Community bakery and Dunbar High Street

April 24, 2016

This week’s blog is very parochial and does not stray beyond my home town of Dunbar. I’ve mentioned our local Community Bakery before on the blog but yesterday I thought I’d go in, take a few photos and write a bit more about it. The bakery was opened a few years ago after an enthusiastic committee received a number of grants to set up a new baker’s shop. The grants were added to by local people buying a share in the bakery. The philosophy of the bakery is to be a profitable business but to reinvest profits into the bakery itself, as well as trying to give jobs to young people who are unemployed. The bakery is thus owned by the local community, as the sign shows:

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Dunbar Community Bakery sign above the entrance to the shop

The produce is of a very high standard with none of the mass-produced bread available in supermarkets. We buy the 70% wholemeal bread which is tasty and wholesome, as well as the softer, but equally tasty oats and buttermilk loaf, which goes very well with homemade soup. There’s a range of specialist cakes also, as well as rolls, ciabatta, pies and quiche. Here’s what the inside of this very friendly, efficient and welcoming bakery looks like.

 

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Cakes and loaves at Dunbar Community Bakery

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Oats and buttermilk loaves for sale in Dunbar Community Bakery

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Dunbar Community Bakery shop window

Dunbar has a long history  with the remains of a house dating back to 8300 BCE having been discovered just outside the town. It has an impressive High Street which is said to have been wide enough for a regiment of soldiers to march along. In rural Australia, many towns have wide high streets but these were built to take large flocks of sheep not soldiers. Coolamon is a very good example of this. The high street in Dunbar is dominated by the Town House which was built in the late 16th century. It has the oldest council chamber in Scotland. Part of the building was originally a jail which over the centuries was reputed to house local drunks, debtors and people accused of witchcraft. It’s an impressive sight as shown below.

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Dunbar Town House

Outside the Town House is a statue of a young John Muir, arguably Dunbar’s most famous son. John Muir was a famous conservationist who went to the USA from Dunbar when he was 14 years old. He is probably most famous as being the founder of Yosemite National Park in California. He was “discovered” in Dunbar in the 1970s and there is now a John Muir House in the town. Much has been written about Muir’s achievements. Some of this is openly hagiographical and, from this local historian’s perspective, there is a lack of critical analysis in relation to John Muir, outstanding as his achievements clearly were. The statue is shown below.

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Statue of the young John Muir in Dunbar High Street

 

The Creel Restaurant and Olhamstocks walk

April 18, 2016

We are lucky here in Dunbar (good photos) with a population of between 8ooo and 9ooo  to have a range of good local restaurants. While The Rocks has a fine reputation for excellent service and very good food, The Creel is the pick of the restaurants. The Creel is a small restaurant owned and run by award winning chef Logan Thorburn. We have visited The Creel many times with family and friends and have never had a bad meal. I contacted Logan who kindly answered my two questions and sent me the photos below. I firstly asked Logan ” What is your approach to cooking the meals you serve in the restaurant?”. His answer was “Great simple combinations using the very best of local produce that is available – season dependent – and all prepared in a true  modern-rustic artisan style”. The second question was “As a restaurant owner, what is your philosophy of service to your customers?”. The answer was ” We strive to offer relaxed, efficient and unobtrusive service that meets our customers needs and also matches our pricing bracket. We do try our very best although staffing a small restaurant in a small rural community can sometimes be a challenge”. If asked why I would recommend The Creel to locals and visitors alike, I would reply that the meals are of a  very high standard, cooked to order and with a depth of flavour often missing from other restaurants. For example, Logan’s fish and shellfish soup, served hot in a generous bowl with his own bread is as good as any bouillabaisse I’ve had in France. The two photos below show Logan’s extensive tapas dishes, including  Griddled Pork Loin with Green Peppers and Spanish Onions; Moroccan, Aubergine and Courgette Tagine,  Steamed Local Partan Crab Claws;  Classic Chic Pea Hummus; and Slow Rioja Braised Chorizo Sausage and Fennel Casserole. We haven’t tried this but it looks very enticing. The 2nd photos is  Steamed Clams with Garlic and Parsley Butter and served with Homemade Farmhouse Loaf. The Creel is a must visit restaurant if you are in the Dunbar area.

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The Creel’s tapas dishes

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The Creel’s clam dish

We stopped for a walk at the bonnie wee village of Oldhamstocks (good photos). This is a place with a long history. Olhamstocks (pr Old HAM stocks) is set in a valley between steep hills, one of which is a testing climb on the bike and the other is a steep, grassy slope where sheep graze. It is up the latter hill that runners strive when doing the annual hill run as part of the well-known Flower Show. There are many substantial stone buildings in the village and the one below had a grand display of daffodils on display.

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Impressive stone house in Oldhamstocks

We walked along to the local church where there is a very interesting historic graveyard.  The gravestone that caught my eye was that of Philip Orkney who died aged 86 – a very long time to live in the 19th century – in November 1875. Next to his name is the word feuer. When I looked this up, I had to search beyond the German word feuer meaning fire. In this context, a feuer is one who pays a feu or rent. So Mr Orkney had “a perpetual lease granted at full rent giving the feuer a continuing right of occupancy and the granter an ongoing rental”. This probably put him in a higher status than other people who paid rent but had no life-time guarantee of occupation. The graveyard is set in an idyllic spot with the countryside in full view.

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Gravestone in Oldhamstocks churchyard

Neil Foster photography and the Anthropocene age

April 10, 2016

One of the most common clichés of today is that “It’s a small world”. This week, I was alerted to the wildlife photographer Neil Foster by my brother in law Jim who lives in Tauranga in the north island of New Zealand. I looked at Neil Foster’s website and greatly admired the quality of the photos, particularly of the birds. I was admiring the 2nd photo below of the banded rail among some vegetation and how the photographer has cleverly caught the fact that the bird’s legs mimic the shape and colour of some of the plants around it, and then I got another email. This one told me that the photo of the band rail was taken just near my sister and brother in law’s house which looks on to Bay Street Reserve in Tauranga. We have visited there many times and it’s a beautiful place. The bay is tidal, so when the tide goes out, you can walk across the sand. One of the features of the bay is that sting rays often visit and when the tide goes out, you can see where the rays have landed on the sand and created mini craters. It’s a very unusual feature of the landscape. The first photo below is looking across Bay Street Reserve back to my sister’s and BiL’s house.

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Bay Street Reserve Tauaranga NZ

Back to Neil Foster’s photos. Wildlife photographers must be among the most patient people in the world and Neil has been spotted in a hide on the reserve, trying to get the right shot. My BiL overheard a conversation between 2 locals who were speculating about the possibility that the hide might in fact be the abode of a homeless person! The photos on the website show a remarkable variety of birds from various angles and in various poses and Neil kindly sent me two of the images for my blog. The photo of the band rail below is noticeable for its clarity – you can see the alertness in the bird’s eye and how its beak might be poised to strike. The balance of colour and light is also admirable – the pink beak shown off by the whitish underside of the bird.

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Band rail at Bay Street Reserve Taurangu

The next photo is of a dabchick (aka New Zealand Grebe) and baby bird. This is an action photo. The adult dabchick may be opening its wings to protect the young bird, or it may be cleaning itself or it may be showing the chick what s/he might be able to do in the future. Whereas the rail bird is looking for action i.e. in the form of food, the dabchick is the action. Another superbly clear photo, showing the concentration on the part of both birds.

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In last week’s Guardian Review, there was a thought-provoking and terminologically challenging article by Robert MacFarlane. In this article, MacFarlane argues that we are no living in the Anthropocene age, which is “the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record”. For the first time, the author suggests, it is human beings who define the age i.e. not as in the past where rock strata or dinosaurs were the significant feature and it is the implications of this human impact that MacFarlane wishes to examine. The author is involved in an attempt to establish a glossary for this new age and he states that the Bureau of Linguistical Reality (which sounds like something our of a science fiction novel) was founded “for the purpose of collecting, translating and creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene”. He cites common words such as petroleum and ice-melt but also new words such as stieg, apex-guilt and shadowtime, only explaining the last term. MacFarlane discusses how art and literature have tackled the issues relating to the Anthropocene age but implies that it is difficult to encompass the whole age e.g. in a novel. There are many critics of the term Anthropocene and some object to the arrogance of the term i.e. it implies that humans are super-beings that can affect the universe, while others criticise the generality i.e. all of us are not leading irresponsible lives which produces climate change. Others see the term driven by technology and capitalism, suggesting that the authors of the term see only a technological fix to world problems. This is a provocative and challenging article but it will certainly make you think.

Hospital, haws and spring flowers

April 2, 2016

A delay in the posting of this blog as I’ve been in hospital for the past week after a bizarre accident. I tripped and fell down the steep slope of our back garden while bringing in the washing and toppled over the 1.5m wall at the bottom of the garden. I broke 10 ribs and punctured a lung. I was rescued by golfers leaving the nearby golf course and some neighbours and taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where I was treated by world class staff in the High Dependency unit and the Cardiothoracic ward. The attention and care given to me were truly outstanding and a real credit to the often criticised National Health Service. It’s a strange experience being in hospital as (in my case) you are taken there and transported into a totally different environment. Suddenly, your world shrinks to a hospital ward and you are severely restricted in your movements. You lose your privacy, your ability to make decisions (mostly) and cook for yourself. You spend your day in your pyjamas and slippers but it all seems natural, as your key concern is to lessen the pain. So, a few weeks to fully recover and get back on my bike again. I’ll get there.

Before the trauma, we drove up to the village of Stenton to take photos of the hawthorn trees which are just coming into flower. The hawthorn tree is very common in the UK but it at its most spectacular when the blossom arrives in the spring. Around here, the trees are referred to as haws although strictly speaking, this refers to the berries which appear later in the year. Siegfried Sassoon refers to the tree in his poem The Hawthorn Tree and writes “I know my lad that’s out in France/ With fearsome things to see /Would give his eyes for just one glance/At our white hawthorn tree”. The photos below show the lane in Stenton where there are numerous hawthorn trees and also a close up of the blossom.

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The haws at Stenton

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The haws at Stenton

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Hawthorn blossom

My garden has come into full spring colour again with a lovely spread of yellow daffodils but these are outshone by the polyanthus and primroses. These two plants look very similar but there are differences, outlined in this article. The following photos are of polyanthus although I think that the second one could be a primrose. On my bookshelf is  Alice Oswald’s wonderful book Weeds and Wildflowers which has exquisite greyscale etchings by Jessica Greenman.The poem Primrose begins “First of April – new born gentle./Fleeting wakeful on a greenleaf cradle./Second of April – eyes half open,/faint light moving under the lids. Face hidden./Third of April – bonny and blossoming/in a yellow dress that needs no fastening”. I’m writing this on 1st April, so a nice coincidence. You might look at the third photo differently now.

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Polyanthus in my garden

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Primrose/polyanthus in my garden

 

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Polyanthus in my garden

 

 

Parma ham dishes and East Lothian Life

March 21, 2016

We bought some Parma ham which is defined in the OED as “A strongly flavoured Italian cured ham, eaten uncooked and thinly sliced”. Parma ham can only be reared from pigs in selected farms around the city of Parma. There are numerous recipes available which used Parma ham and I’ve followed some of them to an extent and then added my own variations. The first dish was chicken fillet with Parma ham and I used the Jamie Oliver recipe as the basis for my dish. There is a video version of this but it’s 7+ minutes long and I’d rather just read a recipe. One key difference between this recipe and others using Parma ham is that you do NOT wrap your chicken in the Parma ham – I find that it won’t crispen up under the chicken. Instead, you lay the ham on top of the chicken breast and pound it with a rolling-pin to flatten it out. Mr Oliver uses parmesan cheese and thyme leaves. My own version goes like this. Lay your chicken breasts on a chopping board and gently score the top of the breast. Cover the top with grated parmesan cheese and then add 2 heaped teaspoons of crème fraiche on each one. Add one teaspoonful of wholegrain mustard to the crème fraiche – or mix both ingredients together in a bowl and then add them. I then lay two slices of Parma Ham on each chicken breast, cover them with cling film and bash them flat. I brush an enamel dish with olive oil and lay the chicken in, adding cherry tomatoes in some balsamic vinegar. Into the oven at 180 degrees for no longer than 25 minutes. If you cook them for longer, the chicken will dry out.

The second dish is cod with Parma ham and again, I laid the ham over the fish, after adding the parmesan cheese, crème fraiche and mustard ( half a teaspoon this time). Obviously, you don’t bash your cod. Cook the fish with the tomatoes for no longer than 15 minutes – or again it will dry out. I served both dishes with a packet of Ainsley Harriet’s cous-cous (yes, yes, I should make my own) on to which I added grill-panned peppers, with green beans as well. A bit too much on the plate for some tastes I would think – see below and judge for yourself – but we enjoyed it.

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Cod with Parma ham – straight from the oven

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Cod with Parma ham, cous cous, peppers, cherry tomatoes and green beans

When I retired, I promised myself that I’d continue writing. I write a full page in my diary each day and this weekly blog. I’ve also been writing up my local history research. The other writing I intended to do was of a more journalistic nature and – aye, it’s taken quite a while – but this week, I had an article published in a local journal East Lothian Life (my home town of Dunbar is in the county of East Lothian) which contains an eclectic mix of articles on local housing, farming, gardening, cooking and history. My article was about Dunbar Harbour and it is to be published in two parts. The article is my personal reflection on the harbour and while it contains aspects of history and nature, it also has my own images – and my interpretation of these images. For example, I always notice the still manual nature of the work done by the fishermen and this has changed little in hundreds of years. While the boats themselves have modern equipment such as radar, when a boat brings in a load of prawns, the shellfish are sorted by hand in the boat. The initial article looks at Dunbar Castle (good photos), the fishing boats and the kittiwakes, which have just arrived back on to the castle walls. I know I might say this and I would certainly have said it whether I had an article in the magazine or not, East Lothian Life is a very well written and extremely well produced journal which is enjoyed not only by local people but by many people who have emigrated (e.g. to New Zealand). The editor and publisher Pauline Jaffray makes a great contribution to the county in keeping this quarterly magazine going and maintaining such a high standard. Two photos similar to those in the article are shown below.

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Kittiwake chick on Dunbar Castle walls

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Fishing boats in Dunbar Harbour

Jane Smith exhibition and a different look at Coldingham Beach

March 12, 2016

The new exhibition at Waterston House, the home of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club is by wildlife artist Jane Smith. We visited this very impressive exhibition and could see why Jane Smith is an award-winning artist. I got in contact with Jane Smith and she kindly gave me permission to download 2 examples of her work, which are shown below. What impressed me most about this exhibition – mainly of screen prints – were the shapes, of both the birds and the background, and in some cases, the shapes of the birds’ wings are replicated in the background sea and hills. So there is an abstract quality to some of the works on display, while in others, there is a fairly true representation of the bird but with melodious lines and curves both on the bird and in the water behind. This is shown vividly in  The Great Northern Diver, shown below.

Jane Smith Great Northern Diver

The Great Northern Diver by Jane Smith

In her prize winning portrait of diving gannets – Fishing Frenzy – shown below, there is a dramatic representation of the gannets entering water, with their bodies narrowing, and their concentrated focus on the fish. Again, the shapes – and this time, the colours, stand out. If you can get to this exhibition, it’s a must see. You can also see Jane Smith’s book Wild Island in which the author writes about a year in Oronsay and accompanies her fascinating text with a variety of paintings and prints.

Jane Smith Fishing Frenzy

Fishing Frenzy by Jane Smith

We haven’t ventured down to St Abbs Head and Coldingham Beach for a good while, so last Sunday – a clear, bright but cold day – we parked at the Nature Centre and walked down to the harbour and along to Coldingham Beach. I’ve posted photos of this beach and its surrounds on this blog before but this time, I pointed my camera in different directions. From the harbour, I took a photo of Northfield House which sits proudly on the headland. In the 19th century, the house was bought by an Edinburgh brewer and has recently been refurbished.

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Northfield House St Abbs Head

Going along the coastal path to Coldingham Beach, I looked back over the harbour, the centrepiece of which is the now defunct Lifeboat Station, which closed last year, despite a determined campaign by locals. The sea was quite rough and, perhaps with my knowledge of its closure, I thought that the Station looked forlorn.

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Looking back on the Lifeboat Station at St Abbs Head

On to the beach itself and there have been some dramatic changes over the years to the west side of the beach. Firstly, a large and impressive new house The Pavilion has been built on derelict land. Secondly, to the left of that house, the garden of the Dunlaverock House has been beautifully developed. Thirdly, there has been a dramatic transformation in the quality of the beach huts at Coldingham Sands. All three changes are in the photos below.

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Beach huts, The Pavilion and Dunlaverock House at Coldingham Sands

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Beach huts, The Pavilion and Dunlaverock House garden at Coldingham Sands

As there was a big swell on the sea, the surfers were out in force and I counted 12 of them, some of whom were standing on their boards and gliding effortlessly towards the shore. There’s a video of Coldingham surfing here.

Winter cycling and broccoli and Stilton soup

March 5, 2016

It occurred to me the other day that I had not mentioned cycling for quite a while on this blog. In the winter, while the mileage goes down, the regular bike rides on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday still take place. Winter cycling is obviously very similar to summer cycling insofar as I go on similar routes, but there are differences. The first difference is in clothing. In the summer, I put on my cycling top, shorts and shoes and off I go. In the winter, I have 3 thicker, but breathable tops and my winter jacket. I also have a skullcap to protect my ears and a snood for my neck. This means that it takes me longer just to get going. It also means that you have extra weight on the bike AND because it’s so cold, you use up much more energy, so you need to extend more effort to go the same distance as in the summer. My pals and I also go on our mountain bikes more in the winter and it’s very enjoyable, as you get off the road and face the challenges of rocky tracks, mud and ice at times. One of our routes when there’s an east wind is out past the Whitesands beach and on to Barns Ness Lighthouse.(good photos). On our last ride there, the track next to the beach was flooded, so we cycled along the beach itself. It’s OK on hard sand but you have to get off now and then when you hit soft sand or slippery rocks.

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Whitesands Beach near Dunbar

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Barns Ness Lighthouse

On Saturday, I went through part of the Dunglass Estate and on towards the village of Oldhamstocks. This is a good cycling route for mountain bikes (good photos). At one point, I was at the top of a hill, going along tractor tracks in a grassy field and I approached a flock of sheep about 50 yards from me. They stared intently, then one or two stirred and as I got nearer, as one they ran about 20 yards down the hill, turned and stared at me again. What came to my mind was the sheep in Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy’s wonderful novel and also a well known film from the 1960s (video trailer) and more recently. Did my sheep wonder why Gabriel Oak from the novel was on a bike? It was a beautiful morning, with the  sun coming through the clouds and in the next field below, a tractor was ploughing, followed by a flock of feasting seagulls. This reminds me that I must buy a video camera for my bike – I’ve been meaning to do this for years.

To misquote an old adage, of the making of soup there is no end. I thought I’d try something different this week and it was the leftover broccoli in the fridge that reminded me that I’d never made broccoli and Stilton soup, something I’ve enjoyed in restaurants over the years. So, on to a well-known search engine and after a browse of different recipes, I settled on the BBC Good Food recipe as it had a variety of ingredients and was healthier than others e.g. the ones suggesting double cream. It’s easy to make. I sweated a finely chopped large onion, a celery stick and a medium sized leek and added a teaspoonful dried mixed herbs, then added a chopped (and soaked) large potato. I stirred this around for a minute and then added 2 heads of roughly chopped broccoli. I added a litre of stock – ham stock cubes for me but you choose your stock – and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, until the potato was soft. I then mashed it down with my potato masher and used my hand held blender to make it smooth. The recipe suggests 140g of Stilton cheese but when I measured this out, it was too much cheese. I added 85g of the cheese and this turned out to be to our satisfaction as the cheese does not over power the broccoli flavour. We had the soup today with a lovely loaf from Bostock Bakery in North Berwick.

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Bostock Bakery loaf

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Broccoli and Stilton soup with fresh bread

While the soup looks (and was) very tasty, any good chef would have told me to properly clean the plate before serving.

 

Tracey Herd poems, crocus show and shiny sea

February 27, 2016

Last week, the new Poetry Book Society padded envelope came through the letter box, with the new Choice inside. I didn’t (and haven’t) opened it as I still hadn’t started the previous one, Tracey Herd’s Not in this World. I heard Ms Herd speak at the Royal Festival Hall in January – see previous post – at the T S Eliot Prize readings. Herd has some arresting images in her work which is often quite dark, not to say menacing. In the first poem What I Wanted “There was a muffled/ silence each night when/ darkness married with snow”. In the 3rd poem Little Sister, the younger sibling of the narrator from America’s Midwest is killed “in a moonlit road accident”. The final 2 lines are hauntingly ambiguous “She was pushed in front of a car./ I pray to God for my own salvation”. In The Living Library, a woman’s bookshelves are filled with crime novels and the books are “sitting/ well-mannered on the shelf,/ pushed in tight to keep/ their suave murderers inside/ their victims’ choked cries unheard”. I’m only at p20 of 73 pages, so I’ll come back to Ms Herd.

 

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Tracey Herd Not in this World

Last month it was snowdrops, so this month it must be crocuses. There is some debate about whether it should be crocuses or croci as the plural of crocus, but as that word is mainly thought to be originally from the Greek then, as my Latin teacher Mr Jack Milne would have said, it can’t be croci. Around Dunbar over the past few years, there has been a welcome upsurge in the planting of spring flowers by the local council and, just up the road from me at Spott Road, there has been a sudden growth of bright yellow on the grass next to the pavement. The crocus flavus – to give it its Sunday name – originated in Greece and Turkey and the ancient Greeks saw it as a bringer of cheerfulness and joy in the late winter – it is thought, although I’m never too sure about the veracity of some websites on this. Emily Dickinson’s poem LXXXIV starts with “The feet of people walking home/ With gayer sandals go-/ The Crocus-till she rises/ The Vassal of the snow”. An interesting take on the crocus being a vassal as this was a feudal tenant who was granted land by a nobleman in return for loyalty and perhaps military service. Even although the crocus is in the earth, Dickinson sees the snow as its master – until of course, she rises.

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Crocuses at Spott Road Dunbar

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Crocuses at Spott Road Dunbar

Having taken photos of the crocuses, I walked back down Golf House Road, near my house, to the beach. You could hear the waves before you saw them – an incessant, unstoppable  thundering. When I got to the promenade, the late afternoon sun was shining on the waves a bit out to sea and there was a superb light on the waves. This is very hard to capture i.e. with my limited photographic skills, but I tried. Hart Crane in his poem Voyages writes “The sun beats lightning on the waves,/ The waves fold thunder on the sand” and this beautifully describes what I was watching. I met my friend John who was coming along the prom and he said “Look at this! How lucky are we to have this on our doorstep?”. Very lucky indeed.

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Sun on the waves

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Rocks and the incoming sun-kissed tide

Snowdrops at Pitcox and trip to Aberdeen

February 18, 2016

It’s February again, so my annual trip to Pitcox House to photograph the snowdrops and aconites. Pitcox is a hamlet about 4 miles from Dunbar and is on one my regular cycling routes. The big house (aka big hoose) is a feature of farms in Scotland and is the place were the (usually wealthy) farmer’s family would live. In contrast, the workers’ houses would be much smaller but this would depend on status. Across the road from the big hoose in Pitcox is the Grieve’s Cottage and opposite is the Gardener’s Cottage. The grieve was the farm manager or farmer’s right hand man and was the chief employee. The origin of this meaning of grieve has nothing to do with sorrow but is from the Old English graefa reeve. A reeve was an officer or King’s representative in a locality in medieval England, so graefa reeve was presumably a senior officer. If you know different, let me know.

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Pitcox House

The snowdrops are in profusion here. As I’ve noted before in this blog, lovers of snowdrops are called galanthopiles and, as the highlighted site shows, it is a very serious and often very expensive hobby. On the literature front, my favourite snowdrop poem is by Alice Oswald, and it’s simply called Snowdrop. The full poem can be found here – I hope this blogger asked for permission. Oswald sees the snowdrop as a sad girl and “One among several hundred clear-eyed ghosts/ who get up in the cold” but although the girl may be grieving (that word again!) she is “a mighty power of patience”.

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Snowdrops at Pitcox House

The other splash of colour – this time yellow – in the garden at Pitcox House comes from the aconites. These perennial plants are lovely to look at but most species are poisonous and shouldn’t be handled. They look like large buttercups and provide a nice contrast with the dazzling white of the snowdrops.

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Aconite at Pitcox House

At the weekend, we travelled north to the city of Aberdeen (good photos) for a wedding reception on Saturday but we made a weekend of it, driving up on Friday. We used to live in Aberdeenshire in the bonnie village of Kemnay and I taught at The Robert Gordon University in the 1980s. On Friday evening, we went to an old haunt, Poldino’s Italian restaurant in the city centre. We shared the Antipasto Vegeteriano – a very tasty ” selection of marinated and grilled vegetables, salad, olives, cheese and grissini”. I learned that grissini are breadsticks. I then had Panciotti Cappesante e Gamberi : “Scallop and prawn spherical pasta parcels through a fennel and smoked salmon sauce” which were light, with a delicate taste and an excellent sauce. My wife had Sogliola Certosina : “Fillets of lemon sole pan fried with, prawns, lemon, dill, cream and tomato”, which came as a very good sized sole fillet with a sauce that complimented, but did not overwhelm the fish. We finished by sharing a dessert – Montenero “First we drench sponge in Marsala then we add vanilla ice cream, over this we pour our own rich chocolate sauce” and this has not changed in 30 years with high quality ice cream and a delicious chocolate sauce. So, a nostalgic evening and a very enjoyable one. If you are in Aberdeen, this is a fine place to eat.

Poldino's restaurant in Aberdeen

Poldino’s restaurant in Aberdeen

On the Saturday, we were picked up by friends outside Marischal College. This magnificent building has recently been cleaned up and the granite was sparkling in the sun when we were there. When I looked up at the numerous spires, it reminded me of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, although Marischal College’s gothic design is more traditional. Outside the college is a statue of Robert the Bruce who was King of Scotland in the 14th century and the 5.6m high statue adds grandeur to the impressive college building behind.

Marischal College Aberdeen

Marischal College Aberdeen

 

Gothic spires of Marischal College

Gothic spires of Marischal College

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Marischal College Aberdeen

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Marischal College Aberdeen

After lunch, we went for a walk with our friends to the nearby Brig O’ Balgownie which in past times was the main entrance to the city. Further on, we visited the historic St Machar Cathedral, a 12th century building. The very helpful guide gave us a history of the church which was  a catholic cathedral until the Reformation in Scotland. It’s an unusual building because the walls are made of rough granite, which was gathered from the fields and this is different from usual cut granite or stone you see in other large churches. The pillars are cut granite and of a smoother appearance. Another distinctive feature is the flat, heraldic ceiling whereas you might expect a vaulted ceiling in such a building. The large organ dominates one side of the kirk where this is a different ceiling. This is another of these remarkable buildings which were erected with little available technology and often in hazardous conditions, and you have to admire the work of the stonemasons and labourers who built it.

Twin towers of St Machar Cathedral Aberdeen

Twin towers of St Machar Cathedral Aberdeen

 

Interior and heraldic ceiling in St Machar Cathedral

Interior and heraldic ceiling in St Machar Cathedral

 

The organ in St Machar Cathedral

The organ in St Machar Cathedral

Book translation and History Society talk

February 11, 2016

This is my 500th blog post! Thanks to all my followers and readers.

In the post this morning, I received a copy of the translation of my last academic book (before I retired) into Japanese. This is the 2nd book I’ve had translated into Japanese, the previous one being Teaching Information Skills in Schools. The new translation is of Improving Students’ Web Use and Information Literacy. The book is for teachers and school librarians and has been used in schools and universities in many different countries around the world. It aims to provide school staff with both theory and practical advice – with many case studies of schools – on how to ensure that their students/pupils are effective users of the Web. My own research showed that students were often poor web users i.e. they could find lots of information but struggled to find relevant information for their school work. Developing students as information literacy practitioners implies that students identify a purpose for, find, analyse and effectively use information from a range of sources. It also implies that they will reflect upon and transfer these practices.

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English version of the book

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Japanese version of the book

Yesterday evening I was the guest speaker at the Dunbar and District History Society. My current research is on my home town of Dunbar in the early 1950s and this talk was on New Housing and Entertainment. The first topic related to the building of new council houses in Dunbar from 1949-1953. I’m using oral history interviews to record people’s memories of moving to these new houses, situated in what was (and is) called the Tree Scheme, as all the streets were given names of trees e.g. I grew up in Cedar Street. The interviews revealed a phenomenon identified across the UK after the 2nd World War – overcrowding. The postwar baby boom was not accompanied by a housing boom, due to shortages of materials and men, and the poor state of the British economy. As a result, many young families stayed with their parents, usually the wife’s parents. Two of my interviewees lived in small flats with shared toilets, with the parents sleeping in the living room and two or more children in a bedroom. Another interviewee moved from a rented house with only gas light.

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Pine Street Dunbar in 1950

On the whole, young families were delighted with the new houses as they at last had a home of their own, with front and back gardens, inside toilet and bath (as opposed to outside toilet and tin bath), spacious rooms and (by 1950 standards) modern kitchens. My interviewees are mainly children and young adults who moved to these houses. When I interviewed males, the reaction was totally positive. My female interviewees expressed delight for themselves with their new homes, but noted that their mothers’ experiences were not totally positive. For women, who often had several children, the new houses did not provide a release from the drudgery of washing clothes using 2 sinks and a hand wringer and cooking for large numbers. They had much more space but no longer had their mother on hand to help with these onerous tasks. They had to spend long periods in the kitchen. One feature of these houses was that they were heated by coal fires with back boilers in the living room but the coal was not kept in an external bunker, it was stored in a large cupboard in the kitchen. The plan below is not very clear but you can see the word FUEL in the top left hand corner. As you came in the back door, there was a larder, a second storage cupboard and then what was called the coal cellar. For women, this meant that once a fortnight, when coal was delivered, the coal men came in the back door and deposited the coal and created a coal dust storm which filled the kitchen – and had to be cleaned. I asked the female section of my audience whether they thought these kitchens were designed by a man or a woman. You know the response. There was thus a gendered and a class aspect to the design of these houses. The architects – presumably middle class men – were designing kitchens for working class women, so their view of the expectations of the women were, it’s clear, much less than the women’s own expectations. Even in 1950, you would not have chosen to have a coal cellar/space in your kitchen.

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Plan of ground floor in the Tree Scheme

My second topic was entertainment and although I have recorded interviewees’ memories of listening to the wireless (later called the radio) in these pre-television days and going to local dances, I only covered their memories of the two picture houses (as they were called then) in Dunbar in 1950. The old cinema, The Empire, was a large hall built on a slope, with a narrow entrance. It had been built in the 1920s and was, according to one person ” a pretty dingy place” but it was cheaper. The local paper advertised the films and an example follows. At the talk, I played part of the YouTube trailer for the Marx Brothers film.

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Empire Cinema Dunbar advert in 1950

The newer cinema was The Playhouse, opened in 1937 and a much grander affair altogether. It held over 1000 people. One of my interviewees – now a sprightly 90 years old – told me that there was a story that the cinema designers had visited Dunbar in the summer time, when the population swelled because of the seaside visitors and based demand on this and not the normal population – thus the large cinema in a small town. The inside of the Playhouse was decorated in the art deco style shown in the photo below.

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Inside the Playhouse in Dunbar in 1950

The Playhouse was much more luxurious than the Empire, with a proper balcony section, as opposed to the rope divider in the old cinema. It also had a café. The Playhouse showed 3 lots of films in one week, plus a Saturday matinée for children, as this advert shows.

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Playhouse cinema advert 1950

I played part of the Challenge to Lassie film. It’s Lassie as you never imagined and the accents are awful. My audience enjoyed it as well as the memories of my interviewees who recalled going to the Playhouse on a regular basis. In the advert above, you will see that, at each showing, there was the Gaumont British News. This was the only way that people could see the news in 1950 as television did not come to Scotland until 1952.


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