Archive for the ‘New books’ Category

My new book

May 20, 2016

This post is all about my new book entitled STRANDED: The Whales at Thorntonloch in 1950. The Stories of the People who were there. A couple of years ago, I started an oral history project on my home town of Dunbar in the early 1950s, with a view to interviewing people about shops and shopping in that era. Once I did some initial reading around the early 1950s, I realised that there were other topics I could pursue, and these included rationing (which ended in 1954) and the building of new council houses (where I was brought up) between 1949 and 1953. I was chatting with Gordon Easingwood, the chair of Dunbar and District History Society when he said “Oh 1950? That was the year of the whales”. I’d never heard of anything to do with whales in 1950, so I pursued the topic and found that 147 pilot whales had been stranded at Thorntonloch Beach on 13th May 1950. There were a fair number of press reports, some with photos but I wanted to create a more personal take on the event, so I asked around the town and found people who had been to see the whales. From the initial interviews, I formed a set of questions to ask. I did an article for the local paper and I was contacted by about 20 people from around East Lothian, Edinburgh and other counties, as well as people who now live abroad but saw the whales. There’s an excellent Facebook site called Lost Dunbar and again, I got a good response from that. People offered to be interviewed but also sent me photos of the whales. Very few people had cameras in 1950 but some photos have survived e.g. one man sent me 3 photos he’d found in his flat when he moved in.

Whale Book Cover-page-001

My new book front cover

The book has been sponsored by Community Windpower who gave me a generous grant to allow publication of the book. All profits from the book go to the History Society and not to me. The book was superbly edited by Emma Westwater of Source Design and contains many photos of the whales but also of the cranes used to remove the whales, contemporary cars, buses and bicycles. The first chapter examines press reports of the event and this is followed by chapters on how people got to Thorntonloch in 1950, what they saw when they got there, how people felt and behaved, and a final chapter on why whales strand and what might happened today if a similar stranding happened. The heart of the book is the series of oral history interviews I conducted – face to face, on Skype and via Skype phone – with people who contacted me and others who were recommended by the initial contacts.

My good friend and old school pal Nigel helped me to design a website for the book. My input was text and Nigel did all the techie stuff and what a great job he’s done. Check the website out here as it allows you to buy a book online via PayPal or credit card. I want to use social media to publicise the book, so if you have a Facebook page or you Tweet, please put details of my book on your page and encourage all your friends to do likewise.

Myrtle Cornwallis and Dorothy Scully visit the whales

Myrtle Cornwallis and Dorothy Scully visit the whales

I had some interesting research to do for this book. For example, I bought the photo above from The Herald and Times Group and on the back of the original photo was the photographer’s writing “Myrtle Cornwallace and Dorothy Scully from Edinburgh”. I assumed that Myrtle’s real name was Cornwallis and I looked up the name in the Edinburgh phone book and found one Cornwallis. I spoke to someone who confirmed that there was a Myrtle Cornwallis,  who now lived in Dunning, Perthshire (good photos) but of course, could not give me her phone number. I looked up Dunning and found Dunning Parish Historical Society and then I found that a Myrtle Potter had written an article for the site. I contacted the site manager and he put me in touch with Myrtle Potter, now in her 80s but with a very clear memory, so her interview added greatly to the book. In research, persistence pays.

I’ve had excellent feedback from many people about the book and although I wrote 11 books as an academic, this was like having my first book published again – that was in 1978!

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.


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.


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.


Beach huts, The Pavilion and Dunlaverock House at Coldingham Sands


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.

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.



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.


Crocuses at Spott Road Dunbar


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.


Sun on the waves


Rocks and the incoming sun-kissed tide

London trip: Victoria and Albert Museum and T S Eliot prize readings

January 13, 2016

This posting is rather late as we went down to London for the weekend last Thursday. We stayed in a hotel just around the corner from the London Eye, the huge Ferris wheel overlooking the River Thames. It’s an impressive piece of modern engineering but you do wonder what those who built Big Ben across the river might have thought if they could see into the future and look across to the Eye.  The photo below was taken on the manual focus setting as my camera has a problem – it will not take photos with the  automatic focus on.


The London Eye on the Southbank

On Friday, we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum which is one of our favourite haunts when visiting London. It’s a vast complex of rooms with ” unrivalled collections of contemporary and historic art and design” and you can go from huge castings of Roman columns to miniature paintings and jewellery within a few minutes. We elected to go to the exhibition of the mid 19th century photography of Julia Margaret Cameron. There’s an excellent video on her on the Vimeo site by the curator of the exhibition. Cameron was a wealthy woman who took photographs of her family, her friends and acquaintances (some famous such as  Charles Darwin) and her servants, who posed for many photographs in which Cameron tried to combine art and photography. The photos below – reproduced under Creative Commons from the National Media Museum – show examples of Cameron’s remarkable work and, given that the photos are 150 years old, the clarity is remarkable.


Charles Darwin by Julia Margaret Cameron

Cameron 1

Miss Philpott or May Hillier by Julia Margaret Cameron

We also went to see the Europe 1600-1815 exhibition and there were some beautiful rooms on display as well as some remarkably detailed pieces of furniture such as The Endymion Cabinet (very good silent video). Another outstanding feature was the Mirrored Room with its centrepiece a harp. You can see the room and listen to an audio description here. There are endless visits to the V&A and you’ll never live long enough to see them all, but what a wonderful place to go back to.

It was a busy weekend and coincided with my nephew Sid’s 21st birthday on Sunday. On Friday evening, we went to the excellent The French Table restaurant in Surbiton and this will be featured in the next posting. The original purpose of going to London was for me to go to The Royal Festival Hall for the T S Eliot Prize for Poetry readings, featuring many of the shortlisted poets. The evening was hosted by the distinguished poet and excellent presenter Ian McMillan who joked that his taxi driver had summed up an evening of poetry readings as “Another bloody do for people who wear cravats”. As McMillan said, although the Royal Festival Hall is a huge venue, when the individual poets were reading there was an intimate feeling in the hall. It was an inspiring evening as well as being entertaining, with McMillan’s introductions and anecdotes from Don Paterson. Below is the cover of the booklet given to the audience. The winner – announced the following day at the V&A – was Sarah Howe for her collection A Loop of Jade.


T S Eliot Prize for best collection of poetry 2015



Barns Ness and The Last of the Light

December 23, 2015

A walk on Sunday along the beach at the White Sands, which is about 2 miles (3.2k) from Dunbar. The wind was in the south-west, so the sea was calm although rippled by the wind. If the wind is in the north, there can be breakers on this beach, but on Sunday, there was only Philip Larkin’s onomatopoeic “the small hushed wave’s repeated fresh collapse” from his poem To the Sea. At the east end of the beach, you find a series of limestone pavements, which were formed “with the scouring of the limestone by kilometre thick glaciers during the last ice age”. It’s hard to imagine a glacier being one kilometre thick. One of the most interesting features of limestone pavements are the visible fossils, of plants and animals, on the pitted surface of the hard rock.



Limestone pavement at the White Sands

Once you reach the end of the beach, Barns Ness Lighthouse comes into view and there are alternative paths which take you to the lighthouse. We walked through the gorse bushes (some of them had unseasonable flowers), and then along the edge of the beach where the oystercatchers (includes video) were in a constant search for food at the waves’ edge.


Oystercatcher. Photo by Mike Pennington and reproduced under the Creative Commons licence

Barns Ness Lighthouse first shone its beams across the sea in 1901 and the light continued to shine until 2005. It was originally manned by lighthouse keepers and then automated in 1986. One of our sons’ favourite picture books when they were young, was The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch and you can watch it on a YouTube video (not sure about the copyright on this). It’s a great story for children, amusing and educational at the same time.


The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage

The lighthouse has been recently repainted and repaired and it is one of our local icons as it stands proudly at the sea-shore. There may not be a light shining any more but it is still a very impressive and fascinating building.

Barns Ness Lighthouse

Barns Ness Lighthouse


Barns Ness Lighthouse

In last week’s Guardian Review, there was a review of a book on twilight The Last of the Light by Peter Davidson. I very rarely read non-fiction books these days but I’m going to buy this one. Davidson refers to the fact that in 2016, there is so much unnatural light that we forget what twilight – ” the last glimmering of a way of seeing” is really like. The author looks at prose, poetry and art in discussing the time between light and dark at the end of the day and also considers twilight in a range of countries. For example, the French refer to twilight as the time between chien et loup – the dog and the wolf. The French for twilight is le crepuscule which comes from the Latin crepusculum. I’ve noted here before that one of my favourite words is crepuscular referring to the twilight. Crepuscular is a muscular word.


The Last of the Light by Peter Davidson

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

June 17, 2015

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

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

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

Red gum logs near Old Man Creek, NSW

Red gum logs near Old Man Creek, NSW

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

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

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee


Richard Ford novel and along the Tyne in Haddington

May 1, 2015

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

Let me be Frank with you

Let me be Frank with you

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

Haddington Bridge

Haddington Bridge

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

River Tyne reflections

River Tyne reflections

Willows on the River Tyne

Willows on the River Tyne

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

St Mary's Haddington

St Mary’s Haddington

Another Dubai trip and Stoner the novel

March 4, 2015

Having left a very cold Scotland, where it was 3 degrees and felt much colder, on Wednesday of last week, it has been a very pleasant change to be in wall to wall sunshine and a daily temperature of c25 degrees. Our son Stuart, daughter in law Catherine and 3+ twin granddaughters Abigail and Lola live in the Arabian Ranches, which is a 25 minute drive – along a 6 lane highway – from the city. Downtown Dubai is ever expanding and with every subsequent visit, a new building seems to have leapt up toward the sky. The two photos below were taken from the car and one shows men on ropes, presumably doing repairs, or cleaning windows. For excellent views of the Dubai skyline, see here. A trip to Dubai would not be the same without yet another photo of the Burj Al Arab, perhaps the most iconic of Dubai’s stunning buildings, as in the 3rd photo below. No matter how often you see this building, you still wonder at the audacity of its design and construction.

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai building repairs

Downtown Dubai building repairs

Burj Al Arab

 Burj Al Arab

In our house in Dubai, there’s a large vase of lilies on the table. They arrived with closed flowers and have opened quickly, with large white-tongued leaves and startling cucumber shaped orange anthers, with a smaller, heart shaped, purple centre. The photos below show the whole flower top as well as a close up of the anthers, which have an abstract and possibly surreal quality.

White lily

White lily

Lily anthers

Lily anthers

I’ve just finished the much praised novel by John Williams entitled Stoner. The book was first published in the sixties, to no great acclaim but was “discovered” and republished in 2012 and became an international best seller. When you read such glowing reviews of a novel as “A great American novel” and “Rarely has the intimate detail of a life been drawn with such emotional clarity”, you can often get a feeling that it will not live up to its stunning reviews. This book does. It is by turns tragic and joyful and innocent and mature. Stoner teaches in a midsize American university and the book begins by stating that few colleagues or students remembered Stoner who remained an Assistant Professor during his long teaching career. His colleagues or students may not remember Stoner but anyone who reads this intriguing novel most certainly will. There is an excellent introduction to the book by the renowned late Irish author John McGahern – one of my all-time  favourite  novelists. The writing in Stoner is consistently of a high quality and often the reader is presented with a remarkable passage. One example is when Stoner’s father dies and he visits his bereaved mother, who shows him his father. “The body he saw was that of a stranger; it was shrunken and tiny… The dark blue suit which enfolded the body was grotesquely large, and the hands that folded out of the sleeves were like the dried claws of an animal” writes Williams, and the use of the word enfolded makes the passage even more striking. There is much sorrow in this novel but also much joy and Stoner is fiercely realistic about his (and all of our) tiny presence in life. He is relentlessly stoical. Whatever happens, he tholes it. This is a must read book, so beg, steal or borrow this book – from the library of course. Even better, buy it and I’m sure that like me, you’ll revisit it.

Winter trees and Next Generation Poets 2014

December 17, 2014

It’s only a week now until the shortest day in Scotland and the sun sets in the late afternoon at present. One of the pleasures of a cold and bright winter’s day – and we get a good share of these on the east of Scotland – is getting rugged up (an Australian expression for wrapped up), going for a long walk and enjoying the last of the sunshine. On a recent walk near Smeaton Gardens  in the village of East Linton (good photos), my wife and I enjoyed seeing the setting sun through the winter trees. The photos below show the elegant outlines of the bare trees against the blue sky and the illuminating sun. George Szirtes‘ has a poignant and humorous poem Winter Trees :

Aren’t you cold and won’t you freeze,
With branches bare, you winter trees?
You’ve thrown away your summer shift,
Your autumn gold has come adrift.

Dearie me, you winter trees,
What strange behaviour, if you please!
In summer you could wear much less,
But come the winter – you undress!

Winter tree at Smeaton Gardens

Winter tree at Smeaton Gardens

Winter trees at Smeaton Gardens

Winter trees at Smeaton Gardens

Winter trees at Smeaton Gardens

Winter trees at Smeaton Gardens

With my latest Choice from the Poetry Book Society came a booklet featuring the Next Generation Poets 2014 – see cover below. This project, subtitled Twenty Exciting Voices for the Future is a selection of what is regarded as a list of the most promising poets of 2014. Most, but not all, poets are in their 20s and 30s and have recently won prizes for their collections. On the project’s website, you can click on the names of individual poets and see examples of their work. I’m only half way through but have already enjoyed poems by Sean Borrowdale – on a honeycomb “Its tear-easy skin of skeletal reef/(Best use of space for minimal effort”; Rebecca Goss – a poignant address to her 2nd child – “So extraordinary was your sister’s/ short life, it’s hard for me to see/ a future for you…. [But]…Come and hold my hand, little one/ stand beside me in your small shoes,/ let’s head for your undiscovered life, your mother’s ready now, let’s run”; and Emma Jones – from Waking – “There was one morning/ when my mother woke and felt a twitch/ inside, like the shifting of curtains./ She woke and so did I. I was like a bird/ beating. She had not time for anaesthetic”. All the links to the poets cited include videos of them reading poems.

Next Generation Poets

Next Generation Poets

Michael Longley, Goats’ Gallop and Homesman

November 27, 2014

The Winter Poetry Book Society  Choice was put through my letter box by the postman yesterday and this reminded me that I had not yet started to read the Autumn choice – Michael Longley’s The Stairwell (cover photo below). There is a wide range of poems in this superb collection, many of which feature aspects of death – including the poet’s own – and birth – allusions to his grandchildren and their then pregnant mothers. Longley is  superb nature poet e.g. Two Otters:

“She toddles to the lake without a name,

Your two-year-old and watches an otter,

Her first otter, half expected by you

Because, when you were expecting her,

You last watched an otter from this spot,

Your body a holt for otter and child”.

The word “holt” means the den of an otter and the woman’s body being a holt for her child, protecting the child, and the otter’s protective home, is a superb metaphor. Longley loves language and cites many Irish names which are often onomatopoeic e.g. Dooaghtry, Allaran and Lackakeely. There will be more quotes from this outstanding collection in future posts.

The Stairwell by Michael Longley

The Stairwell by Michael Longley

At the weekend, my wife joined runners from Dunbar and Haddington to do the 9.5 mile (14.5K) Goats’ Gallop run. The route takes the runners over Lammer Law and down through rough heather to the Hopes Reservoir (good wintry photos on this site), followed by 2 more very steep climbs and a fierce descent through large stones back to a nearby farm. I wasn’t there this year but took photos last year – see my Photopeach page. So, a very tough run and not much time to admire the wonderful autumnal scenery around the reservoir, as in the photos below.

Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

This week, we went up to The Filmhouse in Edinburgh to see the film Homesman. The setting is frontier society in the USA and involves 2 unlikely people transporting three women who have gone mad across wide open spaces to a destination where they can be reunited with their families. While the plot occasionally requires a stretch of the imagination, there is a powerful narrative , in which scenes of danger, humour and potential love are intermixed. There are strong elements of tragedy in the story but it is a vibrant film with a pacey script and some impressive scenery. Go and see it if you can.



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