Archive for the ‘Sea’ Category

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.

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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

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

Lambs at Deuchrie Dodd and Belhaven Bridge at this time of year

April 18, 2019

As noted earlier, this “weekly” blog will be less frequent while I am writing a new local history book.

I was out on my bike last week cycling past the village of Stenton which was featured on the blog recently. The blackthorn bushes (good photos) are now in full blossom on the road out of the village going west towards Pressmennan Lake, and passing Ruchlaw Mains West farm (good photo), where there’s a steep hill. It is one of these deceptive hills in that you think you are at the top when you see the sign to Pressmennan Wood and lake (good photos), but there is a nasty further climb as you veer right. It is always a relief to get to the top and look over the rolling fields. After another short climb, I came across two fields that were strewn with sheep and very young lambs. The sun was on the fields and it was an entrancing rural sight, like something out of the Far from the Madding Crowd book and film.

The first photo shows the sheep and lambs scattered across this field and in the back ground is Traprain Law (good photos). The ewes were very aware of my presence even although they were not close to the fence surrounding the field. the lambs meanwhile seemed more intent on suckling than looking at this passing photographer.

Field of sheep with Traprain Law in the background (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The next photo was taken in the field opposite, which is at the bottom of a hill and beyond the sheep, you can see the foot of the hill which is extensively covered in gorse bushes. The gorse at this time of year provides a welcome splash of yellow, but it is an invasive species and needs to be controlled. Close up, while the yellow flowers of the gorse are attractive, it is still a very thorny and aggressive pant. The other noticeable aspect of this photo is the numbers on the back of the sheep and each lamb is also numbered, to link it to its mother. Presumably this is for the shepherd who finds a stray lamb and who can reunite it with its mother. Alternatively, it may be that East Lothian has numerate sheep.

Numbered sheep and lambs at Deuchrie Dodd

The bridge at Belhaven Beach has been widely photographed and has featured on the blog more than once. I have tended to take photos of the beach in September, when the setting sun shines over and under the bridge. Last week, we went for a short postprandial walk along the beach when the tide was just going out. The bridge, when the tide is in, is referred to as the bridge to nowhere, and you can see why in the photo below. The bridge is surrounded by water and on the horizon to the right, looking distinctly snail-like, is the Bass Rock on which 150,000 gannets will soon be living.

The bridge to nowhere at Belhaven Beach

The next photo was taken as we passed the bridge, walking along the beach towards the south and you can see the line of the concrete path to the bridge just appearing as a line to the left of the right hand base of the bridge.

Retreating tide at Belhaven beach

When we returned only a few minutes later, the path could be clearly seen, so the tide was going out very quickly. In this photo, the reflection of the bridge is quite clear, but to the naked eye it was just a shimmer in the water, as the bridge reinvented itself upside down in the evening tide.

The reappearing path at Belhaven Bridge

The final photo shows the sun coming under the bridge and this is a wonderful sight, as if the water is being turned into molten gold, which if it solidified would make a solid gold pathway under the bridge. The origins of the bridge are currently being investigated by the local history society.

Evening sun under Belhaven Bridge

Fever by Don Meyer and two SOC artists

April 1, 2019

My first experience of the South African writer Deon Meyer was his novel Icarus (blog review here) and I was very impressed. I have just finished reading his dystopian book Fever (review). The story is set in South Africa after a deadly virus – the Fever of the title – has destroyed the world, with only a few people surviving in each country. Willem Storm and his son Nico are the main protagonists of this well written and well plotted novel. Willem Storm takes his son to set up a new town called Amanzi in rural South Africa and they are joined by a variety of fellow survivors. There are some very tense scenes as the town is attacked by motor cycle gangs whose only aim is to plunder. There is also the story of Nico’s teenage years as a member of the Amanzi “army”, led by a powerful presence in the book called Domingo. The town expands and prospers but has to be constantly vigilant. Philosophical and religious differences emerge amongst the community and Willem Storm’s presidency comes under threat. It is an intriguing and often exciting tale of survival and progress. Like other reviewers, I found the ending unconvincing but not everyone will take this view. It’s a long book – over 500 pages – and very well worth reading as Meyer is a consummate story teller, who brings his characters to life extremely well. Buy it and see what you think.

Meyer’s post-apocalyptic novel (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The latest exhibition at the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club in Aberlady features 4 artists, two of which I feature here. The exhibition finishes on 10 April and a visit is highly recommended because of the quality of the art and the spread of styles. The first work below is by Carry Akroyd who is a painter and printmaker and the show includes some of her stunning work. The piece below is a clever depiction of terns in flight as well as wind turbines in motion. The terns are displayed in full colour but also in white (like the turbines) with a small dab of black. There is a superb feeling of movement in this work and the streamlined birds look elegant and effortless in their flight – maybe in contrast to the more laboured motion of the concrete turbines. The variety of colours is also attractive in what is predominantly a happy picture. There is another version of this print which is a postcard entitled “Big Turns and Little Terns”.

Arctic Terns by Carry Akroyd

The second artist is Babs Pease, who is an artist, illustrator and printmaker. This print is simply entitled Swans and it is a very impressive piece of art when you see it in the exhibition in full-size. What intrigued me about this piece was the artist’s decision to show the swans not in their natural white but mainly in various shades of delicate blue. I liked the way in which the swans are taking up different postures and are facing different ways, as are the reeds in the background. The rivers of colour in the birds’ plumage take your eye across the birds and down to their solid dark grey feet. You then notice the splash of orange in their beaks. The curves and patterns in the birds and the reeds give it a hint of surrealism – like swans in a dream. The poet Yeats saw his swans ” All suddenly mount / And scatter wheeling in great broken rings / Upon their clamorous wings”. In the poem The Wild Swans at Coole, Yeats describes the swans as “Mysterious, beautiful” and Pease’s swans meet those criteria. We often see and hear swans as they fly past the house – Yeats ” The bell-beat of their wings above my head” – or, as yesterday, float serenely on the nearby sea.

Swans by Babs Pease

There is much pleasure to be had by visiting this exhibition if you can or by watching our for these artists in the future.

Spring tide in Dunbar and Caroline Jackman’s prints

March 24, 2019

Two days before the full moon this week, we had a huge tide in Dunbar, with the waves ripping along the coast and smashing into the rocks nearby. From my house, I could see that the waves were performing Fosbury Flops over the harbour wall, so I went along to try to capture the biggest of them. When I got to the harbour, the water was almost to the top of the main harbour, with the occasional splash along the walkway. I was standing opposite the large harbour wall which protects it from the worst of the elements. It is quite a long wall and the waves were coming over at various points, so I had to be quick – or lucky – to capture the action. In the photo below, the sun caught the wave as it leapt up into the sky above the wall and the wave looks as if it has merged with the clouds behind it. There was quite a severe undulation in the water in the harbour and at times the water rose to nearly the top of the stairs that you can see below the harbour wall.

Pink wave over the harbour wall in Dunbar (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The next photo captures a double over-the-wall splash – synchronised wave leaping. There is still a hint of pink in the waves and I like the variety of blues in the clouds above. What these photos do not show is the noise of the waves hitting the wall and pouring down the other side, on to the steps of the wall, then on to the walkway and then into the harbour itself.

Double action waves at Dunbar harbour

Looking back at earlier blog posts and identifying previous photos of spectacular tide events at Dunbar harbour, I found the photo below – from 2010. This was taken in the summer or early autumn, as the dinghies and yachts are still in the harbour. It is impressive how the waves completely dominate the scene and make the yachts look smaller. Meanwhile, in this photo you can see a group of male and female eider duck, who swam nonchalantly up and down the harbour, ignoring the action above them. The ducks have the splendid scientific name of Somateria Mollissima, which sounds as if it could be an Italian opera.

2 huge masses of seawater over the harbour wall

As a Xmas present, my wife’s sister and partner gave us a Caroline Jackman print as a present. It now hangs on the wall in the room where I write. The print – photo below – has very striking lines on the bird itself and on the foliage surrounding it. There is also an abstract quality to some of the print e.g. in the patterns on the leaves and on the bird’s back. The use of colour here – in clearly defined blocks – gives the image an unusual effect. I also think that there is a wonderful flow to the print which takes your eye both down the bird and down its subtle green environment. The more you look at this print – as I do daily – the more patterns you see. It is a very impressive piece of art and a very welcome present.

Caroline Jackman print

Caroline Jackman sent me some of her other work, one of which is featured below. I admired this work because of the delicacy of the colours and the vibrancy in the painting, both in the strutting?dancing? cockerel and in the streamer-like lines in the background. This is a vivacious, multi-coloured cockerel, with flamboyant tail feathers perhaps being used to entice females of the species to mate with him. There’s also a surreal quality to the background, as if this cockerel is so smart that he is walking above the clouds. This is a very stylish painting which demonstrates the range of this consummate artist’s vision, skills and talent.

Painting by Caroline Jackman

Don Winslow’s The Force and historic hotel in Dunbar

March 7, 2019

I have just finished reading The Force by the US author Don Winslow. To say that this book has been well received is an understatement. The Daily Telegraph – “This stands out by a mile.. uncommonly exhilarating”. The Times Literary Supplement – “Shocking and shockingly convincing …sinewy, flexible, raw…”. The New York Times – “A stunner of a cop novel .. devastating plot”. It is certainly a well written novel, with caustic dialogue and reveals corruption at the heart of not only the New York police but of the whole political system. The protagonist – a very flawed “hero” – is Detective Sergeant Denny Malone, who is in charge of The Force – a small group of policemen whose main task is to keep the lid on potential violence in the black communities in the city. Malone is portrayed as a kind of Robin Hood as he protects the Manhattan North community from local gangs, while at the same time ensuring that the drug trade can continue but without a surfeit of hard drugs. It quickly becomes clear – no spoiler here – that Malone and his team are corrupt BUT see themselves as involved in low grade corruption, to protect their families. This is a very masculine book, with many violent incidents which are well written and not overly dramatised. The women in the book are mainly in the background and I wonder if female readers may find this off putting. There are a number of plots involving Malone’s relationships with his two closest colleagues, with drug dealers, with gangs, with lawyers and with politicians. Some readers may think that there is a moral vacuum at the heart of this novel – corruption is everywhere – but in interviews, Winslow argues that his research revealed that corruption was indeed rife in New York. For fans of crime novels, Winslow’s big book will be a welcome addition to the genre.

New Don Winslow novel (Click on all photos to enlarge)

One of my roles as a committee member of Dunbar and District History Society is to update the Resources section of the Society website each month. This month, we are featuring hotels in the town which have changed their names over the years and some have closed down as hotels. The photos and newspaper clipping below come from the Society archives. One of the hotels caught my interest as there is some social history attached to it.

The photo below of Kerridge’s Hotel shows a building which still stands today, albeit with extensions both left and right. It became the Bayswell Hotel after Kerridge’s and retains that name today locally, although it appears to have been renamed the Bayswell Park Hotel recently. The hotel was built in the 1890s and in 1903, Slater’s Commercial Directory presented a list of Dunbar hotels including “Kerridge’s Family Hotel (facing the sea) (Mrs J Kerridge proprietress) Bayswell Park, Dunbar”. The Scottish Military Research Group site, referring to the Dunbar war memorial quotes a source stating “Intimation has been received in Dunbar by his relatives that Private Louis Kerridge of the Cameron Highlanders, has been killed in action. He had been out of the trenches on eight days leave and on the day in which he returned, he was killed. A postcard was received from him by his children which bore the words ‘Be good. And God bless you’. Deceased was the son of Mrs Kerridge of Kerridge’s Hotel, and at one time a prominent player in the Dunbar Football Club”. In another source, a person doing research on the Bayswell Hotel states that “The hotel was known as Kerridge’s Hotel. In 1901 Jane Kerridge was Hotel Keeper. She was a widow aged 61”.

Dunbar Hotel in the 1890s/1900s

I found a newspaper cutting – from the Haddingtonshire Courier (now the East Lothian Courier) referring to the hotel. There is no date on the cutting but it will be from the 1890s. The cutting is shown below and is interesting in that it refers to the “New Esplanade” which is the promenade – built in 1894 – near the hotel. The strapline states that the hotel provides “Good stabling and baths” indicates that people staying there may have brought carriages with them. It also implies that not all hotel accommodation at the time provided residents with a bath. Nowadays, hotels often do not have baths either, but walk-in showers instead. It would appear that Mr Kerridge died before 1901 and Mrs Kerridge took over.

James Lee Burke’s “Robicheaux” and countryside frost

January 29, 2019

I have just finished reading Robicheaux by the noted US author James Lee Burke. This book is classified as a crime novel and indeed, there is much crime and many criminals to be found in the book, but Burke is such a lyrical writer, especially when describing the bayou settings in the novel, that it should be a novel first and a crime novel second. The titular hero Dave Robicheaux, has featured in many of Burke’s novel and is now semi-retired – officially – but he becomes fully involved in an investigation of a series of murders which involve police on the take, corrupt politicians, gangsters and a terrifying psychopath. Burke has always been a social commentator in his novels, although he never preaches. The book highlights the social tensions in US society between rich and poor, black and white, moral and amoral. One of the key characters in the book is Jimmy Nightingale, a populist politician who plays on the racist and anti-immigrant prejudices of many of his constituents, and is running for the senate, with hopes of higher office. Sounds familiar.

Robicheaux himself is a complex character, who is a recovering and occasionally lapsing alcoholic and Vietnam veteran. His fight is against criminals and the corrupt, but also against himself and his sometimes violent tendencies. His best pal is Clete Purcel, another complicated man whose view is that injustice is best served via violence against the perpetrators. Robicheaux tries to help Purcel and Purcel tries to keep his friend sober. Burke’s dialogue is one of his great strengths and it can be humorous. The pair meet in a bar and it looks like Purcel may be on a bender. Robicheaux asks “Why not put your brain in a jar and give it to a medical school”. The reply is “I did that five years ago. They gave it back”.

This is a mainly male-dominated novel but some of the female characters are well developed, such as Robicheaux’s female boss. Burke has always been a superb story teller and he keeps a complex plot moving and provides the reader with intriguing possibilities as to who might be behind the crime wave that is emerging in the county. Another character is the bayou itself and Burke has many poetic descriptions of the environment in which Robicheaux has his home. For example: “The coastline was a heartbreaking green inside the mist. Flying fish broke from the bay’s surface and sailed above the water …. The salt spray breaking on my bow was cold and fresh and smelled of resilience”. Reading Burke’s novel, you get a sense of the beauty and the danger (e.g. crocodiles) of the natural world, as well as the human world. This is a pacy thriller – but much more than that.

James Lee Burke’s captivating novel (Click on all photos to enlarge)

We now go from the heat and humidity of the Louisiana bayou to the cold and frost (but beautiful blue skies) of south east Scotland. On a recent Sunday morning, we drove 2 miles up country and parked the car at Oswald Dean, locally known as Oasie Dean and went on a circular walk. There was a heavy frost at our house and it was even thicker up the country, but there is a startlingly bright beauty about a frosted scene, such as this one, looking over the bridge at Oasie Dean. The trees, bushes and grass are all whitened and make the blue of the burn more outstanding than normal. The burn interrupts the imposed stillness of its surroundings.

Frosted meadow at Oswald Dean near Dunbar

Just across the road, on the wall above the neighbouring field, I spotted the frozen ivy leaves. The leaves and grass on this side of the wall remained white and stiff, while the leaves at the top and the yellow moss on the right of the photo below, had been restored to suppleness by the sun.

Frosted ivy and sun restored moss on the wall at Oswald Dean

On closer inspection (photo below), the ivy leaves appeared to be delicately dusted with frost, which served not to conceal, but to emphasise the delicate patterns of the veins on the leaves. Some were completely iced over and prickly-looking, while others were only fringed by ice and displayed what looked like a huge river, with tributaries on either side.

Frosted ivy leaves at Oswald Dean

We continued our walk up past The Doonery, now a collection of houses but formerly a farm, with an impressive chimney. Looking back at the Doonery (photo below) the edge of the path which was sheltered from the sun, was still frost-bound. I like the long straight lines in the photo, leading your eye to the bare trees and the former farm buildings.

Frosty pathside leading to the Doonery

Further up, this path has some magnificent trees which glowed in the bright blue winter sunlight. In the photo below, you can see the shadows cast by the trees. It looks like a man or woman is reaching up to pick something off the branches. The tress maybe leafless in January but they still impress with their sturdiness and shining trunks. Above the darker blue sea in the background, the sky goes from pale to a similar dark blue.

Trees on the path up to Doon Hill cast interesting shadows

We came back down the hill via Spott Farm which now appears to be open to walkers and runners, having been closed off for a number of years. The farm has many solid sandstone buildings and as you turn one corner, you see the farm clock (photo below), with its small campanile above. The roof had been partly in the sun, but the frost was still thick on the unwarmed sections.

We were walking down the driveway from the main Spott House building, when 3 deer leapt the fence to our right and bounced across the road into the next field. Seeing deer dash away from you, with their white rumps disappearing into the field, is always a pleasure to see. I managed to catch one of the deer (photo below) as it crossed the tree-lined driveway and the still frosted grass. Again, the trees cast shadows which left sunny rectangles on the road and the grass. A fine end to a very enjoyable walk.

A deer crosses over the road up to Spott House

Scottish Birds photography and the white sands of Jervis Bay

January 22, 2019

As a member of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, albeit as only an occasional bird watcher, I receive the journal Scottish Birds – see latest cover ( and some content) here. For serious birders – do not use the pejorative term twitchers – there are many well researched and peer-reviewed articles in the journal. My main interest is in the photography. Through the help of Harry Scott of Pica Design and with the permission of the photographers, I am able to reproduce three aesthetically pleasing examples here.

The first is of a honey-buzzard (below) which was captured in flight, showing its magnificent wingspan. This bird is a living creature but also a work of art. It is beautifully symmetrical – look at the outer wing, finger-like feathers and the Australian aboriginal-like painting patterns on the wings. The bird’s tail could be a Japanese fan, used to display status and cool down its user, as opposed to being part of this superb hunter’s killing machine. The eyes and the beak look small and insignificant in comparison, but they too are part of the hunter’s toolkit. I see many more common buzzards as I cycle around the countryside than I did a few years ago and buzzards often sit on fences next to a dual carriageway in our county. They look in control of their territory and their elegant flight is something to see.

Honey Buzzard – Copyright John Anderson (Click on all photos to enlarge)

The second photo is of avocets (below)which have the superb Latin name recurvirostra avosetta, which translates as having a curved back and beak. The avocet really is a most elegant bird, with its long straight legs like pillars holding up an earthquake threatened building, an upright stance and that beak which is turned up at the end, giving the bird a haughty look. There’s an excellent video of avocets here (scroll down to the video) where you can hear the birds chitter-chattering and watch their non-stop action in preening and feeding.

Avocets Copyright Ron Penn

The third photo (below) is a new bird to me, the kildeer (good photos) – the charadrius vociferous – which has a distinctive call and is a rare visitor to the UK. This photo was taken in Shetland and was only the 5th sighting in 50 years. This is a small bird but the shapes formed by the colours of the feathers around the eye, beak and neck give it a rare elegance. The subtle brown of the feathers on its back draws your eye to the black stripes and up to the slightly darker brown around its alert eye.

Kildeer Copyright Donna Atherton

While staying with our friends on our last stop in Australia recently, they took us down the coast to the idyllic beaches at Jervis Bay (good photos). We have a beach called Whitesands not far from Dunbar and it is a beautiful beach. In terms of being white however, Jervis Bay beaches are a long way ahead. The photo below shows one of the white beaches through the trees next to the road above the beach and you can see the brightness of the beach and the delicate turquoise of the sea.

Once you were down on the shore, there were big waves rolling in. The water was not as warm as we enjoyed in Port Douglas, but it was still very pleasant for a paddle. You can see in the photo below the whiteness of the collapsed waves, the bluey green sea behind and the slope of the beach. There was a considerable drag each time a wave performed its diving act and turned back to meet the next wave.

As we walked through the bush at the edge of the beach, we came across this friendly gecko, which was completely undisturbed by my close-up photography and seemed willing to pose for the camera. In the first photo below, the gecko catches your eye first but then you see the huge spider-like split in the tree trunk, as you follow the gecko’s tail to the leaf-laden floor of the bush.

In the next photo, the gecko’s ability to camouflage itself is apparent and when it climbed further up the tree trunk, it was hard to spot against the darker wood. I loved the rough curves and lines of the gum tree trunk, which had cast off the bark it no longer needed. There is a plethora of Australian geckos which you can see here. If you have more time and patience than me, I’m sure you might be able to identify this particular type of gecko.