Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

New tatties and Van Gogh in Arles

September 10, 2019

Last year’s dry summer in Dunbar meant that the potato crop in the small plot in my garden only produced tatties the size of golf balls. They had the requisite thin skins and were tasty, but we soon got through them. This year, the rains came – often fortunately at night – and this, combined with some warm weather has meant a bumper crop. The photo below shows the potatoes which have just been dug out of the ground with the fork. This was from two of the smaller shaws at the front of the plot. They tasted delicious and I enjoyed eating the first, gently boiled potato with some butter. I’m sure that there is some psychological effect of tasting a vegetable that you have planted in the Spring, watched as the shaws developed and the flowers came and went, and then saw the slight yellowing of the shaws, and then dug them up to eat an hour or two later. They are still tasting as good as on that first day. Add some creme fraiche to the chunks of potato on your plate to enhance the flavour.

Newly dug potatoes in my garden (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

This being my blog, regular readers will know that I cannot mention digging without referring to Seamus Heaney’s wonderful poem about watching his father in the garden. This is one of Heaney’s best known poems but it is always rewarding to read it or hear Heaney himself reading it, as in the video below. The poet hears ” a clean rasping sound/ When the spade sinks into gravelly ground” and he remembers his father digging potatoes twenty years before. The father knows how to dig properly i.e. ” The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft/ Against the inside knee was levered firmly”. Every year when I dig up the new tatties, I remember Heaney’s line “Loving their cool hardness in our hands” as I pick up the still dirt stained, solid potatoes. It is a joyful moment.

Back to France. Arles is rightly famous for its Roman heritage (last week’s blog) but it is also known for its Van Gogh connection. The first venue was the Espace Van Gogh in the centre of town. This is the site of what was Arles’ main hospital and it was here that the demented painter came when he cut off his earlobe in a depressive state. The photo below is of the well manicured gardens and you can still see part of the cloistered walkway which was part of the hospital. Despite it being a scene of horror for Van Gogh, this is a very tranquil area today. The artist painted the gardens (see below) and there has been an attempt to recreate what he saw during his time at the hospital.

Espace Van Gogh in Arles
Le Jardin de L’Hotel de Dieu by Vincent Van Gogh

Our next stop was the Vincent Van Gogh Foundation (good photos) in Arles. This is a modern building housing extensive exhibition space, plus workrooms and a library. We saw the exhibition of Niko Pirosmani (good photos) paintings, which were impressive. There was also a smaller – but still fascinating – exhibition of some of Van Gogh’s own work. The highlight was his different versions of The Sower or Le Semeur in French. The photo below shows the version entitled The Sower 1888. What is interesting about this painting is that while the fields below the sower are depicted in impressionist styles, the tree, the sun and Le Semeur himself are quite clearly shown, and this was deliberate on Van Gogh’s part. It is a stunning painting to look at – so much colour and light and detail in the figure, the tree and the sky. You need some time to study this work of art and take in all its different components to really appreciate it. Every time you come back to the painting, something different catches your eye.

Van Gogh’s The Sower

The next photo shows a close-up of part of the painting and if you enlarge this, you will see the swirling lines in the sower’s coat and hat, as well as the range of colours in the field being sown. I thought that this gave me a fuller sense of the construction of the painting and its constituent parts. It’s a real privilege to see these paintings as actual works by Van Gogh and looking at them again, I’m still in awe of his talent.

Close up of part of Van Gogh’s Le Semeur

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Local history exhibition and Lake Ilawa, Poland

August 5, 2019

Dunbar and District History Society (DDHS) have a new exhibition in Dunbar Town House, entitled Summers in Dunbar. The exhibition, excellently curated by DDHS secretary Pauline Smeed, presents a range of information and images from the 1960s onwards, showing how Dunbar was a very popular holiday resort. The town is still an attraction for tourist as this Tripadvisor page (good photos) shows.

Returnable keys at The Roxburghe Hotel in Dunbar (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The first photo from the exhibition shows what was the magnificent Roxburghe Marine Hotel, which was one of Scotland’s leading hotels in the 1950s and 1960s. My former classmate Nigel Marcel’s parents owned the hotel in the 1960s and 1970s and he confirmed that when guests mistakenly went away with hotel keys, they would inevitably be returned with a stamp affixed to the key. Room 42 was on the top floor facing the sea. The hotel was later demolished and the area now contains a block of 4 storey attractive flats, many with sea views and a row of cottages which overlook the sea in front. We are lucky enough to live in one the cottages. Nigel remembers cutting the long grass where our house now stands, with a scythe.

Dunbar’s east beach in the 1960s

The second photo from the exhibition shows Dunbar’s east beach, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The beach over the years has lost its sand and has become less used. The people in the photo appear to be very well dressed, so this photo may have been taken on a Sunday, with crowds gathering possibly for a Faith Mission meeting. In the background of the photo, above the beach itself, you can see the remains of the old granary and distillery buildings which stretched along from the harbour. At the bottom right of the photo is an early – and what looks like a very basic – pram. You can see more photos  from the exhibition and more examples of summers in Dunbar on the DDHS website

We were invited to our friends’ son’s wedding in Poland last weekend. The wedding took place in the idyllic setting of Lake Ilawa. There is a complex of large and small lakes in this area and we were in  the town of Ilawa, which is on one of the smaller lakes. 

Looking across Lake Ilawa

The photo above shows the view of Lake Ilawa and this smaller lake had a 2K circumference. This is looking across the water to the Hotel Stary Tartak (good photos) where we stayed and where the wedding took place. The hotel is very comfortable and very cheap by UK standards. Walking around the lake was a pleasure as once you got past the shopping area, few people were about.

Lake Ilawa through the trees

This photo shows the lake through the trees which cover the lakeside but do not obstruct your view and add interest to your walk. We did take a boat trip which began on this lake and went round an island in the next, much bigger lake. It was a very relaxing 50 minutes and although much of the trip passes the lakeside reeds, these are wonderful to look at, as they swayed in the breeze, just like the barley fields at home at the moment.

A coot swims at the lakeside in Ilawa

At the landing where the boat trip starts, there were many ducks and also a number of coots which have the scientific name Fulica Atra. These are very attractive birds but they tend to be very wary of humans in this country and will swim away rapidly at your approach. At the lakeside in Ilawa, the coots are obviously accustomed to people approaching them, so I was pleased to get this photo of the coot and its reflection in the swirling water, with its varied light patterns.

Water lily on the lakeside at the Stary Tartak

Water lilies by the lakeside at the Stary Tartak

At the back of the Hotel Stary Tartak, were outside seating areas and some loungers at the lakeside. When you got to the water’s edge, you could see the large cluster of water lilies (Nymphaea). In the close-up photo above, you can see the beautiful pink petals – inspiration for the Sydney Opera House maybe? – and the delicate yellow stamens reaching for the sun. The 2nd photo shows the water lily flowers sitting on their fan-like leaves amongst the reeds. If you ever need to be away from it all and relax , go and look at some water lilies.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie and swans at Belhaven

July 25, 2019

The latest novel which I have just finished reading is Home Fire (review) by the now renowned author Kamila Shamsie (interview with author). This is a fascinating and very well written story about the clash between politics and religion and the family strains that involvement in such a clash can involve. Karamat Lone is Home Secretary in the UK and is of Pakistani origin. He is regarded as a Muslim although he is a humanist. The story involves Lone and his son Eamonn, who becomes romantically involved with another family, also of Pakistani origin. Eamonn first meets Isma in the USA and then her sister Aneeka in the UK. The main story revolves around Isma’s and Aneeka’s brother Parvaiz, who is indoctrinated in London and goes to join ISIS in Syria. No spoilers here, so I will give no more of the plot. The author does present us with an intriguing story and although moral choices may be at the heart of the novel, the plot nevertheless keeps us reading. Shamsie, like all good novelists, is an excellent storyteller and we can easily identify with the characters and the decisions they do and do not make. I highly recommend that you read this intriguing novel.

K Shamsie’s intriguing novel (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

With the warm weather we have been having in Scotland over the last week, we have been going for short walks in the evening after our meal. A few days ago, we went down to Belhaven beach and walking past the bridge, coming towards us was a family of swans, with two adults and eight fast maturing cygnets. The photo below (taken on my phone, so not as clear as I would wish) shows the approaching swans. The group formed a straight line at first and looked like the peloton at Le Tour. When they came to the sandbank, they broke up and one cygnet (see photo) climbed on to the sand. At this, the two parents turned round and headed back out towards the sea. There is an elegant perfection in adult swans.

A family of swans at Belhaven beach

This prompted me to think when I last featured swans on the blog and this 2015 photo shows swans on Belhaven Pond, which is not far from the beach. This shows the swans in action, gliding along the smooth pond and making ripples. The trees in the background are in full leaf and I like the tranquillity of this scene.

Swans and ducks on Belhaven pond

For a more close up view of a swan family, we need to go back to this 2010 photo which was taken on the rocky shoreline next to Dunbar Golf Course, which is on the other side of the town from Belhaven Beach and just along the road from our house. This is a contrasting setting for the swans. Gone is the smooth pond at Belhaven, but there is still great attraction in the rocks and pools and rock formations here. The adults and cygnets look very contemplative in this photo and paid no heed to this human interloper into their resting place.

Swan family on the shore east of Dunbar

One of my favourite poems is Wild Swans at Coole by W B Yeats and these lines show his admiration for these magnificent birds who give us all so much pleasure when we see them in the water, on the shore or in the air.

Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

This post appears earlier than it might as we are off to Poland this weekend for a friends’ son’s wedding. Watch this space.

Researching in the National Library of Scotland and prolific lavender in the garden

July 19, 2019

When I was a student at the University of Edinburgh many years ago, access to the National Library of Scotland was denied to undergraduates until they entered their honours year – the fourth year of study. I spent much of this final year in the National Library as I could get documents relating to my dissertation which the university library did not have. I also found it a very conducive place to study as it was quiet and had an academic atmosphere. I was took one of my friends to the Reading Room and he had to leave after a short period of time as he said it was too quiet. Study habits, such as where and when to study, tend to be formed when students are in their early teens and, despite claims you will find on the internet about e.g. the study habits of successful students, individuals differ in the preferences. When I took up local history research a few years ago, after retiring, I went back to the National Library of Scotland (NLS) to get books and articles relating to my research on my home town of Dunbar in the 1950s. I still find the NLS an enthralling place to visit.

Stairs up to the Reading Room in the National Library of Scotland (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

The photo above (taken on my phone) shows the stairs which lead up to the main Reading Room and the NLS have taken to insert quotations from famous scholars on view here. David Hume was an eighteenth century philosopher who was born in Edinburgh and is recognised as one of the most important philosophers in the world. So there is a grand stairway leading up to where the real research is done.

Looking down from the Reading Room level at the NLS

This photo shows the view from the 2nd flight of stairs above the main stairs. The window frames at the top right are only part of this huge window ” comprising square glass panels each etched with alternating panes of a thistle and Scottish crown and the arms of the principal benefactors of the library”. The ornate banisters on either side are “painted in black with gold leaf and [each] has a mahogany handrail”.  A fuller description can be found here. On the walls are framed examples of some of the illustrative work to be found in the NLS archives. Many visitors come up to this point to admire the interior but only NLS members i.e. people doing research, can enter the Reading Room.

Inside the NLS Reading Room – upstairs

Once you go through the Reading Rooms, you have to place your NLS card on a reader to go further. To get your reserved books – and this is still a predominantly book-based library – you go to a desk where the assistant will retrieve your ordered material. I reserved three books yesterday and collected them today. It is an excellent service as you can return the books and and get them back for another five days. The NLS is not a lending library. Upstairs in the Reading Room, in the photo above, you can see the domed and squared roof windows which let in natural light. This library is for serious research, so it is quiet and therefore conducive to learning. This is not to say that all libraries should be quiet. Far from it – lending and children’s sections of public libraries should encourage conversation and school libraries (one of my former areas of research) should be places where students, teachers and school librarians can discuss what is being studied. The NLS also has regular free exhibitions which are certainly worth visiting.

It is now midway through our summer in the UK and in our garden, the lavender bushes are now at their peak. Lavender plants are prolific growers, with their abundant stems reaching up to one metre above the base. In the winter, the lavender is almost invisible – a series of grey patches in the garden – but in summer, it shoots up to dominate the landscape in a furious burst of colour.

Prolific lavender in our front garden

The photo above shows how the lavenders of different kinds have spread themselves across the garden. Every time I walk into the house, I rub my fingers on a lavender head and take in the wonderful scent provided by the bush. After a shower of rain, if you open the front door, the lavender scent wafts across your face and you can inhale the welcoming odour.

Lavender, hydrangea and roses

The photo above shows how the lavender provides height at the back of our small patch of garden outside the front door. Near the front, the smaller lavender, with its much thicker heads has spread itself over the ground in the past year. The poppies still in flower on the right hand side are accidental i.e. not planted by us but spread by the wind or the birds. Lavender has featured in literature for many centuries. Shakespeare (Winter’s Tale) wrote ” Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;/ The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ th’ sun”. Lavender has also been seen as health giving. A 1545 herbal states ” I judge that the flowers of lavender quilted in a cappe and dayly worn are good for all diseases of the head”.

A rose after the rain

Finally, one of the climbing roses, seen in close-up – my favourite form of photography. There is startling beauty in this rose – the delicate petals still holding on to the raindrops and the exquisite centre, with its pink and orange. The flowers may only last for about a week in total but the look and smell of them linger in the memory for much longer.

Milkman by Anna Burns and poppies at the side of the railway

July 1, 2019

I have just finished reading Anna Burns‘ Man Booker Prize winning novel Milkman (good review). It was a controversial winner of the prize as some reviewers did not enjoy the intensity of the book, which features many long paragraphs describing the feelings of an 18 year girl growing up in an unnamed country in the 1970s. There is no doubt that Burns has created a character – whose name we never discover – with a unique voice, relating to family troubles, her relationship with “maybe boyfriend”, her stalking by a local “renouncer” and her reflections on being an unusual late-teenage girl with conflicting feelings about herself, her environment and her family. We are quickly aware that we are in 1970s Northern Ireland, possibly in Belfast, where Burns grew up. There is a universal aspect to this claustrophobic society, where rumour is rife and controls what people think of each other.

It is also a controlled society, with the powerful state on one side, represented by an oppressive army and police force. These forces – we assume them to be the British – harass the girl’s community ( not stated but clearly Catholic) and support the people “over there” (not stated but clearly Protestant) in the city and “over the water”. There is also internal control by the “renouncers of the state” – the IRA – who rule the girl’s home area and mete out severe punishments on suspected informers. The protagonist, only known as “middle sister” or “daughter” or “maybe-girlfriend”, is seen as unusual as she does not conform to unstated and unwritten rules of her community.

The book can be difficult to read at times – it is occasionally repetitive about this closed society – but Burns manages to move the story on and include some dark humour to illuminate a potentially gloomy plot. It is certainly a different kind of novel but one well worth buying. I read it in small chunks and it might be more rewarding to make a more sustained effort to get the best effect.

An intriguing novel (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

We seem to have had an extended period of wind from the east this year – and that means cool to cold around here – so I have been cycling in that direction for a while now. The route takes me on the road to the local cement works, where I join a cycle path. At the moment, the countryside is full of growth. The once green barley now has multi-grained heads and has turned slightly yellow, as it sways in the wind. The sprout plants which looked pale, forlorn and unlikely to survive, have now blossomed into more substantial and healthy looking plants, although they still have a lot of growing to do. The potato fields are now in flower as are the fields of peas, which must be profitable this year as there are many more stretches of pea-green to be seen. On the side of the fields, there are scatterings of poppies, some bright red, some pale red and a few purple heads can also be seen.

I stopped my bike on the cycle path next to the railway on one side and the muddy tracks of the cement works on the other, to admire a mass of poppies. In the photo below, you can see that when you get closer, you are looking at more than poppies, as scattered amongst the swaying redheads are a variety of wildflowers and thistles.

Poppies at the side of the cycle track

I last posted on poppies in 2016 and quoted the poet Sujata Bhatt and her poem which describes wild poppies as “a living flame of love” and as “a wildfire / by the roads”. The poet sees “how their sheerest silks glisten in the sun” and if you look close at poppies, you see their silk-like heads. I took a video on my phone of the scene and you can see the contrast between “the living flame” of the poppies and the green of the ivy.

Poppies at the side of the tracks near the cement works

One of the photos of a large poppy head in my garden in 2016 was used in that blog post. You can see in the photo below that the petals do have a silky sheen and that the centre piece could be mistaken for some kind of tarantula, either real or mythical.

Inside a poppy head

As I was scrolling through photos of this year, I came across this close up of a tulip head and it has a striking similarity to that of the poppy head, but with a different species of 6 legged creature in the middle. They are both exquisite examples of design in nature which provides inspiration to poets and artists alike.

Tulip head with tarantula centre

Book on East Lothian and the Longest Day

June 24, 2019

One of the books I was given for my significant birthday in October was East Lothian which contains striking photographs by Liz Hanson and a well written brief history of my home county by Alistair Moffat. It can probably be described as a coffee table book, but it has been up on my little book easel for weeks now, as I (if I remember) turn over a page every day. This means that we see the images and perhaps read some of the text on a regular basis, as opposed to having the book lying about – maybe on a coffee table – and hardly being opened. So, if you have some books – maybe as presents – I urge you to buy an easel, so that you get much more pleasure from books with many photos or paintings in them.

Lavishly illustrated book on the county of East Lothian (Click on all images to enlarge – recommended)

The book covers the major towns in East Lothian, including Dunbar, as well as much of the farmland. East Lothian is known as the garden of Scotland because of its rich red soil, which is ideal for barley, wheat, oats, oil seed rape (canola in Australia), potatoes, peas, beans and turnips (swedes). The famous golf courses in East Lothian are also featured.

Looking towards Bolton

The photo above shows an oil seed rape field at its brightest, next to the hamlet of Bolton (good photos) , near the county town of Haddington. Bolton is best known for its graveyard, where the mother of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns, is buried. I cycle through Bolton from time to time and it’s a very pleasant spot.

Bare trees and shadows in Gifford

The photo above is taken in the very attractive (and affluent) village of Gifford (good photos). The trees overlook a walled area, known as the village green, but which may well have been used to graze sheep or hold a sheep market in the past. You can walk round the village, with its mixture of traditional solid sandstone houses (seen in the photo) and more modern housing. There is a river which flows through part of the village and you can overlook the river from 2 bridges in the village. I like the way Liz Hanson has captured the shadows of the winter trees across the green. I have enjoyed this book and it will take its place on the easel again at some point.

On Friday, it was the longest day of the year here. Of course, in Australia – where many of you are – it was the shortest day. The summer solstice occurs when the sun – in summer here – is closest to the equator, as one definition has it. Now, given the size of the earth and that of the sun, we should surely talk about the earth’s equator being closest to the sun. Otherwise, we could be seen as going back to the old beliefs that the sun went round the earth. An article in IB Times states that “The origin of the word ‘solstice’ is derived from the Latin word sōlstitium. It literally translates to ‘the (apparent) standing still of the sun’.” A definition of solstice – a French word – covering both seasons states  “the time of year that seems to never end. The longest days of summer the unending nights of winter”. So our nights are getting shorter, although only by a very small amount of time. A local expression here is “Aye, the nights are fair drawin’ in”.

Sun rays over Dunbar on the longest day of 2019
Red sky and pink sea on the longest day of 2019

I took the two photos above at 22.45pm on 21st June, although the actual solstice took place at 16.54pm. To the naked eye, it was lighter than in the photos, but the sky was an intriguing mixture of shapes and colours, both of which were changing all the time. In a matter of a couple of minutes, clouds changed their shapes e.g. became more elongated, and colours both deepened – red – and brightened – pink. The second photo shows the reflection of the sky in the sea, which took on a light pink colour, like looking at a tasty bottle of Provence rosé.

I took this video twenty minutes earlier and it is something we can return to in the winter, when there will be more than eight hours less light on the shortest day of the year.

A lasting gift of yellow roses and a stormy day in Dunbar

June 14, 2019

Two years ago, my good friend and ex-classmate Nigel brought us two rose bushes as a present and the two small plants have now grown to medium sized and well-rooted specimens. These are yellow roses which have a beautiful scent, something which is mostly missing from cut roses you see in supermarkets, although independent florists may be different. This photo was taken in the sunshine during a dry spell of weather and you can see the shadows on the delicate, smooth petals shielding the more complicated centre, to which the bees are attracted.

Yellow rose in the sunshine (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

In the past few days, we’ve had heavy rain and I took this photo after a downpour. This rose is still opening up and retains the bud, like a clenched fist, in the middle of the flower. The raindrops are still on the petals and on the leaves. The rougher and somewhat damaged leaves contrast with the perfection of the bright rose and enhance the colour of the rose itself.

Yellow rose after the rain

On closer inspection, in this photo, there appears to be a great number of shades of yellow from the darker yellow in the centre, to the almost white of the outside petals. These roses do not last long and are prey to very heavy rain and strong winds, but when we watch them emerge from their initially small, green-leaved buds and grow into this startling show of elegance and sophistication, we appreciate the lasting gift we were given.

Rain-spattered yellow rose

Yesterday, the storm came from the north-east with a fierce wind driving the waves into the shore and battering trees, tall grasses and anything else in its way. It is of course wonderful to look at from inside the house, but on the 12th of June, you might think it would not be as stormy i.e. 44mph gusts, and that it might be just a wee bit warmer than 10 degrees. When we lived in Australia for a time in the mid 2000s, we would go to Wagga Wagga Road Runners (my wife running and me timing) on a Saturday in the winter months. On the few occasions that it rained and was down to 14 degrees, I would be greeted by “Just like a summer’s day in Scotland, James” by some of the runners. There was no argument with them yesterday.

The sea was very dark under a heavy sky – a darker sky than it looks in this photo – and the wind dragged the whitish waves to the beach. White waves in the sunshine are much different from white waves under heavy clouds – less appealing and less cheerful. The seagulls on the other hand, were decidedly cheerful, swooping across the top of the waves and gliding back, effortlessly into the air. It looked like they might be having a contest to see who could fly the longest without flapping their wings.

Stormy sea in June aka Summer

In this photo, you get a better idea of the force of the sea, especially in the enlarged version. It is mesmerising to watch the waves chase each other to the promenade wall, slap the wall violently and turn to face their inrushing neighbour, which is then tackled with the force of an All Black forward.

Big waves driven to the shore

For the sounds of the sea and the real strength of the wind, have a look at my wee video of the mid-morning storm.

A summer’s (?) day in Dunbar

Guardian Country diary on bluebells and honeysuckle in the garden

June 7, 2019

At the beginning of May, I read an inspiring Guardian Country Diary article by Paul Evans entitled “Spring pilgrimage to an uncanny bluebell wood” and I have kept it in mind for the blog. Evans is a poetic writer with a great gift of finding appropriate words for the scenes he describes and this article begins ” Bluebells in Black Hayes – the sky above the leafing oaks is spring clear, with an echoing blue shimmer across the woodland floor” and further on we find that this blue shimmer is a carpet of bluebells. The photo below is a local shimmer of blue in the form of bluebells in the woods at Foxlake woods near Dunbar. It is a wonderful sight as the colour of the delicate looking bluebells is enhanced by the mainly still bare trees.

Bluebells at Foxlake woods (Click on all photos to enlarge – recommended)

Evans continues ” Black Hayes is strangely open, a kind of wood pasture whose secret valley slopes support amazing lawns of bluebells” and it to these woods, situated near former coal mines, that he makes an annual pilgrimage ” to stand and look and breathe them in”. While I enjoy the look and faint smell of the bluebells, I need to get close up to the flowers to see their intricate patterns and the surprising number of shades of blue in each flower, as in the photo below.

Many shades of blue

Evans feels that this wood “is always uncanny as if resents trespass” but he then hears the birds singing, which is more positive, although he ends with “A pair of ravens bark at our presence” and the poet in him returns. This is a short article but one with depth and you have feeling reading it that you might have been by the writer’s side. The bluebells have had their time in the sunlight at Foxlake and the ground is now in shade as the trees have a canopy of leaves, but the sight of them lives long in the memory.

Bluebells at Foxlake

In my garden, the honeysuckle is in full flower and an absence of strong westerly winds, which we often get at this time of year, has meant that the flowers have lasted longer than normal. I cut the honeysuckle back last year and this has resulted in a new flourish of these multicoloured flowers. You can see in the photo below that when the honeysuckle do flower, there is an extravaganza of flower heads, with beautiful white, pink and purple on display. Honeysuckle with its scientific name of lonicera is also known as woodbine and in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon refers to a bank “Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine”.

Honeysuckle bush in full flower

As with the bluebells, you need to get close up and personal with the honeysuckle to see how it takes on an altogether more surreal appearance. In the photo below, the flower takes on the structure of an alien creature, newly arrived on earth, with its octopus like tentacles spread out to catch sight of (and maybe devour) the strange earthlings.

Multi limbed honeysuckle flower

When you take a step back, you can see (next photo) how the flowers and the leaves complement each other, with the delicately veined leaves providing a background for the more colourful flowers which have, like the bluebells, an amazing range of shades of colour. We are now officially in summer here in the UK and the honeysuckle sparkling in the sunshine today really make it feel like summer. Mmmm – a pity about that cool east wind.

Robert Crais crime novel and late Spring evening sky

May 30, 2019

I recently finished reading Robert Crais‘ entertaining novel The Wanted (link contains video of Crais discussing the novel). The book features Crais’ thoughtful but sometimes troubled detective Elvis Cole and this is the 17th Elvis Cole novel. Crais is an established and well respected crime novelist – see this Guardian interview – and I have been impressed by the depth and quality of previous novels by this writer. This book, which was published in 2017, has an excellent plot and some very tense moments. The reader also feels that s/he has a better insight into Elvis Cole, the book’s protagonist. You can see a “but” coming here and it is that The Wanted is Robert Crais lite. It seems to me that Crais had a great time writing this novel, especially the two villains in the novel Harvey and Stemms, whose dialogue is both jokey and evil-intentioned at the same time. I found their meant-to-be-witty conversations unconvincing, but many other people may not. The two hired killers are trying to find a computer which has potentially damaging information on it. The laptop has been stolen by three fairly well off but bored teenagers in a series of raids on rich Hollywood homes. The baddies discover that Tyson Connor – one of the three teenagers – knows where the computer is and the book is a tense chase between Elvis Cole and his partner Joe Pike and the ruthless killers.

There is some very good characterisation in the book e.g. Connor’s mother, who hired Elvis Cole after she found a very valuable wristwatch in his bedroom. It is also a very good story and Crais is a master of building up tension and the ending is unpredictable. The Wanted would make a great read on a holiday flight but for a more weighty book, some of Crais’ other Elvis Cole novels would be much more satisfying.

Crime novel by Robert Crais (Click on all photos to enlarge)

As regular readers of this blog will know, we get some great skies over the town and sea in the summer months here in Dunbar. It’s not officially summer here until this weekend in the UK, but last week gave us a taste of summer, with some dramatic skies. The photo below (enlarge for best effect) shows a promise of what was to come later in the evening. There was a beautifully layered sky with many shades of blue and a hint of pink over Belhaven beach on our walk there. The photo looks towards the beach on the left and over to Winterfield Golf Club on the right. On the horizon, looking like a battleship, is the Isle of May (good photos)

Early evening sky at Belhaven beach

Back home, just after 9.30pm, the setting sun took over and shot its colours into the clouds to tremendous effect. At first, in the next photo (best enlarged) the glow was mainly over the town, with the outline of the buildings and their chimneys making it look as if the town was one huge castle, with many battlements. The clouds were tinged with orange and it was an eye-catching sight, but better was on its way.

Setting sun over Dunbar

Gradually, although over the space of only about 15 minutes, the colours changed to deep pink and then red. In this photo (best enlarged), I like the contrast between the blackened town, the light blue sky, the darker cloud at the top and the reddening clouds at the bottom right, which were changing before my eyes.

Brilliant sunset over Dunbar

The final photo (best enlarged) highlights the sky itself. Look at the dazzling shapes of the clouds and the interweaving of the clouds, which actually appear to be in motion even in this still photograph. It was as if molten metal had been poured into the sky at various points. I watched this mesmerising view for ten minutes before it took fright and disappeared into the darkness, never to return in exactly the same formation.

Blue, pink and red sky over the sea at Dunbar

Kittie Jones and Jane Smith exhibition: Gannets, Kittiwakes, Dunlin and Fieldfares

May 21, 2019

The current exhibition at SOC in Aberlady which ends on 22 May, so unfortunately not much time left to see it, features 2 artists well worth seeking out in future exhibitions around the country. The prints below were donated to SOC by the artists and permission for their use here was given via SOC’s exhibition coordinator. According to the SOC handout, Kittie Jones is ” a painter and printmaker, producing small edition screen prints, unique multi-layered monotypes, charcoal and ink drawings and mixed media paintings on paper”. The first example of Kittie Jones’ work is entitled Gannet colony Bass Rock and is a depiction of the impressive gannets both close up and circling round the volcanic mass that forms the Bass Rock (good photos). What is interesting about this work is the way in which the gannets are outlined in some detail but we see them not as we usually do, with elegantly smooth white feathers and bright silvery beak, but as a series of interconnecting lines. The birds on view at the front of the picture are almost transparent. In a reflection on this work (scroll down to Kittie Jones), the artist writes ” Out of my scribbled, silvery lines began to emerge the soft ovular heads and heavy geometric bodies of these enigmatic sea-geese”. It is a stunning portrayal of the two birds, deep in concentration.

Kittie Jones’ gannets on the Bass Rock

The second example shows nesting kittiwakes just along the road from us at Dunbar harbour. Again, this is not a fully naturalistic portrayal of the birds, although their shape and the patterns on their plumage are expertly outlined. The background of the untidy nests, the white guano on the rocks and the jagged rocks themselves are eye-catching, with artist’s use of a graphite pencil as well as other tools. You also get a sense of the vertiginous cliffs upon which the kittiwakes nest. Unfortunately, the kittiwake population in Dunbar and other places is in decline. You can see some of my photos of the kittiwakes in this previous blog post.

Kittiwakes by Kittie Jones

The second artist featured is Jane Smith and the handout tells us that she “started her career as a wildlife film maker for the BBC Natural History Unit and National Geographic, winning an Emmy for her work”. Jane Smith’s work is different from that of Kittie Jones but the two artists do complement each other in the exhibition. The first example of Smith’s work is a brightly coloured depiction of dunlin, and they are small wading birds which we used to see in some numbers along the shore at Dunbar, but are very seldom spotted these days. Dunlin have the attractive sounding scientific name of calidris aplina and Jane Smith’s print is also joyful, with a display by a male bird, trying to entice a female into courtship. You can see a live depiction of the display here. This print is a series of patches of colour – on the birds and on the flowers in the background. I like the sharpness of the lines and shapes in the birds’ beaks, tail feathers and legs. It is an imagined, almost cartoonish depiction of the birds, so there is a slightly surreal quality to the print. It certainly is very impressive when seen in full size at the exhibition.

Displaying dunlin by Jane Smith

The second example of Janes Smith’s work below shows fieldfares , which have the unfortunate scientific name of turdus pilaris, feeding on berries. This print attracts you immediately because of the contrast in the colours – the bright red berries, the delicate blue of the birds’ head and the sharp black of the birds’ markings and the tree branches. It is also a very active print, with the top bird hanging on to the branch while clutching the red berry in its mouth, and the bird at the bottom flying off with its food. Again, this is not a literal depiction of the fieldfares but the artist’s impression of the birds. It is no less effective for that and this is a print which bears looking at closely to see, for example, the determined look of the birds for whom feeding is a serious business.

Fieldfares by Jane Smith

The next exhibition at SOC – Over land and sea features both artists and sculptors i.e. artists Tim Wootton, Darren Rees and Daniel Cole, and a sculptor, Simon Griffiths. It will be well worth visiting if you are in the area from 26 May to 3 July 2019.