Thorntonloch beach and stones

July 1, 2015

No blog last week as we were en vacances to the south of France, staying the city of Marseilles and this will be the topic of a 2nd blog this week. Before I went on holiday, I went out to Thorntonloch Beach to take a couple of photographs to go with my research on the whales beached there in 1950. I was particularly interested to see if the view had changed much since 1950. When you are looking south along the beach, the view is unchanged.

Thorntonloch Beach looking south

Thorntonloch Beach looking south

When you turn around and look north, however, the view has changed dramatically. Instead of a number of old stone buildings along the coast, Torness Nuclear Power Station now dominates the skyline.

Thorntonloch Beach looking north

Thorntonloch Beach looking north

As ever, you go with your camera for particular shots and then find others. Rocks feature on this blog at regular intervals and the ones at Thorntonloch Beach, with their intriguing abstract qualities, were no exception. The first photo could be done by an abstract artist or it might be the view of a planet, with its fault lines and craters, viewed from earth. The second photo looks like the rock has been riddled with bullet holes and the third photo could be a collection of sweets. What do you see in the photos?

Stone on Thorntonloch Beach

Stone on Thorntonloch Beach

Stone on Thorntonloch Beach

Stone on Thorntonloch Beach

Stones on Thorntonloch Beach

Stones on Thorntonloch Beach

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Galore paddocks and gum trees

June 17, 2015

There’s a distinctly Australian theme to this week’s post. I’ve just finished reading Richard Flanagan’s superb, Booker Prize winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The novel’s protagonist is Dorrigo Evans, a boy from rural Tasmania who becomes a doctor and later a surgeon in the army. The book is both a love story featuring Evan’s prolonged affair with his uncle’s wife and a harrowing tale of Australian POWs who are captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the building of a railway, in horrendous conditions. Flanagan tells his stories in an undramatic fashion. A lesser writer would fill this book with sentimentality and melodrama but Flanagan expertly avoids this. The sections on the POW camp focus not only on the terrible treatment of the prisoners – one scene of the beating of Darky Gardiner, which all the soldiers are forced to watch, will remain with the reader for a long time – but also on the Japanese commander Nakamura, who is forced to speed up the building of the railway by his superiors. We meet Nakamura after the war also. Flanagan takes us very cleverly into the mind of his hero, who sees himself as a weak man, despite his leadership abilities and his fame after the war. This is one of the best book I’ve read in a long time – don’t miss it.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

My very good friend Paul whom I first met when I lived in Wagga Wagga 10 years ago, emailed me this week with a vivid description of helping his brother with marking lambs. Paul wrote “They were monstrous, and there were 310 of them. We laboured in the winter sunshine for almost 3 hours” and he followed this by felling, cutting, splitting and loading a ton of wood from the gum trees on his brother’s farm. Paul’s photo below shows the split red gum logs in the late sunshine. The setting is Old Man Creek.

Red gum logs near Old Man Creek, NSW

Red gum logs near Old Man Creek, NSW

The farm is in the Galore district of New South Wales and there are stunning views – of seemingly endless landscape – from Galore Hill, where my wife and I were once accosted by a sudden swarm of large flies, and had to take cover. The Australian term for fields is paddocks and Paul told me that the paddocks on his brother’s farm had been given names by his father and grandfather and included “the triangle, the pump paddock, middle creek, Big L and Little L” as well as The Piper’s Paddock, named after an ancient settler, presumably from Scotland. There’s a PhD waiting to be done on the naming of paddocks. One of my former colleagues at Charles Sturt University referred to paddocks in discussions and would say that the thought that a particular idea “should be taken out into the paddock and shot”.

One of my best memories of living in Australia is of the gum trees at the Murrumbidgee River in Wagga Wagga. Gum trees or eucalypts are impressive trees but can also be dangerous as they can discard large branches. One of the surprises you get when first going to Australia is that gum trees do not shed leaves but bark. There are many types of gum trees and the silvery bark is a most attractive feature. The photos below were taken at the Murrumbidgee in Wagga Wagga.

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

 

Trip to Manchester, Calf Hey Reservoir

June 10, 2015

I was away for 3 days last week to Manchester. I was staying with our good friends John and Stella whom we first met in 1974 when I was a young librarian and John an English lecturer at what was De La Salle College, situated at Hopwood Hall now the site of an FE college. Stella and John have redesigned their back garden since I was there last and have installed a slate path which takes the viewer’s eye up through the garden to the tall trees.

The Fitzpatrick's garden in Prestwich

The Fitzpatrick’s garden in Prestwich

Another feature of their garden was that many of the plants attracted bees, including cotoneaster and large headed aliums. I managed to get a close up of one of the bees on an alium and the yellow and black of the bee contrasts nicely with the purple flowers, which appear to be blue from a distance.

Bee feeding on an alium head

Bee feeding on an alium head

The front garden has some impressively large oriental poppies with their big, open, look-at-me red/orange flower heads with internal wheels. In the photo below, the centre of the flower head looks as if a small, round, highly decorated cake has been placed there, perhaps made of marzipan with purple icing.

Oriental poppy

Oriental poppy

John took me for a walk around Calf Hey Reservoir where you can see two reservoirs side by side, and on a sunny day, which we had, it’s an idyllic place. As you enter the reservoir area, there are the ruins of old houses which formed part of Haslingden Grane which was occupied in the late 18th and early 19th century by farmers and weavers. The photo below shows the ruins of Hartley House where there was a large farmhouse and cottages operated by weavers who had looms in their houses. John and I speculated that it would have been a huge shock for these weavers who may have had to leave the household looms to work in the large factories in the Manchester area in the 19th century.

Hartley House

Hartley House

There is a very pleasant walk through some woods and round to the reservoirs and you pass a little waterfall created on five levels. When you stop, all you can hear is the rushing water and some bird call from the trees. In the photo below, you can’t see the thousands of midges which were frantically dancing above the water – they may appear if you click on the photo and press the + icon.

Waterfall at Calf Hey Reservoir

Waterfall at Calf Hey Reservoir

When you come out of the woods, there are a number of shorter and longer walks around the reservoirs. Calf Hey sits in a wide valley and I found it a very peaceful place with good views and, on the day we were there, a family of mallards, two adults and 3 fairly grown up ducklings, swam gently across the reservoir.

View over the reservoir

View over the reservoir

Making minestrone, Sapiens and the honeysuckle is out

May 31, 2015

I’ve been growing basil from seed in wee pots on two windowsills and there are now large leaves on both sets of plants. Basil is very easy to grow and very nutritious, with some websites claiming a huge range of benefits, which I would need to verify from other sites before believing all the claims. So, what to cook with the fresh basil? A simple search will give many suggestions but I opted for minestrone soup. There are more minestrone soup recipes online and in cookery books than there are heads on my basil plants. What they all have in common is vegetables, tomatoes and pasta – after that, it’s up to the individual. My soup, which is fairly thick and chunky consists of:

1 large leek

1 large dirty carrot

Half of a medium sized turnip (called swede outside Scotland)

2 stalks of celery

1 clove of garlic

Basil and oregano – a mixture of dried and fresh

1 tin of tomatoes

A good squeeze of tomato puree

1 litre of stock – I used a ham stock cube and a vegetable stock cube but purists might want to make their own stock

1 mug of pasta

It involves a lot of therapeutic slicing, unless you use a food processor. I like to slice the leeks and garlic finely and then slice the celery, carrots and turnip into small cubes. I sweat the leeks and garlic in margarine, having added the herbs to them, then add the rest of the vegetables. I give this a good stir for one minute and add the tomatoes and the stock, then the pasta and the puree. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and it should cook in about 20 minutes – try the turnip to make sure. I find that it’s best to cook it one day and eat it the next day, as this deepens the flavour. It looks good with a couple of basil leaves on top – see photo below – and tastes wonderful – add some freshly grated parmesan to enhance the flavour further.

Minestrone soup

Minestrone soup

Out on my trusty Forme Longcliffe the other day, I listened (safely i.e. I could hear traffic at a distance behind me) to Start the Week which included a range of guests, but the most intriguing for me was the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind, Yuval Noah Harari.  The author tells us that there were many species of what we call human but only homo sapiens survived, mainly due to this species’ cognitive abilities. Harari argues that our society has developed through storytelling and myth and that many of the things that people believe in e.g. money, are in fact based on shared myths. Money works because we trust each other and believe for example that a £20 note (worthless in itself) can justifiably buy us 2 bottles of Rioja. He also argued that many of the revolutions that have been seen as hugely progressive – e.g. the agricultural and industrial revolutions – were, for most people, regressive as they lost previous freedoms which they enjoyed in small communities, as they were forced to join large communities (in towns and later cities) and become subservient. Harari is often controversial and many people may find some of his arguments overly simplistic, but he raises many interesting questions in his book.

In my garden, the honeysuckle is now showing its vibrant array of colours and shapes. As the photos below show, a close up look at honeysuckle flowers could be mistaken for underwater sea plants, with their display of tentacles, or something from science fiction, e.g. other world creatures landing on earth, having a look at the strange and very unsophisticated humans – and having a real good laugh.

Honeysuckle flowers

Honeysuckle flowers

Honeysuckle flowers

Honeysuckle flowers

Glass bluebell, Town House wedding and early summer evening

May 26, 2015

In my poetry calendar a while ago – To Capture Endymion – a poem by Christopher North, begins “That bluebell -/ I would have one like it,/exactly like it, to the filigree detail/but in purest glass”. I did a search for glass bluebells and there are many for sale e.g. via Amazon but I struggled to find anything which was very impressive. The bluebells around East Lothian are just beginning to fade but they are an inspiring sight when seen in the woodlands e.g. in Woodhall Dean. The following photographs were taken near Hedderwick Farm, about 3.5 miles from Dunbar.

Bluebells at Hedderwick

Bluebells at Hedderwick

Bluebells at Hedderwick

Bluebells at Hedderwick

Bluebells at Hedderwick

Bluebells at Hedderwick

On Saturday, we were at our friends’ wedding in Dunbar’s Town House, a 16th century building, described in Canmore –  “Dunbar Town House is oblong on plan and has two storeys and a dormered attic; a semi-hexagonal stair-tower capped by a slated piend roof and then a lead-covered, oval-vented spire projects from the W wall”. The wedding ceremony took place in the Council Chambers where the old town council used to meet. It is a large room with photos of the Provosts of Dunbar around the walls. The bride and groom are both members of Dunbar Running Club and at the reception – in the excellent Open Arms in Direlton (good photos) – each table had a flag with the name of a marathon which had been completed by the bride and/or groom. This was a wedding of a mature couple and while this was not their first kick at the baw, it was still a joyous occasion.
It’s almost summer here in Scotland and the temperatures are slowly creeping up. The most important change to our lives is the lengthening days and it’s now still light at 10pm. Last night was the first time I’ve grabbed my camera, gone our the back door, and photographed the sky with the multi-shaped clouds. As ever, you are invited to identify what you associate with the shapes in the sky in these photographs. My ideas are in the captions.

Rock shapes and cloud shapes

Rock shapes and cloud shapes

Sky waves

Sky waves

Whales in the sky

Whales in the sky

Professor Keith Smyth and blossoming Inverness

May 16, 2015

A step back into the past for me and a huge step forward for one of my former undergraduate and postgraduate students this week. I was invited to the inaugural lecture of Professor Keith Smyth at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness and was more than happy to accept. I first met Keith as a raw 18 year old who joined the first year of the BA(Hons) Information Management at what is now Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. I was the head of department and also taught on the course. Like myself, Keith was a late developer and someone who did much better at university than at school. At the end of his fourth year, Keith was top of his class with a first class honours degree. My then colleague Kathy Buckner (also at the lecture) persuaded Keith to do a PhD, with Kathy as principal supervisor and me as second supervisor, and he gained his doctorate 4 years later , having also done teaching for the department in the final year. He then went on to Edinburgh Napier University as lecturer and then senior lecturer, before getting the professorial post last year. So, my boy done good. Keith was kind enough to identify a PhD meeting with Kathy and me as a pivotal moment – we told him in no uncertain terms that he must stop revising chapters (a common fault amongst PhD students) and get it finished ASAP – and he did. He is professor of pedagogy, which is often defined as referring only to teaching, but which Keith argued was about learning and teaching, and he will lead the university strategy on developing a range of teaching methods, including face to face, online, open and blended learning. HIs lecture was thought provoking and entertaining and raised many questions about who has access to learning and what spaces – physical and digital – are made available to everyone who is willing to learn, in a formal or informal manner. Keith has given me permission to use the photo below.

Professor Keith Smyth

Professor Keith Smyth

The lecture gave me an opportunity to go to the highland city of Inverness (good photos) which I haven’t visited for years. It’s an interesting train journey from Edinburgh, going through Perth, Dunkeld and Aviemore (more good photos). In Inverness, I stayed at the excellent Sandwood B&B – 4* hotel quality at B&B prices. Inverness is a city as it has a cathedral but it really a fair sized town. It is dissected by the fast flowing River Ness and there’s a very pleasant walk along the river on both sides.

River Ness, Inverness

River Ness, Inverness

On the bank of the river is the cathedral a huge stone structure encasing an interior of vaulted ceilings and delicate wood carving. On the day of my visit, there was a strongish wind which was blowing the blossom of the trees next to the cathedral and forming a confetti like carpet. The photos show the entrance to the cathedral, the confetti carpet and a view of the cathedral from Inverness Castle, and a view of the castle from the river

Inverness Cathedral

Inverness Cathedral

Blossom carpet at Inverness Museum

Blossom carpet at Inverness Museum

Inverness Cathedral seen from the castle

Inverness Cathedral seen from the castle

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle

My stay was brief, but Inverness is certainly worth a visit and there are many places  of interest, both historic and scenic, to the north, west and south of the city. Put it on your list.

Luke Rendell on whales and the colours of tulips

May 9, 2015

As part of my local history research on my home town of Dunbar in the early 1950s, I’ve interviewed local people on a range of topics including the stranding of 147 whales at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar in May 1950. I’m writing a short local history book on this event and it will examine the press coverage (which greatly exaggerated the number of people who saw the whales), as well as an analysis of the interviews, covering how people got to Thorntonloch,their description of the scene on the beach, how people behaved and their feelings about what they saw, the social aspects of the event i.e. what it tells us about society in 1950, and an examination of why the whales stranded. This week, I interviewed Dr Luke Rendell for the last chapter of my book. He is an expert on whales and dolphins and is the joint author (with Hal Whitehead) of a fascinating new book, cover below, entitled The Cultural Life of Whales and Dolphins, described in a Guardian review as “provocative, brilliant”. Luke Rendell told me that there was no definitive theory of why pilot whales strand in such large numbers, but that it definitely had to do with the social structure of the whale communities. The authors argue that there is a strong culture within groups of whales and dolphins and that these animals (from the Guardian review) “observe rituals of the dead and exhibit grief”. You can hear Luke talking about whales and dolphins (cetaceans) on Start the Week or download the podcast from April 21st 2015.

Whitehead and Rendell book

Whitehead and Rendell book

Another Radio 4 programme caught my ear this week. Word of Mouth which is presented by the children’s author Michael Rosen (poems, articles and performances on this site). This week, the discussion was on the names that people have given to colours over the centuries. Rosen and his guests discussed how, for example, what we now call pink did not always have the same meaning and that, in some languages, there are no words for certain colours such as blue. You can listen to the podcast of the programme and think about what names you allocate to certain colours and how some colours are not defined e.g. mauve. Interestingly, Michael Rosen and his guest pronounce mauve as “mowve” (as in to row a boat), which I would pronounce it “mawve” (as in raw). After listening to this I was out in the garden taking photos of my tulips of which I have this year a “rampant array” (Richard Ford). The photos below show the vibrant colours of the tulips and their abstract appearance when shot in close up. Tulips were originally grown wild in Turkey and came to Europe in the 17th century. The lack of strong winds this spring has helped to make the tulips last longer and the colours – reds, pinks, yellows and purples i.e. different shades of each colour, are a joy to look at. Enjoy the following:

Pink tulip beginning to break up

Pink tulip beginning to break up

Red tulip with yellow heart

Red tulip with yellow heart

Tulip head as abstract

Tulip head as abstract

Pot of tulips in front of my stone wall

Pot of tulips in front of my stone wall

Richard Ford novel and along the Tyne in Haddington

May 1, 2015

Richard Ford, originally from Mississippi, is one of my all time favourite writers. I have bought many of his novels and short story collections in hardback over the years, as soon as they’ve been published. His novels include The Sportswriter, Independence Day and his latest work -which I’ve just finished – Let Me Be Frank With You. All of these novels feature Frank Bascombe, a former sports journalist himself and also a former realtor, the US name for someone who sells houses. Bascombe is a well meaning character who often frustrates himself and others around him, particularly his family with his attempts to mean well. The new novel is 4 interlinked stories of Frank’s ( after reading the novels, you think you know him and how you’d call him Frank if you met him) experiences and thoughts while meeting people in a nearby area, in the north eastern seaboard of the USA, which has suffered hurricane devastation. The new novel is very well written, as all of Ford’s novel are, and he produces phrases and sentences that you could not think of any other novelist writing. US troopers have “their tiny lethal riflery strapped to their chests”. The aftermath of the hurricane is described “.. as if a giant had strode out of the sea and kicked the shit out of everything”. Frank can be devastatingly sarcastic about people for whom he has no respect and he does not spare pretentious people from any walk of life, race or political or religious persuasion. In this novel, he reflects on a person with right wing views – “He’s also a personhood nutcase who wants the unborn to have a vote, hold driver’s licences and own hand guns so they can rise up and protect him from the revolution”. Ford is also a writer of precision – “Forsythia was past its rampant array”. That last phrase will come to mind now every time you see groups of flowers in bloom. For me this novel is too brief – 238 pages in fairly large print and at times, Ford tries to be too funny. I would have liked to have seen more about the characters whom Frank meets, is related to, and lives with. Now this may just be a fan of Ford’s whose expectations of a new Richard Ford novel could be too elevated. The reviews of Let Me Be Frank With You were universally excellent – try it for yourself and I guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Let me be Frank with you

Let me be Frank with you

The town of Haddington (good photos) is 11 miles (18K) from Dunbar. It is a historic town and is known as the birthplace of the religious reformer John Knox and Samuel Smiles, the author of Self Help in 1859. Many books on this topic are still being published today but Smiles is seen as the originator of the term. We had a walk along the River Tyne which flows through part of the town on a pleasant Spring day. Our walk included going over a refurbished bridge frequented by cyclists and walkers. The sun was behind me as I took the photo below and I liked the combination of the white criss-cross of the bridge and the black criss-cross of the shadows.

Haddington Bridge

Haddington Bridge

We continued our walk eastwards and enjoyed the reflections in the water of the trees along the bank (1st photo below) and particularly of the willows – in their new green attire – near the houses (2nd photo). The serene calm of the water enhanced the walk.

River Tyne reflections

River Tyne reflections

Willows on the River Tyne

Willows on the River Tyne

At the end of this part of the walk, stands St Mary’s Church originally built in the 14th century. It is a magnificent building and you have to admire the quality of the stonework on the face of the church. Inside it is cavernous with very high ceilings and ornate woodwork. This is a building that can be admired by both the secular and religious, and it must have seemed to the 14th century peasants working the land around the town that a monumental edifice was being built, which would dominate the town and the surrounding countryside. The photo shows the front of the church and takes in some of the large gravestones erected for wealthy (and therefore seen as more important) locals, as well as some well manicured topiary.

St Mary's Haddington

St Mary’s Haddington

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


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