Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Surgeons as writers and Americana by Ray Davies

May 9, 2017

The Saturday edition of The Guardian comes through the letter box and thumps on the floor, as it contains a variety of sections – the main paper, sport, review, travel, family and food. I keep the Review section  for Sunday mornings and I enjoy reading the main article, as well as the non-fiction, fiction and poetry book reviews. On Saturday, the main article was by William Boyd and entitled “A matter of life and death: The rise of the surgeon memoir”.  In the article, Boyd looks at the works of surgeons such as Atul Gawande, Henry Marsh and Gabriel Weston. Gawande’s Complications describe what Boyd calls “significant” procedures e.g. “We made a fast, deep slash down the middle of his abdomen”. Boyd quotes Gabriel (in Direct Red) “We cut the woman open from breastbone to pubis and cleared her gut out with one deep sweep.” Boyd then goes on to wonder “.. how anyone can do this as a matter of course on a near-daily basis and remain a happy, functioning human being”. The author is obviously enthralled by surgeons and notes that he happens to know four surgeons with international reputations and he elicits from one of them, Brendan Moran, what is need to become a top surgeon – a lack of squeamishness, strength, knowledge, skill and experience. It is an interesting article, with some detailed outlines of procedures that some people e.g. the squeamish, may wish to avoid, and it gives an insight into the working lives of top surgeons. I also found it a rather obsequious article in that Boyd seems to think that because these top surgeons are making life and death decisions (and they admit to making good and bad decisions), they must be on a higher plane than other professions and he finishes by referring to “the extraordinary profession they [surgeons] share and the phenomenal life they lead”. This raises the question of whether Boyd should be so amazed by the surgeon/writers. Would Boyd be so in awe of top researchers who have made major discoveries in science, medicine, history, psychology or chemistry i.e. people who have no physical contact with others? I think not and perhaps society as a whole has tended to treat people in the  medical profession (mainly doctors) as being cleverer than the rest of us. A surgeon has great responsibility but so has a bus driver or train driver or airline pilot. Read the article and see what you think.

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Direct Red by Gabriel Weston

I don’t buy much music these days but, having heard Ray Davies’ new album on Spotify, I bought it today.

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Americana by Ray Davies

Ray Davies has always been more than just a writer of pop songs. In his days with The Kinks, Davies wrote songs with a socially cutting edge e.g. Dead End Street (YouTube link) – “Out of work and got no money/ Sunday joint of bread and honey” or Lola  (YouTube link) about a young boy meeting a transvestite in a club. The new album also has a cutting edge and is based on Davies’ time in America – with The Kinks in the 1960s and 1970s, but also on more recent visits. The recurrent theme in the album is The Great Highway, both in the physical sense of travelling on the roads in the USA, but also life as a journey. There are many intriguing tracks on the album and almost all demonstrate Davies’ critical look at modern society, particularly in the USA, but also globally. In Poetry, he sings ” .. the great corporations providing our every need/And those big neon signs telling us what to eat” but he asks “Where is the poetry?” in the blandness of shopping malls and other aspects of today’s society. In A Long Drive Home To Tarzana, he finds that “.. there’s nothing there except/that space/ Beautiful space” and this seems to be the dream, to be away from the crowded cities. Davies is accompanied by the fabulous Jayhawks band, including Karen Grotberg, who duets with Davies to great effect. If you listen to the album, you’ll hear echoes of the Beatles in some tracks and Neil Young in others. In the first track, which you can listen to here (YouTube), the first lines are “I wanna make my home/Where the buffalo roam”. In Neil Young’s Far From Home (YouTube), the chorus starts “Bury me out on the prairie/Where the buffalo used to roam”. So, a superb album of country/rock with Davies’ ironic lyrics adding to some wonderful tunes.

No blog next week, as we are off to Bordeaux for a week’s holiday.

 

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

 

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

 

 

Cooking Beef’n’Beer, RSNO Concert and tulips

February 2, 2016

We were having family over for a meal last week and we decided to cook something that has been off our menu for a few years. Beef’n’Beer i.e. beef cooked in beer is very simple but very tasty, and has the added value of a crusty bread topping. We’ve had a Le Creuset casserole dish for many years and the wee book that came with the dish has the recipe in it – now it’s online here. For my Beef’n’Beer, I used round steak instead of the beef chuck  (aka chuck steak) in the book. Round steak is much more tender and certainly takes less time to cook – it’s also much less fatty. For four of us, I bought 1.5lbs (0.68KG) of round steak. In our local butcher’s, everyone still asks for their meat in a pound, three quarters of a pound, half a pound or just “a quarter” e.g. of cold meat. I covered the steak lightly in flour and gently browned it in some Flora oil. I then added 2 medium sized shallots (I sometimes use a red onion) , a garlic clove, 2 thickly sliced carrots, 2 bay leaves, some dried thyme and rosemary (the recipe recommends fresh herbs) and some fresh parsley from my garden. After the shallots had softened, I added a bottle of real ale, in this case, a bottle of locally brewed Belhaven St Andrews Ale. I cooked this in the oven at 180 degrees Centigrade for about an hour and 15 minutes – you are always better to try it for tenderness after an hour. You can eat the dish on its own but adding the topping makes all the difference. I cut thick slices from a large baguette bought in our local community bakery (photo below) and covered the top of each slice with some Dijon  mustard  (interesting article). Two things are key here. Firstly, you need to make sure that you have enough liquid for serving the meat, as the bread will soak up some of it. Secondly, you need to squeeze the slices to maximise the number of slices – I allocated 2 slices per person. You put the dish back in the oven and in 20 minutes, the bread should be going brown at the edges. I served it with mash potatoes and broccoli but other vegetables  e.g. peas, green beans or buttered carrots would do as well. It is very tasty and …. roll of the drums... this is what it looks like.

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Beef’n’Beer cooked in a Le Creuset dish.

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Dunbar Community Bakery

I haven’t been to a classical music concert for years although every year I’ve promised myself that I will do so. Last week, I took the plunge and went to the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh which is half an hour’s drive from Dunbar, to see the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The concert started with the lively Romanian Concerto (very good video) by Ligeti, a composer unknown to me. Ligeti was a Hungarian composer who received many honours for his wide range of works. The second part was Mozart’s enchanting Bassoon Concerto in B Flat Major (video of the piece), featuring the principal bassoonist of the RSNO, David Hubbard (interesting video). It was fascinating to see how Hubbard controlled his instrument and seemed intent on getting the best out of it. The sound was melodious and you could not help but admire this man’s craft. The main event of the evening was Brahms’ Symphony No 4 (video of the whole concert with Daniel Barenboim). To this uninitiated listener, this was a melodic and joyous symphony with a combination of slower, softer sections and a crescendo of a final section. For a more detailed analysis – and a much darker view of the piece – see Tom Service’s review. So, a very enjoyable concert – the only thing missing being my camera. The photo below is included by permission of the RSNO.

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Section of the RSNO

We’re still in thick of winter in Dunbar but it’s now February and my garden is suddenly strewn with emerging heads of daffodils and a few tulip heads have also appeared. Today, with Storm Henry approaching, they are being blown about relentlessly. Inside the house, safely and serenely arranged in a vase are a bunch of multi-coloured tulips. These tulips are a welcome flash of colour, and a promise of Spring being not so far away, on an intermittently dark and windy day. Tulips have their origins in Turkey and came to Europe in the 17th century. An interesting fact from this website is that multi-coloured tulips were originally diseased but the modern versions are safe hybrids. The first photo shows the tulips in a resplendent array of contrasting colours, offset by the green of the stems. The second photo is taken from above the flowers and shows them in a completely different way, possibly bursting into song or yelling with pain at being shown at such an unflattering angle?

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A dazzling array of tulips

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Tulips from above

Sylvia Plath wrote “The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here” in a rather melancholy poem entitled Tulips. A much more joyous celebration of tulips comes from A E Stallings and she writes “The tulips make me want to paint” and “Something about the way they twist/ As if to catch the last applause” which could be an acute commentary on the 2nd photo.

 

 

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

A Word a Week Photograph Challenge: Play

February 12, 2015

Another very flexible word for this week’s challenge. for more, see Sue’s website.

No play at St Andrew's Golf Course

No play at St Andrew’s Golf Course

Culture clash as Scottish pipe band member plays the didgeridoo

Culture clash as Scottish pipe band member plays the didgeridoo

Accordionist in Florence

Accordionist in Florence

Roger Federer at Dubai tennis tournament

Roger Federer at Dubai tennis tournament

A Word a Week Photograph challenge – spray

October 9, 2014

Here are my photos from a stormy day at Dunbar Harbour. See Sue’s website for many more.

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Spray over the sea wall of Dunbar Harbour

Seal in the harbouring ignoring the spray

Seal in the harbouring ignoring the spray

Harvest time, Creole Belle and Jersey Boys film

August 23, 2014

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

Combine harvester

Combine harvester in the evening

 Combine harvester in the evening

Combine harvester in the evening

Bales in a post-harvest field

Bales in a post-harvest field

Tightly bound bale

Tightly bound bale

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

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

 

Craning day, cycle route and Ben Waters, and Bert’s Bar

April 13, 2013

This morning, I walked along to Dunbar Harbour to see the biannual craning day. In the spring, the yachts are craned into the harbour and in the autumn, they are craned out, as the high tides in winter could cause damage. Organised by Dunbar Sailing Club, craning is an elaborate process of fixing straps to the yacht, rapidly painting over the gap left by the supports, holding the yacht with ropes at either end, and steering the yacht over the harbour. Photos 1-3 below show the spectacle.

Out on my bike yesterday, for a 27 mile (44K) ride and a fairly hilly route after the first 5 miles, to Cockburnspath (pronounced Coburnspath or Co’path), up the Abbey St Bathans road, up the hill to Oldhamstocks, then another hill as you leave the hamlet, on to Innerwick and then up a big hill to The Brunt farm, then (thankfully) down Starvation Brae (Photo 4) and back home against a cold east wind. On the bike, I was listening to, amongst others, Ben Waters’ Boogie 4 Stu. Waters is a fabulous piano player in the boogie woogie style and he features heavily on the alblum. There are also tracks featuring Mick Jagger singing Bob Dylan’s Watching the river flow and the final track is Ian Stewart (to whom the album is a tribute) sings a great version of Bring it on home.

On Tuesday, my pal Roger and I had our monthly meet up and we’ve been trying out food and beer in a range of pubs in Edinburgh. We started in Teuchters for lunch and some excellent Timothy Taylor Landlord beer. Across the road is Bert’s Bar where we had the tasty April Theses. This bar has several exhibits relating to the law on the walls, as well as account books from the pub dating back to the 1940s, so it’s an unusual bar and well worth a visit, although I’d avoid days when there are rugby internationals in Edinburgh.

Craning day in Dunbar harbour

Craning day in Dunbar harbour

The yacht is strapped up and ready to lift.

 

Craning day in Dunbar harbour

Craning day in Dunbar harbour

Swinging the yacht over the harbourside

Craning day in Dunbar harbour

Craning day in Dunbar harbour

Lowering the yacht into the water

 

Looking down Starvation Brae

Looking down Starvation Brae