Posts Tagged ‘colours’

Robert MacFarlane’s “Lost Words” and the Thyssen-Bornemisra Museum

October 21, 2017

In a recent Guardian Review article, Robert Macfarlane – the well known writer on the British landscape – argues that children need to be reacquainted with the natural world. In the article, Macfarlane cites a Cambridge University study that showed how children aged 4 to 11 were much more likely to identify Pokémon characters (80% accuracy) than common plants and animals in the UK (50% accuracy). One of the conclusions of the report stated “What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren?”. Other studies cited show that adults’ knowledge of wildlife is not much better but 9 out of 10 adults wanted children to have much more knowledge of plants and animals. Macfarlane’s reaction to the reports was that he wanted to write a book for children which might increase their appreciation of the living world, as opposed to the digital world of Pokémon. The reasons for children’s lack of experience and knowledge of nature is well known – more children live in cities and more children spend more time online than out of doors.

The result is what looks like a beautiful book, written by Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris.

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New book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Click to enlarge all photos)

The article concluded with “The bird which became the guiding, gilding spirit of The Lost Words is the goldfinch. Goldfinches flit across its cover and gleam from its pages”. Macfarlane notes that the collective word for goldfinch is a charm which can also mean the singing of a group of children. Below is a close up of a goldfinch, taken by Harry Scott. This book would make a wonderful present for anyone – adult or child – and if you can combine this with a trip to the countryside or the seaside for the children, Dr Macfarlane would be most pleased. I have just come back from the beach near our house where my nearly 6 year old twin grand daughters saw oystercatchers, plovers and redshanks on the shore, feeding on what was coming in on the tide. So, I’m doing my bit.

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Goldfinch by Harry Scott

One of the highlights of our trip to Madrid was the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum which can be found opposite the more famous Prado Museum. The Thyssen-Bornemisza has much more modern painting and is less focused on religious painting. It is a very extensive art gallery, with numerous rooms and would take more than one visit to do it justice. I have always been impressed by the American  painter Edward Hopper and there are four of his works here. The first of my selection is Hotel Room (below) and what strikes you is the rather lonely looking woman, sitting on the bed, in her underwear, reading a book. Then there are the colours – the green chair, the black hat, and the white bed which contrasts with the woman’s undergarment. The museum has a short video on this painting which is well worth viewing.

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Hotel Room by Edward Hopper

The 2nd Hopper painting is The “Martha McKeen” of Wellfleet  which is intriguingly named after someone who took Hopper and his wife sailing i.e. there is no yacht with this name. Although the sandbank looks rather fanciful, this is a painting with delicate shades of blue, white and cream, with the movement of the boat emphasised by the undulating waves. I see a spirit of freedom and enjoyment in this painting, on the part of the humans. The seagulls look away, unimpressed and the small, bubbly clouds on the horizon are dominated by a clearer sky above, suggesting a warm summer’s day.

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The “Martha McKeen” of Wellfleet by Edward Hopper

I’ve seen Hopper’s lighthouse paintings before, but Martin Johnson Heade is a new artist for me. His painting Orchid and a Hummingbird Near a Mountain Waterfall was one of the highlights of our visit. It is a stunningly original painting, with its combination of dark and light and the colours of the orchid are reflected in the hummingbird. There is so much to see in this work – shapes, patterns, the real and what I see as the surreal combined – that you can find yourself standing in front of the painting for quite a while. The detail on the plant and the bird are superb.

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Orchid and Hummingbird near a Waterfall by Martin Johnson Heade

So an exhilarating visit to this museum in Madrid which is not to be missed if you are in the city. No blog next week as I’m off to Pisa and Florence with my pal to take in the sights and a football (aka soccer) game.

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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).

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Early evening cloud formation above Dunbar

 

 

 

Scottish Colourists’ Exhibition and home grown new tatties

August 3, 2017

The exhibition of work by the Scottish Colourists at The Granary in Berwick Upon Tweed (good photos)  had been on our list for a while. On a very wet Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, we decided to go and it turned out to be a really pleasurable and enlightening visit. We had seen some of the work of the group who became to be known as the Scottish colourists – Peploe, Fergusson, Hunter and Cadell – in previous exhibitions at the National Gallery of Scotland. As often happens in art, the group members became most well- known after 3 of them were dead – in the 1940s, with only Fergusson living on until 1961. The exhibition’s paintings are shown in chronological order and this gives the viewer and idea of how the styles and ideas of the painters developed over the years. I was allowed to take photos and the following were works that stood out for me personally.

The first painting is “Peonies in a Chinese vase” by Leslie Hunter. The painting itself is more distinct than this photo but even here, you can see the range of colours used by Hunter. The painter wrote “The eye seeks refreshment in painting. Give it joy not mourning. Give everything a distinct outline. Avoid over finish – an impression is not so robust but that its first inspiration will be lost if we try to strengthen everything with detail.’’ In this painting, there is a mixture of realistic outlines of objects but also an impression of these objects. So I think that this makes us appreciate the form of the painting and asks us to use our imagination.

 

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“Peonies in a Chinese vase” by Leslie Hunter (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd painting is “A vase of pink roses” by S.J Peploe. While the roses are painted in greater detail than in the previous work shown, this is still not an attempt to portray the roses photographically. What attracts me to this painting are the range of shapes and lines, which give it an abstract quality. The mix of colour – ranging from the dark at the top left and bottom, to the delicate pinks and orange of the roses and the light background – provides a contrast and this makes you look at the work more closely. At first glance, this is a fairly simple picture, but when you start to look at the detail, it ends up being a very busy one.

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“A vase of pink roses by S.J. Peploe

The final painting is “Loch Creran, Argyll” by Francis Cadell. When you first see this work, it certainly is the colours that draw it to your eye. There is a superb range of colours here, with subtle changes of shade. You are almost tempted to take do a child-like exercise and spot how many shades of green and blue are here, but this is not about quantity. The loch and the surrounding mountains are depicted in what was for me a very gentle and calming flow of colours. The real Loch Creran (good photos) is a stunning location. Cadell is not aiming to replicate the real-life views. He is perhaps trying to give us an alternative view, which has a more dream-like quality.

Overall, this is an outstanding exhibition. It’s on until October, so get to see it if your are anywhere near it.

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“Loch Creran, Argyll” by Francis Cadell

From the artistic to the more practical and a different kind of taste. In an earlier blog post this year, I promised to include a picture of my emerging tattie (potato) shaws, but it slipped my mind. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been harvesting the early tattie crop and here is the result. In Scotland (as elsewhere) we have two crops of tatties each year – early and late. The early ones have much thinner skins than the late tatties and tend to be much more tasty. You would never peel early tatties. To do this would be the act of a philistine and make you susceptible to the wrath of the tattie gods. Now, there is a certain psychological element to planting, feeding, watering and then harvesting your own tatties. When you dig under the shaws and reveal the oval packets of flavour and nourishment, there is definitely an element of  achievement, of pleasure and a harking back to times when people grew their own food out of necessity. These tatties have a distinct flavour – you must be careful not to boil them too hard to ensure this. I could eat these on their own with just some butter.

One of my favourite poet Seamus Heaney’s most famous poems is “Digging” (Heaney reading the poem) and it contains the lines “The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft/ Against the inside knee was levered firmly. / He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep/ To scatter new potatoes that we picked,/ Loving their cool hardness in our hands”. That last line is brilliant and you would need a whole paragraph to describe what the poet is saying here. Heaney has a very enviable facility with words.

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Early tattie crop in my garden

 

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

Sebastian Barry’s “Days Without End” and Spring flowers (1)

March 17, 2017

It’s not often that you come across a novel that is absolutely riveting and makes you want to write down a quote from every page of the book, but the new novel by Sebastian Barry –  Days Without End comes into this category. You can listen to an excellent Guardian podcast featuring an interview with Barry about his novel and this adds further insight into the book. The novel tells the story of Thomas McNulty, who was among thousands who fled from Ireland when the potato famine struck. McNulty briefly tells us of his arrival in Canada on a ship where “I was among the destitute, the ruined and the starving for six weeks”. The Irish who reached Canada “were nothing. No one wanted us… We were a plague. We were only rats of people”. When McNulty subsequently meets a fellow teenager “handsome John Cole” who becomes his life-long friend and lover, he tells us “I was a human louse, even evil people shunned me”. This feeling of McNulty’s – that he and his kind are worthless – continues throughout the book, and McNulty explains that his and John Cole’s ability to withstand the horrors they see, comes partly from this. The book tells of the boys’ and subsequently men’s lives as dancers dressed up as women to entertain miners, then as soldiers engaged in “cleansing” the frontier of Indians and then as regular soldiers in the American Civil.

Barry’s writing is described by reviewers of the book as “vibrant”, “beautiful and affecting”, “exhilarating” and “vivid”. He is one of these writers with an enviable ability to produce descriptions that make your read them again. Open the book anywhere and you’ll find them. The soldiers eat with “the strange fabric of frost and frozen wind falling on our shoulders”. Other soldiers, sent out to meet an Indian chief and his followers “rode like chaps expecting Death rather than Christmas”. There are detailed battle scenes in the book, but also moments of tenderness and humour. Barry does not shrink from describing mass killing – of Indian men, women and children and of rebel soldiers – but he manages to focus on the personal. In the heat of the battle with the rebels, McNulty reflects “Other things I see is how thin these boys [rebels] are, how strange like ghosts and ghouls. Their eyes like twenty thousand dirty stones”. I am two-thirds through this astonishing novel already and I know that when I get near the end, I’ll want it to continue for another 300 pages. Go and buy it.

 

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Sebastian Barry’s stunning novel

Spring really has sprung around here and there is now an abundance of colour in my garden, with much more to come. The first photo is of a tulip from a vase in the house – my own tulips are biding their time, letting the daffodils have their spot in the sunlight, before they upstage them with a glorious display of colour. As readers of this blog will know, what fascinates me in particular is the insides of flowers and their often surreal appearance. I love the symmetry in this tulip as well as the vibrant colours and the central feature, which could be a creature from a sci-fi film or something inexplicable found by archaeologists in a 3000 year old grave. What do you see here?

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Close up of a tulip flower head (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo is of violas on the side of our hanging basket at the front door. The cyclamen in the body of the hanging basket has passed its best. The violas, planted last autumn wore plain green coats all winter and shrivelled in the frost at times. In the past 2 weeks however, they are transformed and show us purple and yellow dresses in a display of sartorial elegance. They are delicate little flowers but have eye-catching, mascara like centre patterns. As the title of this blog post indicates, there will be more Spring flowers to follow.

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Violas in a hanging basket

 

 

Late autumn trees and the woes of cycling

November 22, 2016

When I came back from my cycle this morning, having passed a field of frozen sprout plants standing motionless in the field, their now yellow lower leaves stuck to the ground, and also having gone past an exquisitely coloured avenue of trees and roadside leaves at Bowerhouse (local pronunciation Boorhoose), my intention was to add to my photos of late autumn trees and early frosts here. This plan was thwarted as the wind from the east got up and the rain arrived, meaning leaden skies and rising temperatures. A walk last week through Lochend Woods in Dunbar (about 1K from our house) was particularly enjoyable because of the variety of colours in the trees and on the floor of the woods – a hundred shades of yellow, brown and green. So I went back with my camera.

The first photo is of rose hips. I have now learned that you can make rose hip syrup although it looks like it might be too sweet for me. Also, rose hips can be cultivated from sophisticated garden roses and not just the dog roses you get in the wild. I like the contrast between the bright red of the hips and the leaves, which are in various stages of maturity i.e. from green to pale yellow.

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Rose hips in Lochend Woods (Click to enlarge)

The next photo takes in a range of trees. In this photo, I like the way the leaves contrast with the dark trunks of the trees. The erect trunks draw your eye up and down the photo and when you look closer, many of the trunks are not straight but bent at various angles, and they are of various girths. The sun on the woods here actually makes some of the trunks look darker than they are.

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Autumnal trees in Lochend Woods

Contrast this photo with the one above. In this photo, the sunlight is making the tree trunks lighter and the trees take on the look of gum trees in Australia. This photo is deceiving as you might think that it was taken on a very hot day if you only look at the shining trees. I also like the shadows on the ground which are extensions of the trees and often lead your eye from one tree to another.

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Sunlight on trees in Lochend Woods

I also liked this photo. Firstly, there is the startling colour of the yellow leaves, made paler by the sun and they show off the smooth tree trunk behind. Secondly, there is the real sense of height and I think the photo makes these trees look taller than they actually are. There are many lines to follow in this photo – up, down, to the right and left and back again.

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Autumnal trees in Lochend Woods

On the way home, at a house on the edge of the woods, I passed this copper beech hedge, shown in close-up below. This is purely accidental on my part but when I look at this photo, I have the impression that the leaves are in motion and are falling although they are not. Also, the shadows of the leaves appear to increase the number of leaves on show. The colours and leaf patterns are fascinating the more you look.

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Copper beech hedge leaves in autumn

So to cycling, at least last Friday’s cycle. There are some days you go on a bike and no matter how flat the road or how light the wind, it’s a struggle. It was a very cold but bright morning and I was well rugged up in my winter gear. One thing about late Autumn/winter cycling is that it takes a long time to get ready. In the summer, on go the shorts and top and shoes and helmet and half finger covered gloves – and off you go. At this time of year, it’s top and shorts and leggings and another top and a jacket and head cover like a monk’s cowl and a buff and a helmet and shoes and overshoes, which are tight and hard to get on. 5 minutes later – off you go. I was about a mile into the bike ride on Friday and started to feel my legs heavy and my back sore. Now, in these situations, to what extent your legs and back are  actually sore is open to question. What happens is that your mind takes over. Then there’s the good angel and the bad angel. The bad angel says “Well, you were going for 20 miles (32.4K) but, hey if you turn at 6 miles, who’s going to know?”. The good angel says “Who will know? YOU will know! Are you  a man or a mouse? Forget 6 miles pal, 10 is the turning point – if not further”. The nearer I get to the 6 mile mark, the voices get louder. Which one will win? I nearly turn at the roundabout at 6 miles but keep going and – this always happens – once I’m on my way, my legs are lighter and my back is not sore. What you need to do when cycling on these kind of days is to detach your mind from your body and just let your legs take over. On these days, there much more sense in your legs than in your weak and complaining brain.

 

Huntly Castle and Mac the Mandarin

November 1, 2016

On a recent family trip, we stayed at the delightful Craigellachie Hotel which boasts the world’s best whisky bar. The Quaich (good photos) has over 900 malt whiskies and at this time of year, you can sit by an enchanting log fire with your favourite malt. I tried a Bruichladdich 1998 which was superb. My wife’s home town of Huntly (good photos) is a half hour drive away, so we went for walk around the town and down memory lane – to where my wife used to live and where she went to primary school. We were joined by our son, daughter in law and 3 grandchildren at Huntly Castle (good photos) and we bought tickets and went inside this very impressive edifice.

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Huntly Castle exterior (Click on photo to enlarge)

Inside the castle, there are many useful panels explaining the use of the various rooms. There are three floors to the castle and from the top, you can see the commanding view that the Earls of Huntly had. They could see enemies approaching from all sides of the castle, which also has outer and inner moats. The castle is build of rough stone but is no less attractive for that, with the huge round tower and some elegantly designed windows on the top floor. The autumnal trees next to the castle helped to highlight its features as shown below. The castle sits next to the River Deveron which was clear and fast flowing on our visit and reflected the autumn colours in the trees – see photo.

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Huntly Castle and autumn trees

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River Deveron near Huntly Castle

In the latest edition of Scottish Birds which I receive as part of my membership of the estimable Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, there is an article by Harry Scott entitled Mac the Mandarin. The article tells of how this mandarin drake was seen by Harry Scott in Aberdeen and on investigation, he discovered that the bird had been ringed in Norway and also found out that few mandarin have been known to travel between countries. So, an interesting tale but what brought this bird to my attention was its superb appearance. I emailed Harry and he kindly sent me two of his photos to use here.

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Mandarin drake – photo by Harry Scott.

The photo above is superb not just for its colours but the reflections of the bird in the water. The mandarin to me seems to be composed of a set of shapes and patterns, each with an elegant colour – pink, yellow, green, blue, brown, white and black. It’s patchwork quilt of a bird but none the less attractive for that. The distorted reflections of the mandarin and the  trees in the river give the photo a surreal element and there is a sense of serenity about this almost magical bird as it glides effortless through the water.

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Mandarin drake – photo by Harry Scott

The second photo has the same elements of the first and when I saw it, I thought that it would make a great subject for a Lisa Hooper print. Lisa’s birds tend to have shapes of solid colour as well as flowing lines denoting the shape of the bird and the sections of feathers. It would be interesting to see how Lisa, as a printmaker, would represent the beard like flow of brown feathers at  the side of the bird’s head. Mac the Mandarin  – the name given to the bird by Harry Scott – is certainly an autumnal visitor as some of its colours can be seen in the leaves and trees at this time of year, as well as in the stones in the Deveron River photo above.

 

Richard Allen and Jan Wilczur exhibition and lifeboat exercise

July 13, 2016

Another dazzling array of talent on show at Waterston House, Aberlady at the moment, in the form of an exhibition by Richard Allen and Jan Wilczur. The show includes Allen’s paintings and linocuts and Wilczur’s paintings of birds in a wide variety of settings. Both artists kindly sent me photos of their work. Richard Allen’s linocuts are smaller pieces than his paintings but no less effective for that. As can be seen in the portrayal of the curlew below, the linocuts in the exhibition draw your eye to the flowing lines in the picture and the almost abstract quality of the way the lines make shapes e.g. the curlew’s eye. Although the linocuts present us with birds, the flow of the lines reminded me of Australian Aboriginal drawings and paintings.

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Curlew by Richard Allen

In contrast to the linocuts, Allen’s paintings are full of colour. Some of the bird portraits have a lightly surreal feel to them, such as the Drake Goldeneye which clearly shows the ducks but includes a variety of areas in light and dark blues which are not naturalistic. One of my favourite birds, alas not seen as much around here as when I was young, is the lapwing aka peewit because of its call. Allen’s painting of the lapwing, shown below, was for me one of the highlights of the exhibition. The natural setting, the dignified portrayal of the bird and the range of colours on the bird and in the flora all combine to very good effect. Look at how the lapwing’s crest bends as do the reeds.

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Lapwing by Richard Allen

Jan Wilczur has provided visitors to the exhibition with a stunning range of paintings. For me, the most striking and one I went back to several times is Bullfinches – shown below. When you first look at this painting, you see the birds, especially the striking red breast and piercing eyes of the top bird. The lower bird – a female? – seems to be a little shy, as if aware that she is being painted but the colours on the head and the wings are delicate and draw your attention. Come back to the painting and you see the branches and the berries. the little globules of berries hanging precariously, it seems, from the branches, which seem animated with their hand-like twigs waving in the air. So – that’s what I see – what do you see?

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Bullfinches by Jan Wilczur

The second painting I noted down on my phone Memo was Long Eared Owl which is a fascinating work of art. Central to the picture is the imperious looking owl, a beautifully manicured bird without a feather out-of-place. It looks dressed to go somewhere. I like the subtle colours on the bird’s feathers and face and those penetrating eyes. Then you see the trees with their irregular notches, some of which could be small owl feathers that have drifted off and stuck to the trees. I think that the trees may be silver birch, one of my favourite trees.

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Long eared owl by Jan Wilczur

The two artists have set up an exhibition which is a must see for anyone in the area and the quality of the linocuts and paintings transcend what might appear to some people as a narrow subject. Richard Allen’s book of linocuts Coastal Birds is available at the exhibition and is superb value.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, the sound of a helicopter close by attracted my attention and it appeared to land in a nearby park. I then saw it hovering above two RNLI lifeboats outside Dunbar Harbour. I went to the harbour which is just along the road from my house and took photos from the harbour wall. I’ve been having problems with my camera lately – just got the normal lens repaired – so I put on my longer lens. The photo below is perhaps not as sharp as it might have been but it does capture the helicopter and lifeboats, which were on a training exercise. There are many more photos – and better ones I think – here (scroll down to see photos). The 2nd photo below is of the lifeboat returning to harbour at the end of the exercise.

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RNLI/Coastguard exercise

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Dunbar lifeboat returns to harbour

 

New wall, digging find and autumn flowers

October 10, 2015

I’ve just finished building a new stone wall. There’s quite a lot of tension involved in an amateur like me attempting to produce a finished wall that looks as if it might have been built by an expert i.e. to the untrained eye. Are there enough stones that are large enough to catch the eye. Are the different colours in the sandstone well distributed across the wall? Is there a good contrast between the rougher and the smoother stones? Is the pointing done well enough? From a personal point of view, the builder himself/herself has to be pleased with the outcome, according to my expert tutor and former qualified stonemason Ian and, while I can see faults in the wall, I’m pretty pleased with it. Robert Frost wrote “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,/ And spills the upper boulders in the sun,/ And makes gaps even two can pass abreast” in Mending Wall. The poem’s narrator and neighbour set about mending the wall and he sees his neighbour “Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top / In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed”. The stone for my wall came from a local house where, possibly 100 years ago, a man from Dunbar built the wall. Now another man from Dunbar has built a new wall from the same stone.

New stone wall

New stone wall

Behind the new stone wall – on the right of the picture above – I’m digging a new patch to extend my vegetable garden. Digging this part was at times easy – as the spade cut through the soil which was newly wettened by the previous day’s downpour. At other times, I hit solid clay and occasionally my spade hit a largish stone and sent a shivering pain through my arm. One of my favourite Seamus Heaney poems is called Digging and in the poem, Heaney recalls his father digging potatoes 20 years ago ” The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft/ Against the inside knee was levered firmly./ He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep/ To scatter new potatoes that we picked,/ Loving their cool hardness in our hands”. This fairly simple task is enhanced by Heaney’s words – “coarse boot” “bright deep edge” and “cool hardness”. I’m going to plant potatoes in this patch next year and will recall Heaney’s words when I dig them up. Near the end of the digging, I unearthed a coin and it turned out to be an old penny, indeed a penny from 1916. In the photos below (a clearer picture here) you see the inscription GEORGIVUS V DEI GRA BRETT OMN REX FID DEF IND EMP. In the full Latin, this is “Georgius V Dei gratia Britanniarum omnium rex, fidei defensor, India imperator” which translates as ” George the Fifth by the grace of God King of all the British, defender of faith and emperor of India” – so a modest chap was our George. On the reverse is Britannia – a female figure representing the Roman name for the area no known as the British Isles. This military looking figure suggests clearly that the British Empire is strong.

1916 penny

1916 penny

1916 penny

1916 penny

It’s clearly autumn now, with the leaves on the trees giving a final show of golden opulence before careering down to the ground. It’s also dark by 7pm. In my garden, there is decadence in the bushy lobelia and the sword lilies’ heads have shrunk. Some of the geraniums have kept their vibrant colours while other have rotted. There is still much to see as in the photos below. The sedum is at its flowering peak, the fuchsia are still producing delicate and intricate heads and the Indian summer has produced new roses. New in the garden are the cyclamen which will last over the winter and well into spring.

Sedum at its peak

Sedum at its peak

Autumnal fuchsia head

Autumnal fuchsia head

October rose

October rose

Newly planted cyclamen

Newly planted cyclamen

Visit to Cove and harvest time in the Dunbar area

September 9, 2015

On Sunday, we went 9 miles (14.6K) along the coast to the hamlet and harbour of Cove (good photos). From the road into Cove, there is no indication that there might be a harbour nestled below the cliff face. At the car park, there is an information board about Cove and its coastline, and there is also a memorial block with metal figures of women and children on the top. This is in memory of the men from communities along this coast who were lost at sea in a freak storm in 1881. The website notes that “Cove itself lost 11 of the 21 fishermen who worked from the harbour at the time”, so this was a local disaster of epic proportion, as fisher families were the bulk of the population of Cove at the time. The photo shows a close up of the distressed women and children. There is a similar memorial at St Abbs Head.

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

From the car park, you walk down the hill with the sea to your left. On Sunday, two surfers were enjoying the generous waves. At the bottom of the hill, you can either turn right and go through the tunnel to the harbour or keep going and end up at the main harbour wall. The harbour itself is very small and perhaps more attractive when the tide is in. The photos below show the harbour at low tide and the entrance to the harbour with the coastline – to St Abbs and beyond – on the right. Sunday was bright and warm and blue was the predominant colour.

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

At the harbourside, there are two large stone dwellings which were no doubt occupied by fisher folk in the past. Next to the houses, there is a  rock escarpment which comes up from the shore and forms a natural wall, next to which was built the existing harbour wall. Cove harbour is a little pocket of tranquillity, especially if you go on weekdays or in the winter. Thomas Hardy’s poem At Lulworth Cove a Century Back begins “Had I but lived a hundred years ago/ I might have gone, as I have gone this year,/ By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know/ And Time have placed his finger on me there”. If you could go back to Cove in 1915, I’m sure that, while the sea, the rocks, the harbour wall and cottages would look the same, the lives of the people there would be so much different.

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

It’s harvest time around Dunbar now and the wide fields of barley, wheat and oats, having turned from green to cream in colour and having developed fecund heads of grain, are subject to relentless destruction by combine harvesters which gobble their way across the fields, digesting the barley/wheat/oats and spewing out straw at the rear and then grain from a long tube into a tractor. This is at once a fascinating sight for the viewer but also a regretful one, as soon the swaying, creamy corn will be replaced by the glistening brown of the ploughed earth – darker and colder, although attractive in its own right. The combine harvester I photographed – a few hundred yards from our house – left a trail of straw but also a fine dust behind it, as the ground is very dry.

Dust storm from combine harvester

Dust storm from combine harvester

The combine completed two lengths of the field before disgorging its load into the waiting tractor. It made me think of the gannets we see from the back of our house, who dive for fish and return to feed their young although the combine regurgitates its grain at a phenomenal speed.

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Close up the heads of grain take on a beautifully sculptured multitude of shapes, like neatly stacked little parcels waiting to be opened.

Close up of ripened grain

Close up of ripened grain

As I walked back to the car, the tractor pulling the trailer full of grain has spilled some on the road. The grains could be peanuts scattered on the floor. The grains will shortly be disembodied and made into flour and then into bread, rolls or cakes for us to eat. In the days when barley was cut by hand with scythes, and it took men and women days to cut what the combine does in an afternoon, bread was the staple diet, and while it continues to be in some parts of the world, in the resource-rich west it is no longer of such importance. If you’re lucky enough to live near the countryside, watching a combine harvester is an exhilarating experience.

Grain on the road

Grain on the road