopeach page.  I walked to the reservoir from the nearby car park and was accompanied only by the puckpuckpuckpuck call of several red grouse, some of whom were startled by my approach and flung themselves into the air with a desperate flapping of wings. Otherwise, there was a very pleasant silence.

Today, looking from the back of my house, the sea, which was a deep blue with rushing, polished white waves on Sunday, is dull and the waves look as if they might be struggling to summon the energy to get to shore. In my poetry calendar last week, this image was captured in a much more descriptive way, by Barbara Crooker in her poem The Winter Sea. She writes “The ocean’s grey today, like someone’s dingy laundry,/ the slop and slosh of sudsy waves agitate on the sand/ and the sky’s the inside of an ashtray at some salty dive”.

Another poetic writer which I’ve been reading is the short story specialist Alice Munro who recently won the very prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. I bought her latest book of short stories Dear Life. I’ve read one complete story so far and have started the 2nd one. As the  Guardian reviewer notes, each story is like a mini novel and you need time to reflect after reading each one. Munro condenses people’s lives with enviable ease and it’s not until you finish one of her stories that you realise just how much you learned about the characters. Although Munro is not known as a poetic writer, she sometimes writes beautifully e.g. “The frozen lake not level but mounded along the shore, as if the waves had turned to ice in the art of falling”. This is a striking and imaginative image. Even if you never read short stories, get this book and you will be richly rewarded.

Looking towards the Hopes Reservoir

Looking towards the Hopes Reservoir

Runner passing Hopes Reservoir

Runner passing Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

Elliptical reflection at Hopes Reservoir

Elliptical reflection at Hopes Reservoir

Icelandic sagas, new bike (maybe) and dramatic sky

May 20, 2013

While out cycling last week, I listened to an In Our Time podcast about Icelandic Sagas and it proved to be a very interesting and educational programme. The panel discussed the various types of sagas, including family sagas and adventure sagas. the sagas  cover events in Iceland in the 10th and 11th centuries and were written in the 13th and 14th centuries. It’s probable – but there’s no definitive proof, that the written sagas were based on stories handed down in the oral tradition. If you want to read some of the sagas, then the Icelandic Saga Database is an excellent source. An added interest for me is that my former colleague at Charles Sturt University John Kennedy is an expert on the sagas. His book on translating the sagas is recognised as an authoritative work.

My existing bike – a 10 year old Giant OCR and while it is still a comfortable ride, it needs a new back wheel at some point. As I was walking to Belhaven Bikes my local bikeshop in Dunbar to collect my bike after another repair, I started thinking “New wheel? Mmm – how about new bike?”. I now have some catalogues for new bikes and I am particularly interested in the Forme Longcliffe 1.0 which has been very well reviewed. Now, given that I am a pretty average cyclist, it probably doesn’t matter whether I choose this bike or a similar one, but I’ve been doing my homework online and the Forme is very well reviewed. One aspect of reading reviews of bikes is that the reviews can often get very technical and pass my understanding of bike technology but I can usually get enough pertinent information. Watch this space.

May has been mainly cold, windy and sunless in this part of the world so far, so it was encouraging to have one sunny day on Friday, when we took our son, daughter in law and two grandchildren, who are visiting from Dubai, to Belhaven beach. There followed a dramatic and colourful sky in the evening. So I went out to the back of the house and took the photos below. The tide was going out and the sky was reflected in the sea at some points. I particularly like the mix of blues, pinks and reds.

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

 

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

 

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

Evening sky looking towards Dunbar harbour

Laurie Campbell, Bring up the Bodies and frosty mornings

March 2, 2013

On a recent visit to the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club in Aberlady, I was enthralled by the exhibition of photographs by Scottish wildlife photographer Laurie Campbell. The exhibition covers a range of birds, deer, sheep and otters and, for the enthusiastic amateur photographer, is inspirational i.e. maybe you don’t have the expertise, equipment or time to shoot such electrifying photos, you can aspire to do so. For a wider range of Laurie Campbell’s work – photos and books – check out his website – a treat in itself. I emailed Laurie and he kindly sent me the 1st 2 photos below – so many thanks for that.

I’ve just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies, her brilliant Booker Prize winning sequence to Wolf Hall which I read previously. This is Tudor England and Henry V111, the autocratic king who is obsessed with having a male heir to succeed him, is getting rid of his wife Anne Boleyn. Mantel brings to life the machinations of the court by focussing on Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s scheming and ruthless fixer, who has to cope with the jealousies, the intrigues, the whisperings and the class distinction so prevalent at the court. We come to admire Cromwell (or Cremuel and he is sometimes disparagingly referred to) despite his readiness to have people imprisoned and executed, so that Henry can have his way. An admirable book.

Teh past week has seen frosty morning and bright days. Big skies – like the ones I used to see in Australia most days – have dominated, and once the frost has lifted, spring might not be far away, you feel. An opportunity for me to get my camera out and photograph the flowers which shrivel into themselves, and take on a white outer layer while preserving their inner health. Photos 3 and 4 below show the frosted coating on polyanthus and a pansy flower which, absorbing the sun’s rays, casts off its frosty coat. More on my Photopeach pages (use the full screen icon at bottom right of picture).

 

Grey heron (Laurie Campbell)

Grey heron (Laurie Campbell)

 

Waxwing (Laurie Campbell)

Waxwing (Laurie Campbell)

Frosted polyanthus

Frosted polyanthus

 

Pansy unfrosting in the sun

Pansy unfrosting in the sun

Bird paintings and book, and Gosford Bothy

December 14, 2012

This week we went across to see an excellent exhibition of bird paintings by Mike Warren at the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club at Waterston House near the attractive village of Aberlady, about 20 miles (32K) from Dunbar. This exhibition mainly featured paintings from Mike’s new book American Birding Sketchbook. What strikes the view of the paintings is not just the accurate portrayal of the birds in their natural habitat, but the vibrancy of the colours of that habitat. In some of the pictures, it could be argued that the birds are, in fact, not the most attractive feature e.g. the variety of colours Warren gets in a picture featuring autumn leaves is outstanding, from the subtle yellows to the blowsy reds. So this is not just a book for birders (who I believe prefer this name rather than twitchers) but for everyone who enjoys the outdoors – either in practice or visually or both. I contacted the artist and he’s given me permission to include the front cover of his book below. You can also see some of the stunning paintings for sale on his website. Waterston House itself is a very welcoming place where you can see a range of books, binoculars, cards, posters and for the serious birder, there is the SOC library.

Just across the road from Waterston House is the splendidly named Gosford Bothy Farm Shop, set on the large Gosford Estate, which includes the impressive Gosford House. The farm shop is one of those modern buildings where, once you enter, you are taken back in time, as the shop includes a stunning range of butchered meat, as well as fresh vegetables and a range of “country” items such as jams, pickles, olive oil etc. (Vegetarians maybe stop here) We bought beef olives which are stuffed with wild boar meat. When cooked in a casserole with red onion, dirty carrots and local potatoes, they taste delicious. Beef olives are thin pieces of steak stuffed with, depending on where you buy them in Scotland certainly, sausage meat or white pudding. We also bought some very tasty – and notfatty – lamb and mint sausages. We’ll go back to both the SOC club and the farm shop.

American Sketchbook

American Sketchbook

Japanese translation, lifting and planting bulbs and Boogie Woogie!

November 9, 2012

A surprise email this week from Kazu Sunaga in Japan. Kazu translated my 1996 book Teaching information skills in schools (See first photo below). We met up again last year at the IASL Conference in Kingston Jamaica. My publishers had donated a copy of my new book Improving students’ web use and information literacy and at the conference dinner, I was asked to present it to a lucky winner. I asked the audience whose birthday was closest to mine – and it turned out to be Kaza Sunaga. There were some cries of “Fix!” when I told them who he was, but he was a genuine winner. So something to look forward to next year.

In my garden, the seasons change and one lot of bulbs – gladioli (see 2nd and 3rd photos below) comes out and other bulbs – daffodils, crocus and tulips go in. So some are lifted and dried for next year and the next lot are planted. This always reminds me of the novel and film Being There in which a simple gardener becomes a top political advisor with comments on gardening which are misinterpreted as insightful analysis e.g. of the economy – an excellent satire. Planting for next spring – I put the daffodils in one layer in a tub, then more compost, then the smaller bulbs, then more compost and finally spring flowers such as pansies, violas and polyanthus, so you  get a varied display. It’s a very satisfying experience.

Out on my bike this week, I listened (safely with the volume not too high) to The A, B,C, D of Boogie Woogie recorded in France and featuring top pianist Ben Waters and Rolling Stone Charlie Watts. If you like a mixture of blues, R&B and Boogie Woogie, then this is for you. It may not improve your cycling but it will give you a good feeling about life.

Japanese translation

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New poetry book, the council’s flowers and my flowers

September 7, 2012

I’ve just started reading the Poetry Book Society’s  Autumn Choice Place by the American Poet Jorie Graham. It’s an unusual book. Firstly, it is bigger than the normal poetry book, about 50% wider. Secondly, the poems are structured in a way that you are presented with lines of different length, with some lines also indented e.g. from the first poem Sundown:

Sometimes the day

                                                    light winces

                                                   behind you and it is

There is also no punctuation i.e. the following line is:

a great treasure in this case today a man on

However, I soon became accustomed to these quirks (presumably not what Jorie Graham would call them) and enjoyed the poem. The man is on a horse on a beach at St Laurent Sur Mer, famous for being Omaha Beach, the scene of a famous battle in World War 2. The horse has “light-struck hooves” which pass “the edge of the furling break”. I only read one poem per day and sometimes read it twice in one day, so that I can allow its effect on me.

In my home town of Dunbar, the local council do a sterling job of producing colourful gardens across the town each summer. The flowers are late this summer (see below) but have developed very well lately. The first photo below shows part of the gardens at Lauderdale Park  and is a fairly typical example of local council gardens in the UK i.e. shaped sections with groups of flowers placed together to provide an indepth show of colour. This year, for the first time, the council are backing a scheme to plant sections of wild flowers in the town. The 2nd photo below shows an example of this initiative, which is a welcome addition to the town.

As I’ve said before on the blog, it has been a dreadful summer in the UK and this part of Scotland has been no different. My flowers are about a month behind. I guess the silver lining is that we are now getting an unusual display of summer flowers in September. The 3rd photo below shows a flower I’ve grown this year for the first time. It’s Salpiglossis aka Painted Tongue and it’s a delicate creature. I grew them from plugs I bought and thought I’d lost them a couple of times, but bringing them into the house did the trick. See the close up photo below and you’ll see the Painted Tongue reference. For good measure, the 4th photo is of one of my double petunias.

Public gardens in Dunbar

Wild flowers in Dunbar

Salpiglossis

Double petunia

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National Trust visit, cycling and new Richard Ford book

June 29, 2012

My wife and I were given membership of the National Trust for Scotland and have been visiting some interesting old properties lately. We went to The Georgian House in Edinburgh. This was built in the late 18th century and designed by the famous architect Robert Adam and was part of a new building spree in Edinburgh’s New Town, as the rich wanted to move from the overcrowded Old Town. The house is lavishly decorated and for the family which lived there, it was a spacious house in which guests could be welcomed, and more importantly, impressed. However, being a servant in this house was another matter e.g. carrying food up flights of stairs from the extensive kitchen or emptying chamber pots in the master’s bedroom. The dining room was particularly impressive although, interestingly, the cutlery looks crude by modern standards.

Out cycling more often now and on a new mountain bike. The countryside around East Lothian is particularly lush at the moment (see photos below), mainly due to the amount of rain we’ve had i.e. it’s near the end of June and we still await summer. So I cycle past large fields of still green barley, the grain filled heads swaying in the wind, and on past fields of potatoes, which seem to double in size within days. As I cycle on farm tracks also, mud is also a problem in parts and yesterday, I cycled through numerous very large puddles, formed as the water ran off the fields. In Scotland, you can cycle almost everywhere if there is a track. It’s exhilarating, especially when you’ve climbed a steep hill and can go into the higher gears on the flat.

I’ve just received the new Richard Ford book in the post. I know that I should really support the bookshops I go to in Edinburgh but, like most people, I have been Amazoned. Getting a new hardback by such a masterly writer as Ford is a real treat – it could be my birthday! One of his many telling phrases was  “the normal applauseless life of us all” – what a great word ‘applauseless’ is. So, anticipation is high. A new Richard Ford book is one of these books that you almost don’t want to start – as you’ll finish it too soon and might have to wait a few more years for another.

East Lothian countryside

East Lothian countryside

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Now the Monday blog, west of Ireland and Australian poet

April 16, 2012

Retirement has brought a certain lack of routine, and this blog has suffered. So I have changed the title of this blog to James Herring’s Monday blog and this means that I will post an entry each Monday – come what may.

In March, I went to the west coast of Ireland for a week with my wife, for a bit of a family reunion. We stayed just outside the bonnie town of Westport in County Mayo. It’s a picturesque little town and I think that for many people, it might be a bit of a step back in time, especially with some of the shops which have changed little over the years. The other distinctive of feature of Westport and towns like it in Ireland, is the number of pubs. This will change over the next ten years as th recession bites hard. The most famous pub is Matt Molloy’s which is a traditional pub, untouched by the plasticisation which many pubs have suffered. Inside the wall are covered by old mirrors and publ signs, as well as a plethora of photos of folk groups, including The Chieftains of whom Matt Molloy is the leader. Inside the pub, you can see that in former times, like most rural pubs, this pub was a grocer’s store at the front with the bar at the back. The Guinness of course, is wonderful here, as it’s poured slowly and you have to wait for the beer to settle. The photo below is of Westport House a 300 year old mansion set in beautiful grounds and well worth a visit.

Westport House

 I have just finished reading Armour by the Australian poet John Kinsella. The book is a fascinating (and sometimes bewildering) look at many aspects of the Australian landscape. For those of you who are Australian or who know rural Australia, the poems relating to the animals and plants and the recent droughts in Australia, will bring some startling images e.g. “Every year the bright tremor of wattle/yellow light/yellow rattle/ of stamens and pollen”. Kinsella also takes a mystical view of the land and questions what modern Australians are doing to the land. Sometimes I felt that some poems were hard to understand but Kinsella’s flow of words are always meaningful i.e. full of meaning.

Posted in New books, Poetry, Reading, Travel | Leave a Comment »


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