Archive for the ‘sunset’ Category

The Underground Railroad and cloud formations on the horizon

September 15, 2017

I’ve just finished reading one of the best books I’ve read in a good while. Colson Whitehead is a new author to me but on the basis of this book, I’ll be trying more. The Underground Railroad has won many awards, including the famous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel begins on a slave plantation in Georgia with one particularly sadistic brother in charge. The heroine Cora knows that her mother escaped the plantation and abandoned her as a child. Cora has no intention of trying to escape but is persuaded to do so by Caesar. The horrors of slave life – constant hard work, poor conditions and regular beatings – are well described in a series of incidents. Whitehead is an excellent storyteller but, as the Guardian reviewer points out, other novels have covered this ground. What makes this novel unique – and this is no spoiler – is that the author takes the well known escape routes for slaves, known as the underground railroad and transforms it from a series of safe houses into an actual underground railroad, with tracks, stations and locomotives . So we are asked to follow the author’s leap of imagination and this is not difficult as Whitehead is such an accomplished writer. The novel then focuses on both those who seek to help Cora, liberal whites as well as former slaves, and on those who wish to capture Cora and take her back to the plantation. The slave catcher Ridgeway is a key character in the novel and Whitehead manages not to demonise him, despite his gruesome occupation. Ridgeway views the world in an uncomplicated manner “It is what it is” he says e.g. slavery exists and different people make money from it. The novel ends on a hopeful note although the reader does feel that there is no guarantee about Cora’s future. This is a novel which is harrowing at times, but you are driven along by Whitehead’s excellent narrative which often has you on the edge of your seat. The Underground Railroad is a passionate and imaginative novel so go out and buy it immediately. You can hear/download an interesting interview with the author here (left hand column).

Underground

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, winner of The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (Click to enlarge all photos)

 

At the end of summer, we often get changeable weather and this is accompanied by a variety of cloud formations in the evening. Last week, looking out from the back of our house, we noticed an interesting light on the sea. Normally, it is when the moon is full and over the sea, or the setting sun casts its light. On both occasions, there is what appears to be  a silver (moon) or a golden (sun) pathway across the water, as in the photo below. In this photo however, the sun was not yet setting and this view looks north, with the sun at this point in the west.

IMG_1877

Light across the sea on the east side of Dunbar

So, first the light, then the cloud formation itself in the photo below. This appears to be a nuclear explosion or a volcanic eruption in the sky, and the many shades of blue on display was impressive. There’s a white castle in the middle and monster racing dolphins underneath. Otherwise, it’s a piece of abstract art representing the chaos in the world now, or what the end of our known world (or its beginning) might look like. That’s what I saw, what do you see?

IMG_1879

Interesting cloud formation on the horizon, looking north from Dunbar

Turning my attention west to the town of Dunbar itself, there was also an interesting formation of clouds above the town, in the photo below. Here, the clouds are in more anarchic mood, splitting up and diving off in different directions. It was one of these evening when you looked at the clouds, turned round to look north, and when you turned back the shapes had changed, as had the colours. A wonderful sight.

IMG_1880

Early evening cloud formation above Dunbar

 

 

 

Advertisements

Darktown and summer evenings

August 11, 2017

I’ve just finished reading Darktown by US author  Thomas Mullen. The setting for this novel is Atlanta in 1948. While it can be described as a crime novel, as it involves the police and the solving of a crime, this book is no mere run-of-the-mill thriller. The main focus of the book is the inherent and ubiquitous racism that pervades the city and in particular, its white police force. The book uses the word Negro from the start and the N-word is used repeatedly by white officers. So many people might find it an uncomfortable read, but that should not put them off reading it, as it is a very well plotted story with interesting characterisation. As an experiment, the city of Atlanta has appointed its first 8 black police officers but they are very restricted in what they can do e.g. they can attend a crime but not investigate it further, as that must be done by white officers. The main story revolves around the murder of a young black woman who had earlier been seen with a white man. The two black officers, Boggs and Smith discover that their report has been altered and the murder case is not to be followed up. Against all orders, Boggs in particular seeks to solve this mystery. The two main white officers are Dunlow, a vicious racist with sadistic tendencies, and Rakestraw, a troubled young officer who is more sympathetic to black people. All the characters – even Dunlow – are shown to have good aspects to their characters and this is not simply a good guys versus bad guys book. The racial attitudes and the politics of race are shown to be complex in this riveting, often very tense and supremely well-paced novel. Go and buy it.

 

Darktown

Darktown by Thomas Mullen (Click to enlarge)

We’ve had a very mixed summer, weather-wise, in Dunbar this year, with more rain than normal and very few noteworthy sunsets. We had a short spell of interestingly coloured and shaped evening skies and here are some examples. This photo shows the town of Dunbar’s east beach shoreline houses with the High Street in the background to the right. Ominously looming above the town is what looks like an anti-ballistic missile on its way from Donald Trump to Kim Jong-un or vice versa? As of today, we are unscathed.

IMG_1650

Evening sky above Dunbar

The next photo shows two of the ships which are parked out to sea. These are oil or gas related vessels which are waiting for business and park on the horizon (or so it seems) looking out from the back of our house, as they can park there for free. I like the delicate pinks next to the deeper blues of the amorphous clouds, which constantly change shape before it gets dark.

IMG_1652

Ships on the horizon and the evening sky

The final photo shows another evening sky above the town. This photo was taken just after we Dunbar folk launched our own anti-ballistic missile as warning to Trump and Jong-un. The bold Donald has been strangely silent on this issue but don’t worry – he knows. I would tell you more but I’m sworn to secrecy.  It was a beautifully coloured sky with a multiplicity of shades of pink, blue and purple – perfect for a glass or two of pale pink Provence wine – and a missile launch.

IMG_1657

Evening sky above Dunbar – interesting streaks

 

Two exhibitions – local and national

August 18, 2016

Last week, we went to two art exhibitions, one here in Dunbar and one at the National Gallery in Edinburgh.

The first exhibition was Inspiring Impressionism and featured the works of very well known artists Van Gogh and Monet. However, the main focus of the exhibition was on the man who inspired Van Gogh and Monet, with a new style of painting – Charles Daubigny. I’m sure that, like many others, I had never heard of Daubigny but he was a prolific artist and one who shifted the focus of art from strictly realistic, and often internal, painting to take in landscapes, which were often painted outside, at the scene of the painting. As Daubigny progressed as an artist, his depiction of the landscapes became more impressionistic and he was called “the father of impressionism”. There are many very impressive paintings in this exhibition – see highlights –  and among my favourites was Fields in the Month of June shown below, under the Creative Commons Licence. If you click on the painting to enlarge it, you will see what is perhaps an idyllic landscape with common elements seen in may paintings, such as the women working in the fields, the donkey nearby and the geese flying overhead. However, it was Daubigny’s use of paint to portray the poppies that was unusual at the time and he was criticised for this by the more traditional art establishment.

Fields in the Month of June by Charles Daubigny

Fields in the Month of June by Charles Daubigny

Another outstanding work is Sunset on the Sea Coast in which you can see how Daubigny influenced Monet and Van Gogh. The is one of Daubigny’s most impressionist painting and the mix of colours and the contrast between the darkening land, the vivid sunset and the evening sky are beautifully done. When you stand next to this painting and look close up, it appears to be a random succession of daubs of paint, but step back and this almost volcanic looking sunset strikes you. I felt it was real privilege to see all Daubigny’s works, as well as those of Monet and Van Gogh.

Sunset-on-the-Sea-Coast-large

Sunset on the Sea Coast by Charles Daubigny

The  second exhibition is a set of reproductions of the paintings of artist James Howe. The exhibition was mounted by East Lothian Archaeology Service and it takes the form of digital reproductions of Howe’s paintings, which you see as actual size and with some paintings, at first, you think you might be seeing the actual painting. The exhibition and very well produced accompanying booklet are sponsored by Rathbone Investment Management Limited. James Howe was born in 1780 in the village of Skirling in the Scottish borders and he went on to become a prolific artist – like Daubigny – specialising in the painting of horses, which he loved doing. In order to make a living, he also did portraits of wealthy people in Scotland. The first painting below (permission given) shows the helter-skelter of the horse fair in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket, which today is a major tourist attraction. The second painting focuses on the horses preparing to start a race at Musselburgh race course which is still going strong today. While the eye is drawn to the magnificent horses, there is action at the front and rear of the painting, with boys being chased by a soldier. This was a very interesting exhibition of the work of a Scottish painter of whom I had not heard.

Scan_20160817

Horse Fair in the Grassmarket Edinburgh by James Howe

Scan_20160817-2

Preparing for the Start by James Howe

 

Return to Bamburgh and Howick Hall Gardens

July 23, 2016

Another trip to Bamburgh in Northumberland earlier this week and a return to the excellent Mizen Head Hotel previously featured here. Just around the corner from the hotel is the local church – St Aidan’s (good photos)  – and we walked with our relatives around to the church just as the sun was setting. A very helpful church warden called us into the church to show us the reflection of the sun coming through a window and shining in bright orange on the church wall. Unfortunately, the photos did not come out. The church has an outstanding profile at dusk as in the photo below.

IMG_0575

St Aidan’s church Bamburgh

At the back of the church, the old graveyard continues and next to the church is a large field where sheep were grazing. You could have been there 100 years ago as from that point, looking north, there are no visible signs of the 21st century. Looking south, you can see the imposing Bamburgh Castle which dominates the countryside around. The photo below is taken from the graveyard.

IMG_0587

Bamburgh Castle from St Aidan’s churchyard

Inside the church the stonework is magnificent and you can see the different additions to the church over the centuries. Given that the stonemasons who built the church had no modern equipment, the result is very impressive. One feature of the church is an example of a squint which – see photo below – was an aperture allowing the poorer people in the congregation to see through to the main part of the church. [Note: the photo shows the quint at an angle]

IMG_0592

St Aidan’s church squint

We had an excellent visit to the nearby Howick Hall Gardens (good video). The gardens are unusual in that, instead of the normal array of formal gardens you see on visits to sites such as Alnwick Gardens, this is a vast area of woodland and countryside which has little gardens dotted around which specialise e.g. in hydrangeas of different kinds. Around the house itself, there are cottage gardens as in the photos below.

IMG_0606

Cottage garden at Howick Hall

IMG_0614

Howick Hall gardens

For me, one of the pleasures of going to gardens like this is the opportunity to get close up photos of a range of flowers, most of which I’m unable to identify but all have intriguing shapes and colours as shown below.

IMG_0618

Rose at Howick Hall gardens

IMG_0620

Lily at Howick Hall gardens

IMG_0635

Feeding bee at Howick Hall gardens

The gardens are known as an arboretum – a collection of trees, shrubs and flowers and there is no lack of variety at Howick Hall. It’s not possible to cover all of the 64 acres at Howick Hall in one day, so a return visit, perhaps in the Spring to see the banks of daffodils, will be needed. You can also do a lovely walk from Howick Hall to the beach for free. This is a very attractive part of the world with a range of places to visit, including Craster, famous for its kippers. We walked past the smoke house, with light smoke coming out of the roof aperture and you could smell the fish being smoked. The walk from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle will be in the next edition of the blog.

 

The French Table and Kalamkari exhibition

January 20, 2016

One of the highlights of our recent trip to London was going to the delightful The French Table (aka TFT) restaurant in Surbiton. We were staying nearby with relatives in Thames Ditton and we were out celebrating our nephew Sid’s 21st birthday. The staff at TFT had added fine touches to our table, including red and white ribbons round the menu, as Sid supports Southampton FC. Also, at the top of the menu, they had written “Happy 21st Birthday Sid”. We were given a warm welcome by the cheery, helpful but not intrusive staff who were willing to answer questions about the menu – see below.

Scan_20160117

The French Table Menu

This was a menu – with the exception of the cauliflower – from which I could choose any of the dishes. To start with, my wife and I had the butternut squash crème brûlée. This was a new dish for us and it did not disappoint with the combination of the squash, the crunchy top, the flavoursome vegetables and tasty dressing. I’m going to try to make this and found a recipe (with video). Will it be as good as TFT? – unlikely but watch this space. I had the venison for main course and it was cooked to perfection – tender and pink in the middle, with a real depth of flavour. Two of the party had the monkfish which was praised for its flavour and superb accompaniments of crispy samphire and truffle froth. Zoe from TFT kindly sent me some photos of their dishes and the monkfish is shown below.

TFT 2

Monkfish at The French Table

We all shared a plate of delicious desserts and my favourite was the chocolate and peanut fondant with malt ice cream. Mmm – the malt ice cream was among the best I’ve had. There are two more photos below – the rabbit terrine and cherry soufflé.

TFT 1

Terrine of rabbit, ham hock, green olives and foie gras with homemade piccalilli and toasted walnut bread from The French Table

TFT 4

Morello cherry soufflé with pistachio ice-cream from The French Table.

So, if you ever anywhere near the Surbiton area –  and it’s not far from London – try out this restaurant, as it’s a real find. Next time we’re at our rellies (as the Australians say) we’ll be back.

From food to art and particularly fabrics. There’s a new exhibition at Waterston House in Aberlady and it features the work of the Dundee-based group Kalamkari. The group’s title derives, as the useful handout indicated, from ” a fabric painting and dyeing technique known as ‘kalamkari’ or ‘qualamkari’. There is something for everyone in this exhibition and the standard of textile art on show here is of a very high standard. The theme is nature and this is interpreted widely by the various textile artists on show here: Jan Reid, Carol Gorrie, Maureen Shepherd, Lorna Morrison, Lyn Gourlay, Mona Clark, Morag Gray, Mary Wallace and Sheila Paterson. There are flowers and birds here, but also shorelines,fantasy dolls and abstract pieces. We will certainly return for another viewing. Mona Clark kindly sent me photos two pieces I selected from the exhibition and the two on show here – Land of the Midnight Sun by Lorna Morrison and Rockface at Lunan Bay by Morag Gray – are indicative of the quality of the overall exhibition. If you can get to see the exhibition, please do, or look out for the work of the Kalamari group in the future.

Kal2

Land of the Midnight Sun by Lorna Morrison of the Kalamkari group

Kal 1

Rockface at Lunan Bay by Morag Gray of the Kalamari group

 

Perfidia, Hopes Reservoir walk and autumn colours

October 2, 2015

I’ve just finished reading James Ellroy’s epic novel Perfidia – a huge, action-filled book, full of intrigue, plotting, counter-plotting, licit and illicit sex, violence, murder, racism, politics, jealousy and rage. There are no purely good characters in Ellroy’s novel, so don’t expect any here. There is a hero – Hideo Ashida, the Japanese detective – but he is flawed and corrupted by the system. The two other male protagonists Bill Parker and Dudley Smith who are more senior detectives, are ruthless and Smith is a murderous psychopath who gets away with his killings as he is protected by police. The action takes place in Los Angeles in 1941 with a Japanese family brutally and perhaps ritually murdered. The next day, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbour and there begins a round up of suspect Japanese citizens and a general distrust/ hatred of anyone who appears to be Japanese, by large sections of the public. As the Guardian review (link above) noted “from this point on, the entire cast of Ellroy’s city chase liquor and drugs with such savagery that, by the end, you’re murmuring about how Irvine Welsh is going to have to be re-shelved with the children’s books”. So, not for the squeamish but Ellroy is such a good writer and one who captures a range of different styles of dialogue amongst his characters, and whose plot structure makes the galloping pace of the novel addictive. It’s written in Ellroy’s distinctive staccato style, with short, dramatic sentences. He is one of my favourite writers and I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is the first of a promised quartet. I bought this one in hardback as soon as it came out and will do so with the next one. Ellroy writes big novels, so a hardback does his novel more justice.

Perfidia by James Ellroy

Perfidia by James Ellroy

At the weekend, we went up the Lammermuir Hills for a 7 mile walk which is featured as a trail run in Susie Allison’s book Scottish Trail Running. We parked at the Hopes Farm and walked over the path on the low side of the Hopes Reservoir.

Approaching the Hopes Reservoir

Approaching the Hopes Reservoir

Looking over the Hopes Reservoir

Looking over the Hopes Reservoir

The route in the book takes you up over Lammer Law and we duly did this. The instructions in the book then become a bit vague and it’s not quite clear which track should be followed and where you are supposed to turn off. I’m sure that the orienteers among you will be scoffing – why didn’t we have a proper, detailed map? As it turned out, we took the wrong track and ended up crossing deep heather and coming back on part of our outward route. However, it was a beautiful, clear and warm day – Indian summer here this week – and we enjoyed the walk. It’s quite a stiff climb up to Lammer Law.

Path up to Lammer Law

Path up to Lammer Law

When you get to the top of the Law, you are rewarded with some spectacular views across East Lothian and over to Fife. There was a slight haze on Sunday and not clear enough for good long distance photos. There’s a clearer photo here.  We ended up doing 9.5 miles instead of 7 miles but on such a glorious day, with only a light breeze and hardly any other walkers, it was a delight. At one point, if you stopped, the only sound you could hear was the gentle gurgling of a nearby burn (stream). At another point, four faces looked suspiciously at us and identified us as non-sheep i.e. intruders into their territory. Having finished their disdainful look, the four faces turned and nonchalantly went down towards the burn.

It’s autumn now in Scotland but the mild weather has meant that most of the trees are still green although some have turned to reds and browns and their leaves are falling like snowflakes. This week’s summer-type days have produced some stunning colours in the sky just after sunset. There is no end to taking photos of the sky above our town when the sky seems lit up by rows of burning coals, in contrast to the black outlines of the buildings, as in these photos. I also love the pink sea in the 2nd photo.

Autumn sky over Dunbar

Autumn sky over Dunbar

Autumnal sky over Dunbar and reflection in the sea

Autumnal sky over Dunbar and reflection in the sea

Another source of vibrant autumn colour came in the form of a male red admiral butterfly in my garden and there’s a nice contrast with the yellow top and while petals of the daisy. It’s as if the butterfly was carrying its own evening sky on its back.

Male red admiral butterfly

Male red admiral butterfly