Posts Tagged ‘Guardian’

Falling Awake and birds at Belhaven Pond

March 3, 2017

The Poetry Book Society Choice for Autumn 2016 was Alice Oswald’s  new book – Falling Awake. This is an astonishing book of poems and has won some literary prizes. In the book, Oswald is not just close to nature, but inside it, and she demonstrates how elements of nature are interlinked, and how nature affects our lives , but also has a life of its own. The first poem A Short Story of Falling begins “It is the story of the falling rain/ to turn into a leaf and fall again/ it is the secret of a summer shower/ to steal the light and hide it in a flower”. These dramatic images – a shower stealing the light – continue in all the poems. In Fox, the narrator hears ” a cough” in her sleep and it is ” a fox in her fox-fur/ stepping across/ the grass in her black gloves/ [which] barked at my house”. In other poems, we hear of a badger “still with the simple heavy box of his body needing to be lifted” being “hard at work/ with the living shovel of himself”. In “A Rushed Account of the Dew”, there’s an amazing image of water on a plant, as the poet imagines the dew “descend/ out of the dawn’s mind”, and affix “a liquid cufflink” on to a leaf. In Shadow, the poet describes the shadow as having ” a flesh parachute of a human opening above it” – as you see, there’s a vivid imagination at work here. There are many more images of falling in the subsequent poems. I’m only half way through the book and will return to it in the blog. I agree with the Guardian reviewer that “I cannot think of any poet who is more watchful or with a greater sense of gravity”.

cover_jpg_rendition_460_707

“Falling Awake” by Alice Oswald

This week, we’ve had cold, but very bright days, especially in the morning. Having cycled past Seafield Pond (good photos) on Monday and seen a gathering of ducks on the grass verge, I ventured back there on foot on Tuesday – in the morning sunlight. The ducks were gone, but over the wall on Belhaven Beach, there was a scattering of seagulls, some oystercatchers and curlews, but also 2 little egrets (photos, video and bird call). As I got my camera ready, there was a sudden squawking, a brief flurry of wings by both birds, and one took off for the pond. I managed to get two photos of the constantly moving little egret. They are not the clearest of photos and maybe, I should have used a sports setting on my camera. However, they do show the elegance of this bird, with its long beak, tiny eye and large yellow feet, which help them to steady themselves on the slippery sand below the water.

img_1258

Little Egret on Belhaven Beach (Click to enlarge)

In second photo, I like the shimmering reflection of the bird’s body in the water, its shadow (with flesh parachute of a bird opening above it, as Oswald might have put it) and the corrugated sand.

img_1279

Little Egret and reflection on Belhaven Beach

While the egrets and oystercatchers are nervous birds and will fly off if you get anywhere near them, the swans on Seafield Pond simply float towards you. OK – they are looking for food, but I also think that swans are narcissistic birds. They glide toward you, inviting you to photograph their haughty serenity. They move slowly, like elegant models on a catwalk, then dip their heads in the water. The first photo shows 2 swans coming towards the bank, where I’m standing at the water’s edge. There are other birds, such as coots, but these have swum away in panic and have hidden behind the tall reeds (2nd photo). See the causal elegance here, with the swans more interested in their own reflections than the presence of a would-be photographer.

img_1263

Elegant swans at Seafield Pond

img_1267

Coots behind the reeds at Seafield Pond

The first swan pushed its head under water a few times and after several attempts, I managed to get a shot with water dripping from its beak. Look at the perfect outline of its body, the giraffe like neck and its body like a small iceberg. You can watch swans all day.

img_1270

Swan with dripping beak at SeafieldPond

Guardian article and the Quirke novels

August 8, 2016

I’ve been reading The Guardian newspaper for many, many years. I’ve had the occasional letter published but what I’d always wanted to do was to have an article in The Guardian. I’ve finally succeeded and although I was disappointed not to have the article in the printed edition, the online version may well get more readers nowadays. There’s a feature in the Guardian Magazine called That’s Me in the Picture which I see every weekend. I decided that one of the photos from my new book on the whales at Thorntonloch in 1950 would make a good feature, so I contacted The Guardian and sent them the picture below along with an interview I’d done with one of the people in the picture.

Whales Darling

Loading whales at Thorntonloch in May 1950

In the photo above, the boy standing on the left hand side of the lorry is Sandy Darling who was 11 years old at the time. The paper wanted more information, so I re-interviewed Sandy who has a vivid memory of the event. The article was accepted and was due to be printed but the editor with the final say decided that it could only go online. The article has now appeared. Unfortunately, it has been edited and not very well in places and I think it’s a more clumsy read than my original. Despite this, I’ve enjoyed seeing it and even more now as above my article is the latest picture which has The Beatles in it! The photo is interesting not only because of the whales but the way people are dressed. In 1950, people of all social classes dressed much more formally when they were in places where others would be gathering. If a similar event occurred today, people would be much more casually dressed.

I’m nearly finished reading A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black which is the pen name of the well-known literary author John Banville. The book, like others in this series e.g. the outstanding Christine Falls, features the pathologist Dr Quirke who gets involved in the cases of the bodies he analyses in his laboratory. Quirke is curious by nature and he becomes a sleuth almost by accident and sometimes to the annoyance of his colleague Inspector Hackett. The books are very well written and well plotted but these are crime novels which take you languidly from scene to scene and interesting character to interesting character. Quirke is middle-aged widower whom women find attractive and he is romantically involved in all the novels. This is not your usual crime novel although there are murders, there are elements of police and medical procedure and there is a mystery to be solved. The books are very well written and Quirke’s reflections on himself and others are often quite humorous. The novels are set in Dublin in the 1950s and reading the novels means you get a sense of the city at that time e.g. everyone smokes and often they smoke untipped cigarettes – which also appear of course, in the Sandy Darling photo above. I would highly recommend these novels – they are much more than crime novels – to everyone, and in particular people who tend to shy away from “crime” novels. Finally, do read John Banville’s “interview” with his alter ego Benjamin Black – very clever.

deathinsummer_large

Death in Summer by Benjamin Black

The Beautiful Librarians, Le Tour ends and sweet peas

July 28, 2015

I’ve just finished reading The Poetry Book Society’s Choice –  The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien a professor at Newcastle University and well established British poet. For me, an educator of librarians in universities in Scotland and Australia for 34 years, the title was alluring, of course. As a member of the Poetry Book Society, I get sent 4 books a year – not chosen by me. O’Brien’s book is a mixture of what might be nostalgia and class consciousness “Scattered comrades now remember: someone stole the staffroom tin/ Where we collected for the miners, for the strike they couldn’t win”  and comic interludes such as in Old Lads at the Ramshill Hotel “.. these wobbly suitors with their grease-grey quiffs/ And suits that are older than they are”. The title poem, superbly analysed by Carol Rumens is also a nostalgic look back to when O’Brien was a student. The poem begins “The beautiful librarians are dead,/ The fairly recent graduates who sat/ Like Françoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters/ With cardigans across their shoulders/ On quiet evenings at the issue desk,/Stamping books and never looking up/ At where I stood in adoration”. The reference to Francoise Hardy is very meaningful to me because, as a teenager, I was lovestruck by Ms Hardy’s stunning looks and vertigo inducing French voice, such as in the song All Over the World. Some of the poems in this collection appeared to be very clever but lacked depth, while others were superb – try it for yourself.

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O'Brien

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien

So, another Tour de France has come to an end. Three weeks of aching ascents and death-defying descents has thrilled millions of people across the globe and not just cycling enthusiasts. My cycling pal John maintains that even watching the cyclists go up some the high climbs such as La Croix de Fer (video) makes his legs feel sore. It was great to have a British winner again in Chris Froome and there were many exciting finishes. I’ve been wearing my Guardian cycling T Shirts recently but I was surprised – and shocked – at so many people not knowing what the third word in the slogan (photo below) originally was. As ever, I’ve promised my self that I’ll do more hills from now on, inspired by the teams on Le Tour. I would advise you to watch this space, but …..

Le Tour de France T shirt

Le Tour de France T shirt

My wife’s running partner brought us a beautiful bunch of sweet peas freshly cut from her garden. These flowers not only have soft but attractive colours but they also have a lovely perfume. These delicate flowers do not last very long but make a lasting impression as in the photos below, and some of the pinks were replicated in a rose I saw in a garden only yesterday.

Jar of sweet peas

Jar of sweet peas

Sweet peas close up

Sweet peas close up

Rose with burgeoning buds

Rose with burgeoning buds

Luke Rendell on whales and the colours of tulips

May 9, 2015

As part of my local history research on my home town of Dunbar in the early 1950s, I’ve interviewed local people on a range of topics including the stranding of 147 whales at Thorntonloch, near Dunbar in May 1950. I’m writing a short local history book on this event and it will examine the press coverage (which greatly exaggerated the number of people who saw the whales), as well as an analysis of the interviews, covering how people got to Thorntonloch,their description of the scene on the beach, how people behaved and their feelings about what they saw, the social aspects of the event i.e. what it tells us about society in 1950, and an examination of why the whales stranded. This week, I interviewed Dr Luke Rendell for the last chapter of my book. He is an expert on whales and dolphins and is the joint author (with Hal Whitehead) of a fascinating new book, cover below, entitled The Cultural Life of Whales and Dolphins, described in a Guardian review as “provocative, brilliant”. Luke Rendell told me that there was no definitive theory of why pilot whales strand in such large numbers, but that it definitely had to do with the social structure of the whale communities. The authors argue that there is a strong culture within groups of whales and dolphins and that these animals (from the Guardian review) “observe rituals of the dead and exhibit grief”. You can hear Luke talking about whales and dolphins (cetaceans) on Start the Week or download the podcast from April 21st 2015.

Whitehead and Rendell book

Whitehead and Rendell book

Another Radio 4 programme caught my ear this week. Word of Mouth which is presented by the children’s author Michael Rosen (poems, articles and performances on this site). This week, the discussion was on the names that people have given to colours over the centuries. Rosen and his guests discussed how, for example, what we now call pink did not always have the same meaning and that, in some languages, there are no words for certain colours such as blue. You can listen to the podcast of the programme and think about what names you allocate to certain colours and how some colours are not defined e.g. mauve. Interestingly, Michael Rosen and his guest pronounce mauve as “mowve” (as in to row a boat), which I would pronounce it “mawve” (as in raw). After listening to this I was out in the garden taking photos of my tulips of which I have this year a “rampant array” (Richard Ford). The photos below show the vibrant colours of the tulips and their abstract appearance when shot in close up. Tulips were originally grown wild in Turkey and came to Europe in the 17th century. The lack of strong winds this spring has helped to make the tulips last longer and the colours – reds, pinks, yellows and purples i.e. different shades of each colour, are a joy to look at. Enjoy the following:

Pink tulip beginning to break up

Pink tulip beginning to break up

Red tulip with yellow heart

Red tulip with yellow heart

Tulip head as abstract

Tulip head as abstract

Pot of tulips in front of my stone wall

Pot of tulips in front of my stone wall

Velvet Scoters, Digital Quotient and harbour evening

August 9, 2014

As a member of the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, I receive the quarterly journal Scottish Birds which has a number of peer-reviewed research articles, as well as other articles and notes about birds in Scotland. This may sound like on of the publications featured on Have I Got News For You such as the Underwater Dwarf Hunter’s Gazette but it is a very attractive publication, not least for its excellent photography. The latest issue has photos of velvet scoters on the front cover and more photos and a report on the group of birds inside. The joint author of the article and editor of Scottish Birds, Ian Andrews, kindly sent me the two photos below – the front cover of the birds in flight and a second photo of the male birds splashing in the water, while trying to attract the attention of a single female.

Velvet scoters at Musselburgh

Velvet scoters at Musselburgh

Velvet scoters at Musselburgh

Velvet scoters at Musselburgh

An article in The Guardian on what OFCOM called the “digital quotient” of children and adults attracted my attention. The article in its title, rather confusingly claims that ” six-year-olds understand digital technology better than adults”. The key word here is understand as the article – rather unsurprisingly – reports that children between the ages of 6-15 know more about technologies such as mobile apps such as Snapchat, are quicker to learn how to use apps and spend most of their time communicating by text or video message, than most adults. This is similar to my own research in schools, which showed that school students were quicker to learn about using the web or how to use multimedia e.g. within a blog or a website, than adults were. What neither the OFCOM study nor my research showed was that children understand technology. For example, most adults between the ages of 40-60 do not use their mobile phones in the same way as 15-24 year olds do and this is because 16-24 year olds have a clear purpose in sending text and video messages to each other, while most 40-60 year olds do not. Those 40-60 year olds who have a clear purpose in using apps for example, are equally able to understand the uses of technology. While this is an interesting study, it is clearly about use and not understanding.

We have had some beautifully sunny warm evenings in Dunbar this summer and we went along to Dunbar Harbour which is not far from our house. The sun was shining on the harbour and the fishing boats and dinghies were hardly moving, with their reflections clear in the water. Harbours feature in many poems across the world e.g. Sydney Harbour and I found 2 which appealed to me – one from Ireland by Eavan Boland ( I have some of her books) called The Harbour,which begins “This harbour was made by art and force./ And called Kingstown and afterwards Dun Laoghaire./And holds the sea behind its barrier/ less than five miles from my house”. The second poem is in Scots and is called Harbour by Alison Flett. The poem is about a woman taking her girl child to the harbour to see the boats coming in and they call on the boats – Girl Mina and John L and others – as they approach the harbour. The poem contains the lines “lets go down tay thi harbour/ ah sayz tay ma lassy/ ma first born/ see thi boats cummin in/ an we stood taygither/ at the endy thi peer/ lookn outwards”. The photos below are of a peaceful Dunbar Harbour at 8pm on an August evening.

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Dunbar Harbour on an August evening

Szabolcs Kokay, the Internet of Things and more tulip photos

May 13, 2014

A visit this week to a new exhibition of paintings at the SOC gallery in Aberlady, featuring the work of Szabolcs Kokay  and Jonathan Latimer, whose paintings I hope to feature in next week’s post. Szabolcs kindly responded to my email and sent me 2 photos of his work, one of which is featured in the SOC exhibition. The artist told me that he no longer works in acrylic, although he did so for many years. I thought that the acrylic paintings in the exhibition were outstanding and you can see examples of Szabolcs’ acrylic work on his website. The photos below are of a snow leopard (oil) – in his email Szabolcs noted that the snow leopard is ” a species I’m dealing with recently (not as much as I would like)”, and a waxwing. Both are stunning, with the snow leopard pictured near a fast flowing stream, which is set among rocks that would give the snow leopard camouflage. I like the way that your eye is drawn from the bottom of the painting up the stream to the animal. I love the colours in the waxwing painting – the orange, blue, yellow and white of the bird, and the bright red of the berries. As with all the SOC exhibitions, this one is not just for those interested in birds.

S Kokay's Snow Leopard

S Kokay’s Snow Leopard

S Kokay's Waxwing

S Kokay’s Waxwing

An interesting article in The Guardian this week, which was focused mainly on the proposed merger of Dixons and Carphone Warehouse, but discussed this in relation to the Internet of Things which the Guardian states is “about connected computers in everything”. Now, this is lazy journalism as computers cannot be connected to everything in the world. It really means about connections with everyday items such as fridges, cars, washing machines etc which, to use another loose phrase, will become “smarter”. So technology gradually advances and we may, for instance, be able to talk to our cooker or dishwasher but the IoT is not in any way revolutionary, as some might suggest and despite the hype around these technologists, talking to our cooker – as opposed to just pressing its buttons, is not going to change our lives in any way. It’s not as if we will be able to have a conversation with our cooker on e.g. what the cooker has been reading or viewing lately. On the other hand, for some people with illnesses or handicaps may well benefit greatly from voice driven technologies, but there still may, as with all technological advances, be privacy issues. The moral is, therefore, be careful what you say to your cooker, washing machine, car etc.

A week on and we’ve still not had the strong winds we often get at this time of the year, so the tulips in my garden have lasted much longer than usual. the photos below show the range and depth of colour that has appeared this year, with this new batch of tulip bulbs, which I bought at a bargain price last November – it often pays to wait until late autumn before buying bulbs. In her poem Tulips, A E Stallings writes that “The tulips make me want to paint” and when you see the vivid colours on display, you can see why she thinks this way.

Tulip head

Tulip head

Tulip heads

Tulip heads

Tulips, pansies and aquilegia in the Spring garden

Tulips, pansies and aquilegia in the Spring garden

Hopes Reservoir, grey sea and Alice Munro

November 28, 2013

The blog is a week late as I had trouble accessing it. However, I went on the WordPress forums with my problem and someone has fixed it – thank you to whoever Raincoaster is.

On Sunday morning, my wife and some fellow members of Dunbar Running Club headed off up country about 14 miles (22K) to take part in the annual Goat’s Gallop run, organised by another local club HELP. On the way, you drive through the bonnie village of Gifford which is resplendent at this time of year with a carpet of dying but colourful leaves along the edge of the road near the park. The run starts at a local farm and from there, the runners face a long, steep climb to the top of Lammer Law (scroll down for walking route). The runners come off this route and run across the uneven swathes of heather – thus the goat’s gallop name – and continue towards a cliff, from where they face a vertiginous descent, before joining the track again, taking them past the Hopes Reservoir. Photos 1-4 show views approaching the reservoir, and across the reservoir, while it was still misty, one of the runners on the track near the reservoir, and a view over the reservoir when the sun had come out and provided a spectacular reflection. For the full set of photos – and a classic song – see my Photopeach page.  I walked to the reservoir from the nearby car park and was accompanied only by the puckpuckpuckpuck call of several red grouse, some of whom were startled by my approach and flung themselves into the air with a desperate flapping of wings. Otherwise, there was a very pleasant silence.

Today, looking from the back of my house, the sea, which was a deep blue with rushing, polished white waves on Sunday, is dull and the waves look as if they might be struggling to summon the energy to get to shore. In my poetry calendar last week, this image was captured in a much more descriptive way, by Barbara Crooker in her poem The Winter Sea. She writes “The ocean’s grey today, like someone’s dingy laundry,/ the slop and slosh of sudsy waves agitate on the sand/ and the sky’s the inside of an ashtray at some salty dive”.

Another poetic writer which I’ve been reading is the short story specialist Alice Munro who recently won the very prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. I bought her latest book of short stories Dear Life. I’ve read one complete story so far and have started the 2nd one. As the  Guardian reviewer notes, each story is like a mini novel and you need time to reflect after reading each one. Munro condenses people’s lives with enviable ease and it’s not until you finish one of her stories that you realise just how much you learned about the characters. Although Munro is not known as a poetic writer, she sometimes writes beautifully e.g. “The frozen lake not level but mounded along the shore, as if the waves had turned to ice in the art of falling”. This is a striking and imaginative image. Even if you never read short stories, get this book and you will be richly rewarded.

Looking towards the Hopes Reservoir

Looking towards the Hopes Reservoir

Runner passing Hopes Reservoir

Runner passing Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

Hopes Reservoir

Elliptical reflection at Hopes Reservoir

Elliptical reflection at Hopes Reservoir