Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

Smooth tattie dreels and bluebells

May 3, 2017

My home county of East Lothian is often referred to as “the garden of Scotland” because of its rich arable soil. In the past two weeks, several fields around Dunbar have been transformed from being roughly ploughed and not very interesting areas, into mesmerising rows of tattie (Scots for potato) dreels (Scots for drills). The first photo was taken at a slight angle to the dreels and I love the curvature of the shaped soil and how one set of dreels leads on to another further up the field – and the 2nd set appear to curve in a different direction.

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Tattie dreels on the edge of Dunbar (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo is taken more or less straight on and the regimented dreels look like an endless set of brown piano keys, which might play a song such as (appropriately for this blog’s author) Tatties and Herrin. This song claims that the “natural food” of the Scots is potatoes and herring – and the video shows the reaping, gutting and barrelling of the herring (aka Silver Darlings). In the 1920s and 1930s, tatties and herrin’ were indeed the staple diet of many Scots people. Of course, in the 1920s and 1930s, before the advent of tractors, tatties would be sown by hand or by an early potato planter and they would be sown in much smaller fields, compared to the huge fields we see today. I have planted tatties in my own garden this year – the first time for over 30 years and yes, my dreels are smooth. When the first nascent shaws appear on my crop, I’ll post a photo

 

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Tattie dreels and the Lammermuir Hills

It’s May, so time for the bluebells to make their annual appearance and, for a brief time, be the dominant flower in woodland areas. A fellow blogger – Bookish Nature – has an excellent post on bluebells and she includes a lovely quote from Gerald Manley Hopkins and a clip from a Robert MacFarlane video, based on his excellent book The Wild Places. I ventured to the woods at Foxlake Adventures – as I did last year, to try to take better photos of the bluebells. The first two photos show the extensive bluebells among the trees at Foxlake. In some ways, the trees enhance the bluebells, emphasising their colour and showing how they cover the ground around the trees. The bluebells also enhance the tall, erect trees which are just coming into leaf, showing their mottled bark and their reach towards the light. In the 2nd photo, the sunshine has lightened the colour of the bluebells and strengthened the green of the new leaves. The bluebells will soon fade away but the leaves will get bigger and change colour to a darker green, so you have to appreciate the light green shapes that have emerged from the buds while they last.

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Bluebells beneath trees at Foxlake Woods

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Bluebells and trees in the sun at Foxlake Woods

Taking close-up photos of bluebells is something I find quite difficult but I keep trying. The first photo shows how the bluebell petals curl up when open and when you are looking down on stretches of bluebells, you hardly notice this feature, which is like women’s hairstyles in the 1960s. The vibrancy of the blue in the bluebell comes out very well here and you have to crouch down and look closely to appreciate this. So, next time you are in a bluebell strewn wood, hunker down and take a close-up view.

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Bluebell close up

For the 2nd photo, I had to hold the stem of the flower and turn it upwards. Bluebell flowers droop down, as if the flowers are too shy to show off their attractive pale cream anthers which hold the pollen. Only the creatures that scurry in amongst the bluebells, e.g. the beetles or perhaps a curious little wren, will appreciate the aesthetics of the underside of the bluebell. Seeing the bluebells in full colour and spread is a heart-warming sight, as you can feel the warmth in the colour of the flowers and know that Spring is well underway and soon the sun will have real warmth as well.

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Bluebell close up, showing pale cream anthers

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Redhouse Castle, walls and daffodils, and honeywort

April 11, 2017

Sometimes you get to places by accident. Recently, we were visiting the Carol Barrett exhibition and there was a huge queue of traffic going into Aberlady (good photos), we headed west, through Longniddry  and ended up at Redhouse Castle (good photos). There is a new garden centre next to the ruin of the castle, which is a late 16th century building originally standing 4 storeys high. The first photo shows the ruin from the edge of the garden centre. It is perhaps not one of the most attractive castles which have survived but, given the technology available in the late 16th century, it is an impressive site.

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Redhouse Castle., East Lothian (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo shows the arched entrance into what would once have been an impressive courtyard of the Douglas family who built the original castle. It was acquired by the Laings (good photos) in 1607.

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Entrance to Redhouse Castle, East Lothian

The final photo is a close up of the doorway into the castle. Above the wooden door, on the pediment, can be seen the Laing family coat of arms and the initials MIL for Master John (Ioannes) Laing and RD for his wife Rebecca Dennistoun or Deenistoun. The motto on the lintel is Nisi Dominus Frustra – one translation being without the Lord, all is in vain, although like many Latin mottos, other translations exist. The stonework around the doorways is smooth, unlike the rougher – but more attractive, sandstone of the building itself.

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Doorway into Redhouse Castle, with the Laing family arms

On to stonework which is on a much lesser scale but, as I built most of it myself, remains attractive and has been enhanced by the array of daffodils now in flower above the walls. The first photo is of the first wall which I built with much advice and help from former stonemason Ian Sammels. This remains – unsurprisingly – the most impressive wall.

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The Sammels/Herring all and Spring flowers

The 2nd photo is of the latest – and final(?) stonewall, which I built myself. The mixture of daffodil types – white or yellow petalled – with the different shades of red sandstone, plus the shadows of the bushes behind, make this – I think – a well composed photos.

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The Herring wall with a variety of daffodils

A new plant in my garden is honeywort, given to me by my lifelong friend and fellow blogger Tam Bruce and his wife Sandra. Tam gave me two cuttings from their impressive garden in Edinburgh. This plant, shown below, has the wonderful name of Cerinthe major “Purpurascens”. It is a long established plant which attracts bees – thus its name – and one source quotes Virgil as ” using this plant as an offering to swarming bees in order to entice them into a new hive”.  As the photo shows, the plant has very colourful  tubular bell flowers, and at the moment, the leaves are starting to change colour and will develop into brilliant blue leaves or, more precisely, bracts which are defined as “leaf like structures”. So there is more to come from this plant, which seeds itself vigorously and has to be controlled. Tam and I had some fun in email exchanges, suggesting a modern update of the Beatles’ song Honey Pie, with a new line of “Honeywort, you are driving me crazy..”. I like the shadow of the plant against the stone and its intriguing shapes.

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Honeywort in my garden

 

Back to St Abbs and Spring flowers (2)

March 26, 2017

On Sunday, another visit to one of our favourite places, St Abbs Head (good photos), featured many times on this blog. It’s a small village but you can vary your walks and views nearby and always see something just a bit different from the last time. We parked at the National Trust car park and walked down past the farm on our left, which had a shed full of sheep just about to lamb. We saw some lambs in a nearby field and I managed to capture them amongst some shapely reflections of the trees.

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Lambs at St Abbs (Click to enlarge)

We went up the first part of the cliff top walk – going west to east – but only wanted a short walk, so we didn’t go any further. On the way back, you look across the to village of St Abbs Head, past the ragged shaped outcrop of rock (Photo below). It made me wonder whether, in a hundred or two hundred years, that rock column, sculpted by the weather, will still be there. It’s a superb view, taking in the harbour and all the houses built on the once empty cliffs above. There was only a gentle swell on the sea that day, with the waves edging slowly around the rocks, and not crashing over them as they often do.

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Rock column and St Abbs Head village

The next photo is from an angle I don’t think I’ve taken a shot from before. It is looking back across the edge of the harbour towards the clifftop walk, with the impressive Northfield House prominent on the cliff. The rock column in the photo above is just to the top right of this photo. Behind the house on the left with the red roof, with chimneys at either end (like the house to its right), there is a wooden staircase which leads you up to the impressive St Abbs Visitor Centre, which is well worth a visit.

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View across St Abbs Head arbour to the cliff walk

We walked back to the car park and, at the end of the farm buildings, I came across a trailer load of neeps – see photo below. In Scotland, we call them neeps or turnips. In England, they are called Swedes. What people in other parts of Britain call turnips, which are much smaller than neeps, we call white turnips. Around Dunbar, you will also hear people referring to Tumshies, another name for neeps/Swedes/turnips. Very confusing? For your amusement, but maybe not illumination, read this excellent Guardian article on the subject.

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A trailer load of neeps at St Abbs Head.

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Close up of neeps at St Abbs Head

And so to the second reflection on Spring flowers. In many towns in Scotland, councils in recent years have greatly expanded the planting of Spring flowers and it is not unusual to see great swathes of bright yellow and white crocuses at the entrance to these towns. Councils also planted thousand of daffodils and it is they which now take centre stage, as the crocuses have faded. There is something uplifting about seeing large groups of daffodils and I think Wordsworth had something to say on the topic in two versions (see website). I took a photo of daffodils on a banking at The Glebe in Dunbar. This small park overlooks the sea and the harbour entrance. The photo looks towards the remains of Dunbar Castle(good photos).

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Daffodils on a banking The Glebe, Dunbar

My aim every year is to take very clear close-up photos of flowers, to get to the heart of them and look at them as abstract shapes as well as attractive flowers. In the first photo below, I took two contrasting daffodils, one with white petals and one with yellow petals. They are both enchanting flowers but maybe the white petals emphasise the yellow, choir boys’ ruff of the flower’s centre more. Both have delicate stigma which thrust out to attract the pollen seekers. They are like mini corn on the cob with extensions.

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Two daffodils in my garden

In the final photo, I like the delicate folds in the prawn cracker petals and the ragged edge of the flower is similar to the rock face above at St Abbs. Also, the colour in the flower is not uniformly yellow but contains various shades, making it even more attractive.

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Yellow and white daffodil in my garden

 

Back on my bike, John Clare podcast and crocuses

February 23, 2017

I had my first cycle on Saturday after being off the bike for 5.5 weeks with very painful sciatica i.e. intermittently, you get a sharp pain in your side and shooting pains going down your leg – and this can happen during the day or night. Okay, it’s a fairly minor complaint but it’s very annoying and frustrating, particularly with the knowledge that cycling will make it worse. When you look up sciatica on the web, the first thing your told by all the websites I looked at is: There is no cure for sciatica. You just have to wait until it calms down and do warm up and warm down exercises before cycling. So, on the bike – tentatively. When you come back to cycling, especially when you get older, there is a change in the environment. What used to be inclines are back to hills, and what used to be small hills are now biggish hills and as for the big hills – forget about them for a while. However, I know that after a few longer cycle rides, the inclines will return to their former status, as will the little hills and the big hills can be conquered – maybe at a painfully slow rate at first.

On Saturday’s bike ride and on today’s, it was refreshing to be out looking at the countryside again, passing clumps of snowdrops now at their peak and also emergent crocus and the odd daffodil in flower. Plus, many of the fields are going green again, while others, newly ploughed, have a sheen on the turned earth which the sun catches. So it was appropriate today that, while on the bike, I listened (safely, able to hear traffic behind me) to a podcast from Melvyn Bragg’s educative and informative series In Our Time on Radio 4. This podcast ( you can listen from anywhere in the world) was on the poet John Clare  and there was a fascinating discussion by three academic experts on Clare’s childhood. He was brought up in relative poverty in the village of Helpston in Northamptonshire, where his father worked on a local farm. Clare left school at 11 and was introduced to poetry by fellow farm labourer, who showed Clare a book of poems about landscape. Clare was published in his 20s and was marketed as a poor farm labourer (a la Robert Burns in Scotland) with a gift for poetry. The podcast reveals how Clare became a poet of the countryside – from the countryside’s and its animals’ point of view i.e. Clare on his walks delved into elements such as the Nightingale’s Nest. As one of the panel observed, Clare did not observe the rural landscape “from over a 5-barred gate” as other rural poets did, but included details – such as the composition of the nightingale’s nest. Clare’s fame did not last and he ended up in a lunatic asylum, but he still wrote poems which have endured until today, later in his life. Clare’s style fell out of fashion but there has been a revival of interest in Clare by poets such as Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin, who admired Clare’s use of local dialect words. I would recommend this podcast to everyone, not just those interested in poetry.

We are two-thirds of the way through February and the crocus flowers have added a welcome splash of early Spring colour across the UK. Here in Dunbar, the local council have planted hundreds of crocus around the town. The photos that follow are from the council-planted crop just up the road from my house. It was very windy when I took the photos but the sun was out and the crocus glittered and swayed in the wind, which is not cold today. Tomorrow, however, the temperatures are to plummet and we may get gales and snow, which means a battering  for these attractive but flimsy flowers. In this photo, I like the combination of colours, yellow, purple and different shades of green.

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Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the next photo, a close-up (difficult to do in the wind), the crocus appear to be reaching up to the sun and opening their flowers to ingest the sun’s rays.

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Close up of crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the final photo, which includes both yellow and purple flowers, the crocus are like open-mouthed choir boys, singing at the top of their voices.

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

John Clare refers to the crocus in some of his poems, such as this from Early Spring “The Spring is come, and Spring flowers coming too, The crocus, patty kay, the rich hearts’ ease;”. The patty kay is the hepatica flower and the photo below is included under the Creative Commons licence.

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Hepatica flower

 

 

Poole and Threlfall exhibition and tulips

May 1, 2016

A new exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady features two high quality artists – Greg Poole and John Threlfall. I contacted both artists and they replied immediately, kindly giving me 2 photos of their work from the exhibition. The two artists complement each other very well with one tending towards the abstract while the other is more (but not completely) naturalistic. In alphabetical order, I’ll look at Greg Poole’s work first. In the first work below, while the heron is recognisable, it represents a heron. The bird’s legs have an abstract quality and could be tree trunks or scaffolding? I like the shapes and the blocks of colour and the smooth lines in this striking picture. The 2nd work again is recognisably a blackbird with its yellow beak. But what about that demonstrative, peacock- like tail, and those platform soles? Overall, Poole’s work contains a range of striking images which challenge your vision of reality and ask you to appreciate the abstract building blocks which make up each work. Get to see this artist’s work if you can.

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Heron and Reeds woodcut by Greg Poole

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Blackbird monotype by Greg Poole

The work of John Threlfall is equally admirable. On the face of it, Threlfall’s work is more naturalistic than Poole’s but there is a shimmering quality to the 2 examples below which goes beyond straightforward portrayals of nature. In the first painting, the guillemots are recognisable but are we looking through a rain soaked window at them and are they sitting on ice, snow or winter greenery? It’s for the viewer to decide. the patches of white on the birds are reflected in the foreground and the little splash of red under the birds is an excellent touch. In the 2nd painting, the nuthatch stands out in gorgeous blues and a delicate pink and the scenery while recognisable, is as if it’s taken with a camera focusing on the bird and the background is blurred. This serves to draw our eye to the bird itself which looks contemplative but alert, perhaps to nearby food. Have a look at all 4 works and decide what you see, as it may be different from what I see. Overall, this exhibition was a joy to visit and the artists are to be highly praised for the consistent high quality of their work. While at the exhibition, you can buy John Threlfall’s book Drawn to the Edge.

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Black guillemots by John Threlfall

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Nuthatch by John Threlfall

It’s the end of April and the tulips are on full show in my garden, standing proud to show off their deep reds and yellows in contrast to the now dowdy daffodils which have had their time in the spotlight. The photos below firstly show the tulips open-mouthed to the sun against a backdrop of burgeoning lavender. There’s a definite “look at me” quality to tulips who see themselves (rightly or wrongly) as the aristocracy of spring flowers. A E Stallings wrote “The tulips make me want to paint/..Something about the way they twist/ As if to catch the last applause”.

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Tulips in my garden

The 2nd photo shows the inside of one of the tulips which I always think have a surreal quality. Is that a tarantula trying to crawl out of the flower? Dannie Abse sees tulips as “Effulgent swans/ sailing through a yellow interior of air” – great word effulgent.

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Close up of a tulip in my garden

Hospital, haws and spring flowers

April 2, 2016

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

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

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The haws at Stenton

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The haws at Stenton

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Hawthorn blossom

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

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Polyanthus in my garden

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Primrose/polyanthus in my garden

 

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Polyanthus in my garden

 

 

Cooking Beef’n’Beer, RSNO Concert and tulips

February 2, 2016

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

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

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Dunbar Community Bakery

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

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Section of the RSNO

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

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A dazzling array of tulips

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Tulips from above

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

 

 

Six little terns, wintry St Abbs harbour and green shoots

December 16, 2015

I’m reading the new Poetry Book Society ChoiceLes Murray‘s Waiting for the Past. Murray’s poems are dense with images and he has the poet’s knack of reducing into a few words what the rest of us would need a paragraph to explain. One of the early poems in the book is entitled Dynamic Rest:

Six little terns

feet gripping sand

on a windy beach

 

six more just above

white with opened wings

busy exchange of feet

 

reaching down lifting off

terns rising up through terms

all quivering parallel

 

drift ahead and settle

bracing their eyes

against the brunt of wind

So we have four short verses and like all the poems in this book, you need to read and re-read to gain an insight into the depth of what the poems is about and what happens in the poem. The title is an oxymoron in that dynamic and rest appear to be contradictory. My English teacher at school, Mrs McKie, would be impressed that I remembered the term oxymoron. The terns are “resting” on the beach and in the air, and in the last verse, they “settle”. Murray imagines the birds – I assume that you cannot see birds “bracing their eyes” – perhaps narrowing their eyes in the face of a strong (and cold?) wind. The last phrase is “the brunt of wind” i.e. not the brunt of the wind, suggesting a forceful and unpleasant wind for the birds. The wind also affects the birds on the ground as their feet have to grip the sand. So the poem is dynamic, with “terns rising up through terns” and there is constant movement in this attempt at rest. Murray’s white terns are common in Australia and have striking blue/black beaks and black eyes.

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

We drove down to St Abbs Head on Sunday on a cold and damp winter’s day. It was grey all day and dark in the morning until 8am and dark again at 4pm. Despite this, we were well rugged up for a short walk, there was still plenty to see. The harbour, which still contains the now defunct lifeboat station, has fewer boats, with some on the shore for maintenance (see photos). The sea, of course, never stops and the waves were gently caressing the sea walls – the wind was light and south westerly, so no dramatic coastal scene on Sunday, but the sea still looked cold. There were some people about but you felt an absence – of tourists, divers and fishermen that throng the harbour in the summer.

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

Before walking to the harbour, we parked at the Nature Centre and visited the excellent Number Four Gallery. On the way to the gallery, I remarked that it would not be long until we saw snowdrops here. Looking down at the leaf strewn ground, there was no sign of growth, but when I pushed back some leaves, the green shoots of the snowdrops were well above the ground – see photo. I pushed the leaves back over the stems for protection. I remembered the final lines of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind – “O Wind, / If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”. Apparently not, as the snowdrop growth looked strong and healthy and the green provided a good contrast to the ever-fading leaves from the trees, although some ivy leaves were still green.

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

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

Spring day in Edinburgh and Easter Sunday walk

April 7, 2015

At last, Spring has arrived in Scotland and while the tulips, daffodils, crocuses and primroses have been out for a couple of weeks, the has been a definite lack of warmth. At the weekend, temperatures rose to an enjoyable 14 degrees. Now, obviously, if you are reading this in certain parts of the world, you may shiver at the thought of 14 degrees but for us, it’s a welcome doubling of the temperature from the last 3 weeks. On Saturday I was in Edinburgh to meet my 2 pals for a lunchtime beer or two and then we went to the football (aka soccer). It’s too painful to write about the latter but we enjoyed drinking Village Idiot real ale in Robbie’s bar. Earlier, I had a walk in the centre of town along Princes Street Gardens which have been transformed from a winter scene with an ice rink and German Market, into a spring flower showcase. There is now a profusion of daffodils, polyanthus and wallflower. The 3 photos below (taken on my phone) show two new polyanthus rings above the gardens, a view along the gardens to the west end of Princes St and a bed of pansies above the hedge lined walks in the gardens. All year round, this is a multilingual area and you hear several languages in a small stretch of the walk.

Circular polyanthus beds in Edinburgh

Circular polyanthus beds in Edinburgh

View west along Princes St Gardens

View west along Princes St Gardens

Looking down on to Princes St Gardens

Looking down on to Princes St Gardens

We woke up yesterday morning – Easter Sunday – to a bit of a haar and the harbour and most of the north sea had disappeared. It quickly cleared and we set of south to our frequent haunt of St Abbs Head, featured many times on this blog but there’s always a slightly different experience. As there was a slight east wind, we walked the circular route (photos here) around the cliffs from east to west. As it was the holiday weekend, it was much busier than normal but it’s a friendly as well as a scenic walk and most people passing each other say hello. The haar was covering the village of St Abbs but the coastal walk was clear and sunny. The first photo (click to enlarge for best effect) shows the village just peaking above the haar. We walked along the high clifftops and past rocks once again covered with guillemots. This is lambing time in Scotland and we passed at least 3 flocks of sheep, one on the steep hillside (2nd photo) and another where a mother was feeding her lamb (3rd photo).

Haar covering St Abbs village

Haar covering St Abbs village

Sheep on the hill above the gorse at St Abbs Head

Sheep on the hill above the gorse at St Abbs Head

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