Stones and flowers; stones and flowers

April 24, 2015

In January, I found 2 boxes of daffodil bulbs on a garage shelf – I’d forgotten that they were there but I planted them even at this late stage. They have flowered very well and I noticed the other day that they showed off the stone wall (built with the excellent tuition and proper stonemason tools of Ian Sammels) to very good effect. That it was a warm and sunny spring day helped to enhance this photo.

Stone walls and daffodils

Stone walls and daffodils

There was more sandstone on view, this time in a natural setting, on our walk from Tyninghame Links to Ravensheugh Sands (good photo) which is often referred to as Tyninghame Beach by locals. The nearby hamlet of Tyninghame (pr Tinning him) has an excellent coffee shop. There was a strongish NE wind, so we set off into the wind to the small stretch of beach at the end of the woods. I’ve written about this here before, not least Chris Rose’s wonderful painting of dunlin. The painting’s depiction of the rocks in the sun is stunning and the photo below shows some of the other sandstone rocks near the exposed roots of a tree. The 2nd photo shows stratified rock and I liked the combination of the swirling curves of the rock, the seaweed’s greens and the sea’s sun generated blue.

Sandstone rocks at Tyninghame Beach

Sandstone rocks at Tyninghame Beach

Stratified rock at Tyninghame Beach

Stratified rock at Tyninghame Beach

At the end of the walk, there was a pleasant surprise as we came across a large bed of wild primroses, with not just the normal yellow flowers but also some with delicate purple flowers (see photos below). The poet Wordsworth wrote “Primroses, the Spring may love them; Summer knows but little of them” but come the summer, this patch of forest will be a very plain green again.

Purple primroses in Tyninghame Woods

Purple primroses in Tyninghame Woods

Yellow primroses in Tyninghame Woods

Yellow primroses in Tyninghame Woods

Appleby in Westmoreland and the Bowes Museum

April 16, 2015

We’ve just returned from a couple of days away to the northwest of England and we stayed in the former market town of Appleby in Westmoreland (good photos). This is a historic town which has a long, wide high street with a cross at either end, indicating where the market used to begin and end. St Lawrence’s church has impressive cloisters and at the other end of the steep street, there is the ruins of Appleby Castle, part of which has been turned into a conference/wedding centre. There’s a pleasant walk along the river Eden, which flows through the town and a very solid bridge. The photos below show the bridge and the spring flowers along its banks.

Appleby Bridge

Appleby Bridge

Appleby Bridge

Appleby Bridge

A highlight of our 2 day break was a visit to the Bowes Museum which was built on the edge of the town of Barnard Castle. The museum, as shown in the photo below, is a magnificent building, in the style of a French château and built by the very wealthy John Bowes and his wife Josephine, and it dominates the landscape for miles around.

The Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum

The museum’s collections are wide ranging and they also have a series of exhibitions each year. At present, there is an excellent exhibition of drawings by the political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe. These drawings are all caricatures of Margaret Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister and are drawn very much from an anti Thatcher point of view. Those people who saw Thatcher as a saviour of Britain in the 1980s should definitely NOT visit this exhibition. Those people who saw Thatcher as more destructive than constructive will enjoy the drawings – some in colour – which satirise Thatcher and her policies. You can see a virtual tour of the exhibition here. The title Milk Snatcher refers to the Thatcher policy of stopping free milk for schools in the 1980s. The photo below is at the start of the exhibition – no photos of the drawings were allowed.

Scarfe exhibition

Scarfe exhibition

The other current exhibition is fashion-oriented and entitled Birds of Paradise. There are many exhibits showing a range of dresses and shoes and one stand out (photo below) is a black dress with wings at the back, featuring feathers from Birds of Paradise. Whether you admire this or not may depend on a) your taste and b) your sensitivity to the use of bird plumage in fashion.

Birds of Paradise dress at the Bowes Museum

Birds of Paradise dress at the Bowes Museum

Other highlights which caught my attention were a Rococo Clock and the complex metal work at the top of a staircase.

Rococo clock at Bowes Museum

Rococo clock at Bowes Museum

Ornate metalwork at Bowes Museum

Ornate metalwork at Bowes Museum

The most famous artefact in the museum is the Silver Swan automaton which is a beautiful piece of sculpture, with the swan surrounded by silver fish. At 2pm (too early for us) the swan rotates its head to music in a spectacular display. I tried to photograph the swan but the lighting made it difficult, so it’s worth while exploring the website to see close-up photos of the swan and its piscine entourage. The museum is worth spending a fair of time in, with its large art galleries containing many famous paintings and sculptures – see photo below of one of the high ceilinged galleries. If you are in the area, don’t miss it.

Bowes Museum gallery

Bowes Museum gallery

Spring day in Edinburgh and Easter Sunday walk

April 7, 2015

At last, Spring has arrived in Scotland and while the tulips, daffodils, crocuses and primroses have been out for a couple of weeks, the has been a definite lack of warmth. At the weekend, temperatures rose to an enjoyable 14 degrees. Now, obviously, if you are reading this in certain parts of the world, you may shiver at the thought of 14 degrees but for us, it’s a welcome doubling of the temperature from the last 3 weeks. On Saturday I was in Edinburgh to meet my 2 pals for a lunchtime beer or two and then we went to the football (aka soccer). It’s too painful to write about the latter but we enjoyed drinking Village Idiot real ale in Robbie’s bar. Earlier, I had a walk in the centre of town along Princes Street Gardens which have been transformed from a winter scene with an ice rink and German Market, into a spring flower showcase. There is now a profusion of daffodils, polyanthus and wallflower. The 3 photos below (taken on my phone) show two new polyanthus rings above the gardens, a view along the gardens to the west end of Princes St and a bed of pansies above the hedge lined walks in the gardens. All year round, this is a multilingual area and you hear several languages in a small stretch of the walk.

Circular polyanthus beds in Edinburgh

Circular polyanthus beds in Edinburgh

View west along Princes St Gardens

View west along Princes St Gardens

Looking down on to Princes St Gardens

Looking down on to Princes St Gardens

We woke up yesterday morning – Easter Sunday – to a bit of a haar and the harbour and most of the north sea had disappeared. It quickly cleared and we set of south to our frequent haunt of St Abbs Head, featured many times on this blog but there’s always a slightly different experience. As there was a slight east wind, we walked the circular route (photos here) around the cliffs from east to west. As it was the holiday weekend, it was much busier than normal but it’s a friendly as well as a scenic walk and most people passing each other say hello. The haar was covering the village of St Abbs but the coastal walk was clear and sunny. The first photo (click to enlarge for best effect) shows the village just peaking above the haar. We walked along the high clifftops and past rocks once again covered with guillemots. This is lambing time in Scotland and we passed at least 3 flocks of sheep, one on the steep hillside (2nd photo) and another where a mother was feeding her lamb (3rd photo).

Haar covering St Abbs village

Haar covering St Abbs village

Sheep on the hill above the gorse at St Abbs Head

Sheep on the hill above the gorse at St Abbs Head

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Edmundbyers, stone walls and Barter’s Books

March 30, 2015

A bit late with this blog post as we have family here from Dubai. Two weeks ago, we went to the north of England to catch up with a couple we  first met in Wagga Wagga, as they both went to Wagga Wagga Road Runners. They had a cottage in the County Durham village of Edmundbyers. The village is set in beautiful countryside and the Derwent Water is nearby. It’s a great place for running, walking and cycling and we had an enjoyable walk up Muggleswick Common, from which you get a grand view across the rolling hills, down to the village and across to the Derwent Water. One of the fabulous features of this part of the country is the dry stone walls, which were built to separate land and to keep sheep enclosed. Many visitors to the north of England are amazed by the length, width and depth of these walls, and today there does not seem a particular reason for having such extensive walls, which would cost a fortune to build today. One of the answers to this is that, when the walls were constructed by the stonemasons, probably in the 18th and 19th centuries, both the materials for the walls – slate stone around here – and labour were cheap and plentiful. If you look closely at the walls, you can see how intricately built they are, with two outside layers of smooth stone and rougher stone in the middle. Building these walls is an art as well as a craft. The photos below show the village of Edmundbyers, some of the stone walls and fishermen sheltering from a very cold wind on our walk at the Derwent Water.

Edmundbyers, County Durham

Edmundbyers, County Durham

Dry stone wall

Dry stone wall

Derwent Water

Derwent Water

Within the village of Edmundbyers, we visited the 12th century church and, passing one of the houses, I noticed a plaque on the walls which read Cross Peels (photo below). I looked this up and peels, which look like oars on this plaque, are tools used by bakers to put bread into and take bread out of an oven.

Cross Peels

Cross Peels

On our way back to Dunbar, we stopped in the historic town of Alnwick, very well known for its castle and extensive gardens (good photos). We have visited these sites before and if you are in the area, they are certainly worth going to. On this visit to Alnwick, we went to Barter’s Bookshop (interesting video on this site), which is housed in the old railway station. There is a café next to the bookshop and it serves meals, coffees, teas and cakes in the old waiting rooms, including a ladies’ waiting room and first, second and third class waiting rooms. It’s likely that those who used the first class waiting room would be appalled that the hoi polloi can now use the same room. The bookshop has a wide range of second-hand books, some of which are valuable and at the entrance, there is a model railway which winds it way along the tracks above the customers’ heads. The photos show the main bookshop and the railway.

Barter's Books, Alnwick

Barter’s Books, Alnwick

Model railway in Barter's Books

Model railway in Barter’s Books

Robert Macfarlane, rocks and flower heads

March 20, 2015

I get The Guardian delivered 6 days a week. On Saturday, the paper comes with several sections, including The Review, which has an extended article related to literature, and I keep this to read on a Sunday morning. A recent Review article by Robert Macfarlane was one of the most interesting I’ve read for a long time. Macfarlane writes “I have long been fascinated by the relations of language and landscape – by the power of strong style and single words to shape our senses of place” and his new book, Landmarks is a gathering together of local words for place, flora and fauna from across the UK. Macfarlane seeks out the old worlds, but also the new words being coined by children. An example provided: “On Exmoor, zwer is the onomatopoeic term for “the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight”.” Many local words have traceable ancient origins but others have just been developed, such as terms used by miners in the NE of England, a dialect known as Pitmatical or Yakka. An example from Dunbar is the very localised word for a crab – poo which is not used elsewhere in the neighbouring coastline. The most frequent example quoted in the town is that, whereas people in the posher areas of Dunbar might eat crab sandwiches, fishermen have poo paste pieces, with the word “piece” referring to a piece of bread. I urge you to read this article.

A walk along Belhaven Beach on the east side next to the golf course revealed a variety of rock formations and a variety of colours and abstract forms in the rocks. The rocks are predominantly sandstone but the more malleable texture of the sandstone has created a wide range of both colour and shape to the rock formations and individuals rocks. The first photo shows a delicately coloured sandstone pavement, the second a lichen covered rock with an attractive pale green coating, and the third a large rock with apparently random abstract lines.

Sandstone pavement on Belhaven Beach

Sandstone pavement on Belhaven Beach

Rock on Belhaven Beach

Rock on Belhaven Beach

Rock lines on Belhaven Beach

Rock lines on Belhaven Beach

It is officially spring hereabouts and the spring flowers are now making a grand entrance en masse in some parts of the town. In my garden, tete-a-tete mini daffodils, dwarf tulips and polyanthus are all showing off their resplendent colours, and the closer you can get with your camera, the more abstract the patterns of the flower centres become. I’m always trying to get the perfect close up photo, but of course, there isn’t one, as only the original can be deemed to be perfect. The photos below show the tete-a-tetes, dwarf tulip and the centre of a polyanthus.

tete-a-tetes

tete-a-tetes

Dwarf tulip

Dwarf tulip

Polyanthus centre

Polyanthus centre

A Word A Week Photograph Challenge – Raindrop

March 13, 2015

One of my favourite tasks with a camera is to catch raindrops on flowers. Here are my attempts, see many more at Sue’s website.

Iris after the rain

Iris after the rain

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Gladiolus

 

Wagga Wagga rose

Wagga Wagga rose

IMG_7280

 

 

 

Howard Towll and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie interview in Dubai

March 11, 2015

A new exhibition at SOC’s Waterstone House features 2 artists, Howard Towll and John Busby. I contacted both artists to ask for photos or permission to download and the former got back to me. Howard Towll’s exhibits were very appealing to the eye, with a mixture of wood block and lino block prints. He is also a painter and one of the striking works on his website is Curlew at Dusk – see below. Everything is subtle in this painting, in particular the reflections in the water of the curlew and of the rocks and seaweed. We get quite a few curlews on the rocks at the back of our house and through my scope, I often watch the patiently searching bird, which thrusts its long beach into the rock crevices to seek out food. One of the lino prints in the exhibition is Gannet Heads – see below. What I find most intriguing about this print is the sharp lines of the birds and their determined expressions. They could be soldiers marching to orders or runners/cyclists completely focused on winning the race. Looking through my scope, I have just had my first sighting of gannets  flying to the Bass Rock this year. My choice of the wood block prints would be Eiders, as these are another species which I often see in the sea around Dunbar. There is an attractive abstract quality to this print, which captures the soft green on the back of the male eider’s neck. The call of the male eider duck is a gurgling, burbling sound and can be heard clearly when groups of eiders are in Dunbar Harbour.

 

Curlew at dusk - H Towll

Curlew at dusk – H Towll

Gannet Heads - H Towll

Gannet Heads – H Towll

Eiders - H Towll

Eiders – H Towll

While in Dubai, we went to the Dubai Festival of Literature in the plush Intercontinental Hotel. I went to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who was talking about her novel Americanah, which I reviewed on the blog last July. In her interview, Ms Adichie talked articulately and intelligently – and often quite humorously – about the novel’s contents and about her experience of living in America as a black woman. It was a fascinating insight into the novel and she explained that, as a writer, she was two people – the writer as performer on the stage being interviewed, and the writer sitting alone in her room, writing a novel. “These are not the same person” she said. One aspect of the novel which was given much attention, was hair. In the novel, the protagonist visits a hairdressing salon and there is an interesting and amusing discussion of African women in America getting their hair done. She hinted that some of the coverage in the media may have been sexist. This highly intelligent, thoughtful and very attractive writer – who has amazing hair (photos below) – held the audience spellbound for the one hour session. My wife went to see Jenni Murray who hosts Woman’s Hour in the UK and found it a fascinating talk.

Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

Chimamanda Adichie

Another Dubai trip and Stoner the novel

March 4, 2015

Having left a very cold Scotland, where it was 3 degrees and felt much colder, on Wednesday of last week, it has been a very pleasant change to be in wall to wall sunshine and a daily temperature of c25 degrees. Our son Stuart, daughter in law Catherine and 3+ twin granddaughters Abigail and Lola live in the Arabian Ranches, which is a 25 minute drive – along a 6 lane highway – from the city. Downtown Dubai is ever expanding and with every subsequent visit, a new building seems to have leapt up toward the sky. The two photos below were taken from the car and one shows men on ropes, presumably doing repairs, or cleaning windows. For excellent views of the Dubai skyline, see here. A trip to Dubai would not be the same without yet another photo of the Burj Al Arab, perhaps the most iconic of Dubai’s stunning buildings, as in the 3rd photo below. No matter how often you see this building, you still wonder at the audacity of its design and construction.

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai building repairs

Downtown Dubai building repairs

Burj Al Arab

 Burj Al Arab

In our house in Dubai, there’s a large vase of lilies on the table. They arrived with closed flowers and have opened quickly, with large white-tongued leaves and startling cucumber shaped orange anthers, with a smaller, heart shaped, purple centre. The photos below show the whole flower top as well as a close up of the anthers, which have an abstract and possibly surreal quality.

White lily

White lily

Lily anthers

Lily anthers

I’ve just finished the much praised novel by John Williams entitled Stoner. The book was first published in the sixties, to no great acclaim but was “discovered” and republished in 2012 and became an international best seller. When you read such glowing reviews of a novel as “A great American novel” and “Rarely has the intimate detail of a life been drawn with such emotional clarity”, you can often get a feeling that it will not live up to its stunning reviews. This book does. It is by turns tragic and joyful and innocent and mature. Stoner teaches in a midsize American university and the book begins by stating that few colleagues or students remembered Stoner who remained an Assistant Professor during his long teaching career. His colleagues or students may not remember Stoner but anyone who reads this intriguing novel most certainly will. There is an excellent introduction to the book by the renowned late Irish author John McGahern – one of my all-time  favourite  novelists. The writing in Stoner is consistently of a high quality and often the reader is presented with a remarkable passage. One example is when Stoner’s father dies and he visits his bereaved mother, who shows him his father. “The body he saw was that of a stranger; it was shrunken and tiny… The dark blue suit which enfolded the body was grotesquely large, and the hands that folded out of the sleeves were like the dried claws of an animal” writes Williams, and the use of the word enfolded makes the passage even more striking. There is much sorrow in this novel but also much joy and Stoner is fiercely realistic about his (and all of our) tiny presence in life. He is relentlessly stoical. Whatever happens, he tholes it. This is a must read book, so beg, steal or borrow this book – from the library of course. Even better, buy it and I’m sure that like me, you’ll revisit it.

Lifeboat, wood rings and Michael Longley’s poems

February 23, 2015

A walk through Dunbar harbour last Sunday coincided with the arrival of the local lifeboat from its moorings at Torness Power Station. The lifeboat station at Dunbar has a long history and includes some famous rescues. The modern lifeboats is a sleek, orange,  vessel which appears to float across the waves and this is a huge contrast to the original lifeboats which were rowed out to stricken vessels. Those rowing the lifeboats were often in danger of losing their own lives, as in the 1810 rescue of HMS Pallas. Despite the potential unsinkability of modern lifeboats, rescuing people in heavy seas is still a dangerous mission for the volunteer lifeboat crew seen in the photos below.

Dunbar lifeboat

Dunbar lifeboat

Dunbar lifeboat

Dunbar lifeboat

Dunbar lifeboat in Dunbar harbour

Dunbar lifeboat in Dunbar harbour

On another visit to Yellowcraig beach, there was tree felling going on in the nearby wood and large stacks of both hardwood and softwood sat by the roadside. I was fascinated by the detail in the tree rings at the ends of the fallen tree trunks. Looking up “tree rings” I discover that the science of tree rings is dendrochronology but I was more interested in the visual aspects and further research showed examples of tree rings in art and photographic images in tree ring research. I like the abstract quality of the tree rings, seen as collection of shapes rather than as an object. In some photos, you could be looking at a photo from space, perhaps at some previously hidden archaeological site. The photo of the hardwood logs below reminds me of the wood stove we had in one of our houses. We got them delivered in the lane next to the house and I would cart them into the shed on a wheelbarrow. Inevitably, someone coming down the lane would tell me that the logs would heat me up twice.

Tree rings as abstractions

Tree rings as abstractions

Tree rings or photo from space?

Tree rings or photo from space?

Hardwood tree trunks

Hardwood tree trunks

I’ve now finished Michael Longley’s glorious collection The Stairwell, featured not that long ago on this blog. The collection features a range of poems including sections on his granddaughter, his father who fought in the 1st World War and his recently deceased twin. I found the first section the most powerful with the latter two rather uneven. Having said that, Longley sets such a high standard that even what might appear his “lighter” poems, might stand out in another collection. One poems talks of his father remembering “.. at Passchendaele/Where men and horses drowned in mud/ His bog apprenticeship, mud turf”. In the poems about his twin, Longley refers to Achilles and the man he called brother Patroclus, to great effect. He also sees his twin as possibly “.. skinny dipping at Allaran/ Where the jellies won’t sting …” and the poem ends with him protecting his brother against accident “I’ll carry the torch across the duach”. Longley explains that duach is “the Irish for sandbanks or dunes”. If you’ve never bought a poetry book, buy this one, as you’ll read it again and again.

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge – Frame

February 19, 2015

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

Bass Rock through the tunnel at Seacliffe Beach

Bass Rock through the tunnel at Seacliff Beach

Double framing of flowers and picture

Double framing of flowers and picture

Alfred Hitchcock board in Zadar, Croatia

Alfred Hitchcock board in Zadar, Croatia

Double doors in Padova, Italy

Double doors in Padova, Italy

Hanging John Bellany painting in Dunbar Library

Hanging John Bellany painting in Dunbar Library


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