Back on my bike, John Clare podcast and crocuses

February 23, 2017

I had my first cycle on Saturday after being off the bike for 5.5 weeks with very painful sciatica i.e. intermittently, you get a sharp pain in your side and shooting pains going down your leg – and this can happen during the day or night. Okay, it’s a fairly minor complaint but it’s very annoying and frustrating, particularly with the knowledge that cycling will make it worse. When you look up sciatica on the web, the first thing your told by all the websites I looked at is: There is no cure for sciatica. You just have to wait until it calms down and do warm up and warm down exercises before cycling. So, on the bike – tentatively. When you come back to cycling, especially when you get older, there is a change in the environment. What used to be inclines are back to hills, and what used to be small hills are now biggish hills and as for the big hills – forget about them for a while. However, I know that after a few longer cycle rides, the inclines will return to their former status, as will the little hills and the big hills can be conquered – maybe at a painfully slow rate at first.

On Saturday’s bike ride and on today’s, it was refreshing to be out looking at the countryside again, passing clumps of snowdrops now at their peak and also emergent crocus and the odd daffodil in flower. Plus, many of the fields are going green again, while others, newly ploughed, have a sheen on the turned earth which the sun catches. So it was appropriate today that, while on the bike, I listened (safely, able to hear traffic behind me) to a podcast from Melvyn Bragg’s educative and informative series In Our Time on Radio 4. This podcast ( you can listen from anywhere in the world) was on the poet John Clare  and there was a fascinating discussion by three academic experts on Clare’s childhood. He was brought up in relative poverty in the village of Helpston in Northamptonshire, where his father worked on a local farm. Clare left school at 11 and was introduced to poetry by fellow farm labourer, who showed Clare a book of poems about landscape. Clare was published in his 20s and was marketed as a poor farm labourer (a la Robert Burns in Scotland) with a gift for poetry. The podcast reveals how Clare became a poet of the countryside – from the countryside’s and its animals’ point of view i.e. Clare on his walks delved into elements such as the Nightingale’s Nest. As one of the panel observed, Clare did not observe the rural landscape “from over a 5-barred gate” as other rural poets did, but included details – such as the composition of the nightingale’s nest. Clare’s fame did not last and he ended up in a lunatic asylum, but he still wrote poems which have endured until today, later in his life. Clare’s style fell out of fashion but there has been a revival of interest in Clare by poets such as Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin, who admired Clare’s use of local dialect words. I would recommend this podcast to everyone, not just those interested in poetry.

We are two-thirds of the way through February and the crocus flowers have added a welcome splash of early Spring colour across the UK. Here in Dunbar, the local council have planted hundreds of crocus around the town. The photos that follow are from the council-planted crop just up the road from my house. It was very windy when I took the photos but the sun was out and the crocus glittered and swayed in the wind, which is not cold today. Tomorrow, however, the temperatures are to plummet and we may get gales and snow, which means a battering  for these attractive but flimsy flowers. In this photo, I like the combination of colours, yellow, purple and different shades of green.

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Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the next photo, a close-up (difficult to do in the wind), the crocus appear to be reaching up to the sun and opening their flowers to ingest the sun’s rays.

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Close up of crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the final photo, which includes both yellow and purple flowers, the crocus are like open-mouthed choir boys, singing at the top of their voices.

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

John Clare refers to the crocus in some of his poems, such as this from Early Spring “The Spring is come, and Spring flowers coming too, The crocus, patty kay, the rich hearts’ ease;”. The patty kay is the hepatica flower and the photo below is included under the Creative Commons licence.

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Hepatica flower

 

 

Whales stranding and The Store

February 13, 2017

Just before I went to bed the other night, I got an email from my brother-in-law in New Zealand to tell me that there had been a huge stranding of pilot whales at Farewell Spit in New Zealand. This is of particular interest to me, as many of you will know, as I wrote a book about a mass stranding which took place at Thorntonloch, near my home town of Dunbar in 1950.

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My book on the whales at Thorntonloch

One of the things I noticed about the above email was that, when I clicked on the link I’d been sent, I saw that the news was only 20 minutes old – and it included video footage of the stranding. This got me thinking. If my brother-in-law Jim had been in New Zealand in 1950 and wanted to tell me about this mass stranding, how would he do it? His only option then would have been to write me a letter, which I would have received maybe a few weeks later, given that there would have been a very limited air mail service at that time. In my book, I analysed the social aspects of the stranding in 1950, including communications. In 1950, most people heard about the whales locally and most often by word of mouth. There was no television in Scotland then and of course, no internet.

When I was nearing completion of my book, I wanted to refer to recent strandings and did a search for that. Spookily, I found a report of a mass stranding which had happened four hours earlier – also at Farewell Spit and I included this photo from there in the book.

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Mass stranding at Farewell spit in 2015

At Thorntonloch, there is a lovely stretch of beach and it is a very peaceful place to go for a walk. Farewell Spit is next to Golden Bay – another beautiful spot – so it is ironic that these attractive and peaceful beaches were – and continue to be – the scenes of such dramatic carnage, as hundreds of whales died when they stranded as a group. There was some better news overnight, with reports that 200 whales had been re-floated at Farewell Spit after a third mass stranding in as many days.

On Tuesday evening, I’m giving another talk to Dunbar and District History Society (new website imminent), of which I am a committee member. I’ve been looking at the social history of Dunbar (where I’ve lived for 60% of my life) in the early 1950s. I started with the whales at Thorntonloch and went on to look at rationing, new council houses and entertainment. I’ve now moved on to shops and shopping. On Tuesday, I’ll be concentrating on The Store, which is what the Co-operative shops were called at that time in this part of Scotland, although not elsewhere. The talk will start with an overview of the SCWS (Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society) which provided the hundreds of Co-op shops across Scotland with most of their goods to sell. The Co-op was the largest retail  organisation in the UK at that time, with over 40% of the non-independent trade.

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SCWS in 1950

This was a time before supermarkets had arrived in any numbers in the UK and the Co-op shops offered an attractive dividend to its customers, most of whom were shareholders – on a very small scale. It was also a time of rationing, so goods were restricted in availability, and of retail price maintenance i.e. prices of good were fixed, no matter where you bought them. The Co-op factory in Glasgow was a huge enterprise and the next two photos show some of the work done there.

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Women sew on buttons in the Shieldhall factory

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Women making rock in the Shieldhall factory

I’ll also be including interviews I did with local people who worked in The Store in the early 1950s. A very interesting interview I did was with Jimmy Combe, a very sprightly 84 year old, who began working for The Store as an apprentice grocer in 1947, aged 14. In the early 1950s, being a grocer was to be recognised as a skilled tradesman, like a plumber or joiner/carpenter. Jimmy went to night school in Edinburgh to do exams in a range of subjects, including bookkeeping and salesmanship, as well as subjects related to departments such as butchery, grocery and dry goods. An advert for such classes is shown below.

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Co-operative education in the 1950s

My talk will then look at the introduction of self-service in the mid to late 1950s. This move – accelerated by new technology and the end of rationing – in many ways deskilled the workforce and was the beginning of the end for the apprentice grocer. Before self-service, everyone was served individually, with all goods behind the counter.

 

The Fishermen and the Sandpiper

February 3, 2017

The title of this week’s blog looks as if it might be a story for children but it is two different topics. I’ve just finished reading The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. It’s a novel which is set in Nigeria and features four brothers who decide to go fishing in the local river, despite warnings from their parents not to do so. On returning from the fishing one day, they meet Abulu who is described as “a madman” and often goes around naked and dirty and is described as smelling of “.. rotten food, and unhealed wounds and pus and of bodily fluids and wastes”. It is believed that Abulu has the gift of prophecy despite being mad and he predicts that the eldest son will be killed by “a fisherman” i.e. by one of his brothers. This is a tragic story of love, hate and revenge and there is an ambiguous ending which may give some hope. Despite the tragedy, the book is enthralling to the reader, as the tale is told from an account by Ben, the youngest of the four brothers, who looks back from an adult perspective on what happened to his brothers. The long suffering, but supportive mother and the eccentric (and sometimes arrogant) father have high hopes for their children. The father works for a national bank and the family is reasonably prosperous compared to their neighbours. Nigerian politics appears in a startling incident when the boys, who have skipped school, meet with one of the presidential candidates in the town and have their photographs taken with him. Obioma is an accomplished writer, although this is his debut novel, and the story is very well constructed, with excellent dialogue. Obioma can sometimes overdo the metaphors he uses but he does produce some startling phrases throughout the book, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015. I found my copy in a charity shop, so look out for your copy and you will not be disappointed. You can read the first chapter here.

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

In the latest edition of Scottish Birds, there is an interesting article on the Western Sandpiper at Aird an Runair by Brian Rabbitts, who describes the bird as having “.. startling white underparts and rich rufous upper scapulars”. This immediately took me to the dictionary as “rufous” and “scapulars” were new words to me. The word rufous comes from the Latin rufus meaning red and is used to mean reddish-brown. Scapulars are shoulder feathers on birds, although a scapular, in a religious context,  can be “a sacramental object made of two small panels of woven wool (the required material)” or a short cloak worn by a monk. When you look at the superb photos below – generously sent to me by Brian Rabbitts – the feathers could be seen as a kind of cloak. I had a feeling that The Sandpiper was a piece of music, so I looked it up. There maybe music with that title, but what I was recalling from the dim past, was the film The Sandpiper (video) with the famous tune The Shadow of Your Smile.

In the first photo below, the bird’s scapular is shown clearly but I think that in this picture, the colours in the kelp outshine the bird.

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Western Sandpiper – photo by Brian Rabbitts (Click to enlarge)

In the 2nd photo, you can see the bird’s dagger-like beak and legs that might be of steel welded on to its body, plus the scapular which reminds me of tiles on a roof.

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Western Sandpiper – photo by Brian Rabbitts

In the third photo (cropped by me), I like the stoical look on the bird’s face, waiting patiently for food to swim by. Also, the swirl of the incoming wavelet compliments the flow of the bird’s feathers. You almost want to stroke this bird’s back.

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Western Sandpiper – photo by Brian Rabbitts

 

Ditchling Beacon and Ditchling village

January 25, 2017

During our trip to London, we ventured south from Thames Ditton, where our rellies stay, to the village of Ditchling, an hour’s drive away. Before going into the village, we headed up the steep hill, passing a few cyclists straining hard, to Ditchling Beacon (good photos). This historical site – a hill fort was found by archaeologists – has 360 degrees views across Sussex. On the day we visited, we could see the sea behind Brighton to the south but we couldn’t see the coast of France. The Beacon is on the South Downs and you can see for miles across the rolling countryside. The Downs are made mainly of chalk and it was a new experience for us to walk on the creamy coloured clay. It had been snowing the previous day and there were quite large – but headless – snowmen to be seen next the icy path. The bitterly cold wind ensured that we didn’t stay long as, unlike the groups of walkers we saw, we were not dressed for the conditions. The photos show part of the Beacon and the snow still lying there.

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Ditchling Beacon paths

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Snow on Ditchling Beacon

The village of Ditchling has a long history and there are some very attractive Tudor-style houses in the main street. Our first stop was to the jewellers  Pruden and Smith where my sister in law wanted to buy a necklace. I wouldn’t normally stop for long in a “goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers” but we were given a short tour of the workshop below the main shop. What you find here is a small space which features a few work desks,  but also on display are the tools of the craftsmen and craftswomen who make the jewellery. The first photo shows a dazzling range of tools and it’s interesting to reflect that these tools, some of which are quite powerful, are instrumental in producing such delicate jewellery (see shop website for examples), along with the combination of the well-honed skills and artistic talents of those making the jewellery.

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Silversmiths’ tools in Ditchling

The second photo shows some of the older equipment used to roll out the silver and gold into which a variety of precious stones would be inserted. There was also an admirable display of jewellery on display in the cabinets. So an interesting visit to the shop and an excellent insight into the extensive and delicate work that goes into producing the rings, necklaces and bracelets.

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Rolling and printing equipment in the Pruden and Smith workshop in Ditchling

Our next stop was Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft which featured work by Eric Gill, whom I knew as a famous typographer from the 1920s and 1930s. Some of Gill’s typography is on display and I’d like to have seem more. I learned that Gill was also an accomplished sculpture and one of his works, with its beautiful flowing lines and delicate depiction of the woman’s face, is shown below.

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Eric Gill sculpture in Ditchling Museum

Also on display were examples from the Kelmscott Press founded by William Morris. There was an example of an old press, along with typefaces on display and you could see how intricate a task it was to put in letters individually – and upside down – to make a page of a book or newspaper.

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Printing press at Ditchling Museum

We had an excellent lunch at The Bull pub in the village. The pub has some very good examples of local beer from its own Bedlam Brewery. The food was impressive and I had a very tasty venison pie with chestnut mash and broccoli. It rained on and off on our stay in Ditchling but we managed a walk around this very attractive village, which is well worth a visit.

V&A exhibition and TS Eliot Prize readings

January 19, 2017

A delay in the blog this week as we were in London for a few days. We both went to the outstanding Victoria and Albert Museum to see the exhibition entitled You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 . This is a fascinating exhibition, particularly for people who remember the 1960s and the bands such as The Beatles, The Animals and The Who, amongst many others. When you go into the exhibition, there is a free audio provided. This is not your usual audio guide to exhibits, but is a soundtrack  (list of songs here)of the music of the middle and late 1960s. Some people found this distracting e.g. looking at John  Lennon’s written lyrics to Help while the soundtrack is playing Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction. The exhibition covers the 1960s revolutions in music, protest, fashion and consumption. It has a vast number of exhibits, perhaps too many to take in during one visit, including photographs, letters, TV coverage, film, clothes and consumer items. It is a very stimulating exhibition, taking in the trivialities of some pop music to the horrors of the Vietnam war and civil rights violence. The V&A of course is always a pleasure to visit, with its numerous rooms and hallways full of statues. Even if you only visit the ornately decorated tea room (good photos), with the William Morris room adjacent to it, you are assured a superb aesthetic experience. No photos were allowed in the exhibition but I took one on my mobile phone’s (not very good) camera of the entrance.

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The Beatles’ at the entrance to the V&A

My treat on Sunday evening was to go to the Royal Festival Hall for the T S Eliot Poetry Prize readings. The competition for the best collection is worth £20,000 to the winner. One of the best things about this event is that, while the 10 poets read from their collections, the winner is not announced until later – no annoying Masterchef  pauses here. The readings were compered by the irrepressible Ian McMillan whose amusing but very perceptive introductions to each poet added much to the occasion. In one introduction, he referred to his Uncle Harry who had “sticky-out false teeth  – like a pub piano”. He also summed up the quality of the evening by pointing out that despite the vast hall and the hundreds of people in the audience, when each poet spoke, it was like being in a small room with only a few people. Two of the poets, J O Morgan and Alice Oswald (the favourite to win) recited their poems from memory and made a substantial impact on the audience. The winner, announced on Monday, was Jacob Polley’s collection Jackself which the judges called “a firecracker of a book” in which the main character can change into different shapes and things. I intend to buy this book, so more on this later.

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Jacob Polley’s collection entitled Jackself

 

 

Auld Year’s Night and A Walk on New Year’s Day

January 7, 2017

We had Australian friends staying over New Year. They arrived on 31st December which is known locally as Auld Year’s Day. This expression is, I think, restricted to the south eastern part of Scotland, while other parts use the term Hogmanay, the meaning of which is disputed, but it may be Scandinavian or Flemish. The term New Year’s Eve is used in other parts of Britain. Until the 1950s, New Year was the major festive event in Scotland, with people still working on Xmas Day. Bringing in the New Year in Scotland is seen as attractive by people across the world, as the cosmopolitan crowd in Edinburgh’s Princes Street on Auld Year’s Night will testify. Dunbar Running Club organise a short run on Auld Year’s Night at 7pm and my wife Val and our visitors took part, while I helped with timing. The race is known as the Black Bun Run after the tradition of giving people whisky and black bun to bring in the New Year, to ensure that people would have enough to drink and eat for the following year. I was the (non-running) President of  Dunbar Running Club for 14 years and the local paper, the East Lothian Courier would print my reports of the race – known then as The Auld Year’s Night Race, until one year the paper’s reporter used the headline Black Bun Run a Success. Thereafter, we used this title for the race. After the race, we joined the other runners (23 in total) in the nearby Masons Arms pub, for a pint of Belhaven Best ale, which is brewed just around the corner at Belhaven Brewery. Back home, we had a meal – a tasty Beef’n Beer (photo below) and brought the New Year in with rather less traditional champagne and red wine.

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Beef’n Beer done in Le Creuset pan (Click to enlarge)

On New Year’s Day, we took our friends on one of our favourite walks – to Seacliff Beach (good photos). We parked the car about a mile away from the beach. As you leave the car, just past the farm buildings, you get a magnificent view of Tantallon Castle (good photos)  and the Bass Rock and the view is enhanced (photo below) with the foreground of the emergent spring wheat’s subtle green.

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Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock

You walk down a fairly muddy path to get to the beach but you are rewarded with a view of a long stretch of sandy beach to the right and left. We went left towards the tiny harbour – claimed to be the UK’s smallest – where there was quite a swell here with the white sea caressing the rocks.

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Swell at Seacliff Beach

On the harbourside, you can still see the remains of old iron winding gear, which, with the backdrop of Tantallon Castle (see below) makes for an intriguing view.

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Winding gear at Seacliff and Tantallon Castle

We walked back along the east side of the beach and up the sandy slope to the path/road where cars can exit. At the top of the hill, you pass under an archway and when you look back, the Bass Rock is framed by the archway. The photo below was taken on a frosty afternoon a few years ago.

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Arch at Seacliff Beach

As you walk back past the farm buildings at Seacliff Farm, you pass many horses as there’s a riding school there. I managed to catch one horse having a feed and another peering at me through the bare hawthorn hedge (see below). So, an excellent walk on a bright, sunny if cold day gave us an exhilarating start to 2017.

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Horse feeding at Seacliff

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Horse through a hawthorn hedge

 

 

 

 

 

 

Highlights of 2016

December 31, 2016

I was going to give myself a festive break from the blog but, every day in the paper there is some sort of review of 2016, so coming back from my walk today I thought I might do one as well. This is what went through my head: best photo, best meal cooked, best restaurant, best visit, best novel read, best book of poems read, best …. Not to mention major highlights such as the arrival of our new grandson Zachary Buddy in June and in the previous month, the glorious victory – the Hibees won the cup after 114 years! So I started to read the blog from the beginning of January and realised that it was going to take a long time to read all of the posts. So this is a flick through, fairly randomly and not covering all the categories mentioned above.

In January, we went down to London as I was going to the T S Eliot Prize poetry readings at The Royal Festival Hall. I’m going again in January, so more of that later. A highlight of the visit was a meal at The French Table in Surbiton. The meal was delicious and one of the dishes on offer was monkfish which was served with crispy samphire and truffle froth – photo below sent to me by staff at TFT.

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Monkfish served at The French Table (Click to enlarge)

Flowers feature often in the blog and I’m always trying to improve my close up photography in my garden and other gardens and wood lands. So here’s some examples (photos below) – snowdrops at Pitcox, tulips in my garden and the multi-coloured and delicate honeysuckle, also in my garden.

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Snowdrops at Pitcox

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Tulips in my garden

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Honeysuckle in my garden

Best picture I took this year? A hard one this as there’s such as variety of photos that I like – of favourite places like St Abbs Head or Dunbar harbour, but I’ve settled on one from my garden again, except the focus this time is not on the flower but on the bee. This is from a post entitled Summer flowers. Bees are not obedient. They move constantly and their wings beat even when they are attached to flowers. This one must have been enjoying the nectar so much that it momentarily stopped moving, allowing me to capture the bee’s complex physical structure, its vivid colours and its wing, which looks like a piece of ornate glassware you might find in an art gallery.

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Bumble bee on a hebe flower.

The best visit we did this year undoubtedly to the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From the moment you walk towards the outside of the building, you are in for a series of eyebrow raising moments and you lose count of the times you say “Wow!”. The external and internal structure of the museum represent a triumph of modern architecture, so impressive is the design and flow of the building. The two photos below can’t capture the wonder of this building but if it inspires you to visit, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

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Back of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

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Front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

So that’s (part of) the old rung out and next week/year, I’ll ring in the new – more travel, more novels, more poetry, more photos – and anything else that comes in to the mind of this (at times) Bear of Little Brain – even if my favourite word is crepuscular.

 

 

 

Chris Rose exhibition and a scene he might have painted

December 21, 2016

The latest exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady, home of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club is by Chris Rose, whose previous exhibition was featured on this blog in 2014. With no disrespect to  the other excellent wildlife artists who have exhibited at Waterston House, Chris Rose is – by a country mile – the most accomplished. This is another stunning exhibition, featuring new work as well as prints of his previous work. Chris very kindly sent me photos of 3 of the works which are available for purchase at the exhibition. The first is entitled Little Egret and if you think that the clarity in the photo below is very impressive, when you see the painting itself, it is one of these moments in an art exhibition when you find yourself staring at the picture and admiring the beauty of it. There is much to take in when looking at this painting. Firstly, there is the photographic realism – this is a perfect depiction of a little egret, a statuesque bird about to strike an unassuming fish. The shimmering reflection suggests that the water is not quite still. I love the angles in this picture – look at the beak and the legs – and the bird’s patient poise. Like herons, the egret has an admirable ability to wait, then angle its head toward the water, then wait again, then strike lethally. It was interesting to watch other people’s reactions when they entered the main room of the exhibition and saw this painting. They had the same raised eyebrows and staring eyes as I had, the same smile of appreciation and the same slight shake of the head- how does he do this?

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Little Egret by Chris Rose (Click for a larger, and better, image)

The second painting (below) is entitled Shrimping and features a black-headed gull (which in fact has a brown head) but when I first saw this painting at the exhibition, it was the delicate colours and contours of the sand which caught my attention. Then you look at the gull again and its reflection and the eddies in the pool made by the bird paddling furiously to get the shrimps to surface – all so expertly done. Then you see the bird’s shadow and the shadows cast by the seaweed. So what at first looks like a simple depiction of a black headed gull paddling for its meal, becomes a multi-faceted picture whose elements draw your eyes up and down and across the frame.

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Shrimping by Chris Rose

I usually only feature 2 paintings by exhibiting artists but the chance to show three examples of Chris Rose’s work is too good to miss. The 3rd painting (below) is Silver Light which is a magnificent display of light on water and seaweed. Again, there is birdlife which is superbly portrayed, but the painting’s title is very apposite i.e. you see the shimmering light on the water first. I’m not sure how long it takes Chris to perfect these images – I would think it’s a very long time – but this veritable display of talent and skill could not be achieved quickly, this layman assumes. We will certainly go back to see this exhibition before it closes in January as it’s impossible to appreciate the variety of images and the mastery on show in one visit. If you can get to the exhibition, you will be richly rewarded.

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Silver Light by Chris Rose

A few days ago, in mid afternoon, just before the onset of the crepuscular light which I so much enjoy, I went for a walk from our house along to the nearby Dunbar Golf  Course  which stretches next to the seashore all the way out to the White Sands. I walked along the side of the 4th fairway to the little beach just around the corner and when I got there, a pair of elegantly coloured shelduck flew off across the water. On the way back, I could see (and hear) redshanks and oystercatchers taking refuge in rocks further away from this transgressing human. Then the Chris Rose moment – about 8 curlews appeared out of nowhere and landed on rocks in front of me. The birds’ long beaks could be seen as they stood on the rocks and below them, the light was shining on the still wet rocks – an image seen in some of Chris Rose’s paintings (e.g. here). I didn’t have my camera and I would have needed the long lens to capture the scene – another great photo that might have been. It was a startling image, having been to Chris’ exhibition recently. I’m lucky to live near the sea and come across vivid examples of wildlife just along the road.

 

Harbour reflections and making Minestrone

December 14, 2016

I took my camera for a walk along to Dunbar Harbour (good photos) last week. The day was so wind free that the water in the harbour hardly moved and the wee boats, which are usually swaying gently to an unheard waltz tune on the accordion, were statuesque. It’s very unusual not to have any kind of wind in Dunbar and at one point, it looked as if the sea had given up coming into the harbour, as the water appeared – very briefly – to be motionless. Then a gentle ripple spread from the entrance to the harbour across to the boats.

The two photos below are taken at the east end of the harbour and the perfect reflection in the 1st photo shows how calm the water became. There’s a hint of movement in the water in the 2nd photo and the wee boat looks isolated. This is because all the small yachts that lie in the harbour in the summer have been removed for safety. I like the way the harbour walls are reflected in the water in the 2nd photo.

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

The next 2 photos are taken at the castle end of the harbour. In the first photo, the reflections look as if they might come from an impressionist painting e.g. the squiggly lines in the castle walls’ reflection. It was a cold day but the colours in the boats and in the fish boxes on the quayside inserted a warm feature into this walker’s experience. In the both photos, the castle ruins still show the white patches left by the nesting kittiwakes, who visited in the summer. The kittiwakes have featured on this blog more than once e.g. here. In the 2nd photo, the wider angle shows the castle ruins and the narrow entrance to the harbour. Another unusual feature of this visit to the harbour was the absence of birds on the water, as you often get small groups of eider duck. On this RSPB site, you can listen to the gurgling, whoo-hooing of the eider duck, and you can usually hear this from the harbourside.

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Fishing boats near Dunbar Castle

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Reflections of the ruins of Dunbar Castle

Having made lentil and vegetable, tomato and lentil, and parsnip and pear soup recently, I thought that it must be the turn of minestrone. The term minestrone comes from the Latin minestra meaning soup with pasta (and/or other ingredients) and one as a suffix meaning large, thus giving us a soup with big vegetables. The soup is mentioned in a cookbook by Apicus (the whole book from Project Gutenberg here) published in 30CE, so it has ancient traditions. You could spend the rest of your life looking at the myriad of minestrone recipes on the web i.e. almost anything goes as long as you have vegetables and pasta in it. Almost all recipes include tomatoes. Today, my minestrone has a large leek, 3 stalks of celery, diced turnip (aka swede) and carrot, dried basil and oregano, a tin of tomatoes, 2 tbs tomatoes puree and a litre of chicken stock. I put a little oil in the bottom of my large soup pan and added the basil and oregano. I then sweated the leeks and celery, and added the turnip and carrot until it looks like this:

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Sweating the vegetables in the making of minestrone

I then added the tomatoes, tomato puree and broken spaghetti, brought it  to the boil and simmered it for c20 minutes. I always find that you should never eat minestrone soup right away – let the flavours develop for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight. You can then have a colourful, tasty and winter warming soup which served up will look something like this photo from last year. Have it for lunch with crusty bread and if you are lucky like me, go for a walk along to the harbour with your camera afterwards.

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A plate of minestrone soup with basil leaves

The Bone Seeker, views of St Abbs and the Number Four gallery

December 6, 2016

I’ve just finished reading M J McGrath’s  The Bone Seeker, a crime novel set in the Canadian arctic. This is a crime novel with interesting characters, including the heroine Edie Kiglatuk, a teacher who is seconded to help the police solve the mystery of a local girl’s murder. One the key “characters” in this novel is the arctic itself as well as the local Inuit culture. McGrath introduces us to Inuit words like  qualunaat – white people and avasirnguluk – elder, to create a convincing environment for her story. The history of the exploitation of the Inuit by outsiders, such as the US and Canadian governments, is  covered but with a light touch. McGrath is a story teller and the plot is well-paced. The reader does get a real sense of how people live in this (to most of us) extreme climate. Most of the novel is set in the summer where darkness is absent and the endless light can prevent people from sleeping, but winter approaches fast near the end of the novel and the transformation of the land and sea is well portrayed. Perhaps the ending features too much action in a short space of time in this book where the story builds to a complex conclusion. This is not just a book for readers of crime novels, so get it if you can.

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The Bone Seeker by M J McGrath

Regular readers will know that my wife and I visit St Abbs Head on a regular basis and these visits have featured on this blog many times. This visit was on a very cold and frosty Sunday morning but the sky was huge and Australian blue. Leaving the car parked at the number four art gallery (of which more later), into which my wife ventured, I walked along the path which leads to another path, which leads to one of the cliff-top walks. In this photo, you can see the cliffs in the distance, with sheep in the field and before that rows of winter wheat, which are a delicious green in the winter sun.

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Looking towards the cliff-tops at St Abbs Head

I crossed the road towards the village, with a large field on my right and the disused church at the top of the hill. What I liked about the field (photo below) was the bright yellow of the grasses at the edge of the field, and the way your eyes are drawn to the lines in the field, both the narrow crop lines and the wider tractor tracks. All seem to lead to the now abandoned church on the hill. The pink-tinctured clouds are also attractive.

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Stubble field at St Abbs Head

Across the road is the imposing Northfield House, with its head of St Ebba above the gates. I’ve photographed the gates from front-on and the head in close up before, but I’ve never taken a side-on shot of the entrance. In this photo, the impressive stone entrance is shown off by the field and sky. There is a large walled garden here, part of which is in view.

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Side view of the entrance to Northfield House in St Abbs Head

I walked to the St Abbs Visitor Centre (open March-October) and looking down to the harbour, I saw a strange sight – a tractor was reversing into the harbour. On a second look, I could see that the two yellow poles behind it were part of a platform. One of the wee fishing boats reversed and sailed gently on to the tractor’s trailer.

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Tractor in St Abbs Harbour

I walked back to the car in the fading afternoon light and you could feel the cold deepening, ready to freeze anything that didn’t keep moving. We’ve been to the number four art gallery many times over the years and have bought paintings and glassware for our home and for presents. With my camera at hand (and this blog already in mind) I took some photos, with permission. The gallery is part of a very well maintaned stone built row of what presumably were farm buildings and has a very attractive entrance – photo below.

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number four gallery in St Abbs

The inside of the gallery (photos below) is bright, well laid out and encourages you to walk around to view the paintings – some superb landscapes were on view on our visit – prints, glassware, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery. See examples here.  One of the reasons many people revisit this gallery is the warm welcome given by the staff, who are very helpful, informative but unobtrusive. The original works available here are of excellent value, so pay a visit if you are in the area.

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs