Posts Tagged ‘history’

Surgeons as writers and Americana by Ray Davies

May 9, 2017

The Saturday edition of The Guardian comes through the letter box and thumps on the floor, as it contains a variety of sections – the main paper, sport, review, travel, family and food. I keep the Review section  for Sunday mornings and I enjoy reading the main article, as well as the non-fiction, fiction and poetry book reviews. On Saturday, the main article was by William Boyd and entitled “A matter of life and death: The rise of the surgeon memoir”.  In the article, Boyd looks at the works of surgeons such as Atul Gawande, Henry Marsh and Gabriel Weston. Gawande’s Complications describe what Boyd calls “significant” procedures e.g. “We made a fast, deep slash down the middle of his abdomen”. Boyd quotes Gabriel (in Direct Red) “We cut the woman open from breastbone to pubis and cleared her gut out with one deep sweep.” Boyd then goes on to wonder “.. how anyone can do this as a matter of course on a near-daily basis and remain a happy, functioning human being”. The author is obviously enthralled by surgeons and notes that he happens to know four surgeons with international reputations and he elicits from one of them, Brendan Moran, what is need to become a top surgeon – a lack of squeamishness, strength, knowledge, skill and experience. It is an interesting article, with some detailed outlines of procedures that some people e.g. the squeamish, may wish to avoid, and it gives an insight into the working lives of top surgeons. I also found it a rather obsequious article in that Boyd seems to think that because these top surgeons are making life and death decisions (and they admit to making good and bad decisions), they must be on a higher plane than other professions and he finishes by referring to “the extraordinary profession they [surgeons] share and the phenomenal life they lead”. This raises the question of whether Boyd should be so amazed by the surgeon/writers. Would Boyd be so in awe of top researchers who have made major discoveries in science, medicine, history, psychology or chemistry i.e. people who have no physical contact with others? I think not and perhaps society as a whole has tended to treat people in the  medical profession (mainly doctors) as being cleverer than the rest of us. A surgeon has great responsibility but so has a bus driver or train driver or airline pilot. Read the article and see what you think.

images

Direct Red by Gabriel Weston

I don’t buy much music these days but, having heard Ray Davies’ new album on Spotify, I bought it today.

Scan_20170508

Americana by Ray Davies

Ray Davies has always been more than just a writer of pop songs. In his days with The Kinks, Davies wrote songs with a socially cutting edge e.g. Dead End Street (YouTube link) – “Out of work and got no money/ Sunday joint of bread and honey” or Lola  (YouTube link) about a young boy meeting a transvestite in a club. The new album also has a cutting edge and is based on Davies’ time in America – with The Kinks in the 1960s and 1970s, but also on more recent visits. The recurrent theme in the album is The Great Highway, both in the physical sense of travelling on the roads in the USA, but also life as a journey. There are many intriguing tracks on the album and almost all demonstrate Davies’ critical look at modern society, particularly in the USA, but also globally. In Poetry, he sings ” .. the great corporations providing our every need/And those big neon signs telling us what to eat” but he asks “Where is the poetry?” in the blandness of shopping malls and other aspects of today’s society. In A Long Drive Home To Tarzana, he finds that “.. there’s nothing there except/that space/ Beautiful space” and this seems to be the dream, to be away from the crowded cities. Davies is accompanied by the fabulous Jayhawks band, including Karen Grotberg, who duets with Davies to great effect. If you listen to the album, you’ll hear echoes of the Beatles in some tracks and Neil Young in others. In the first track, which you can listen to here (YouTube), the first lines are “I wanna make my home/Where the buffalo roam”. In Neil Young’s Far From Home (YouTube), the chorus starts “Bury me out on the prairie/Where the buffalo used to roam”. So, a superb album of country/rock with Davies’ ironic lyrics adding to some wonderful tunes.

No blog next week, as we are off to Bordeaux for a week’s holiday.

 

Marseille – Vieux Port, Notre Dame de la Garde and MUCEM

July 7, 2015

We spent a week on holiday based in Marseille – the French spelling has no “s” at the end. We’ve had a few trips to the south of France but mainly to Nice and its surrounding towns, such as Beaulieu Sur Mer. The city of Marseille is much bigger and more varied than Nice. It’s a city of contrasts with the conspicuous wealth of the Vieux Port marina not far from poor immigrant areas. For the tourist, there are plenty of options. The centre of the city is around the Vieux Port where a the old fishing harbour has been transformed into a forest of yachts, large and small and there is a constant flow of boats taking visitors out along the coast.

Vieux Port Marseilles

Vieux Port Marseilles

Looking back across the Vieux Port from the harbour entrance

Looking back across the Vieux Port from the harbour entrance

Overlooking Marseille is the Basilica  Notre Dame de La Garde, a high ceilinged church built in the 19th century on the top of a hill which was formerly used as a fort and an observation post. We took the long route through the city walked for about an hour, finishing with a steep walk up to the basilica. The views from the top are stunning as you can see across the city and out to the islands.

 Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Islands near Marseille from  Notre Dame de la Garde

Islands near Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Whether you are of a religious persuasion or not, this is an impressive building and you wonder how 19th century workmen coped, firstly getting the building materials up to the summit and then building the huge church. The inside of the church is very ornate and in some respects reminded me of Greek and Russian Orthodox churches I’ve seen.

Inside Notre Dame de la Garde

Inside Notre Dame de la Garde

When you strain your neck and take a close look at the high ceiling, you can see the different influences at work, for example the Greek and Roman lettering around the cupola.

Ornate ceiling in Notre Dame de la Garde

Ornate ceiling in Notre Dame de la Garde

At the entrance to the harbour in Marseille, there are 2 forts. On the right hand side going out to sea is Fort Saint-Jean which was originally built in the 12th century. This area has been transformed into a walking route around the ramparts of the old fort but mainly as the location of MUCEM (good photos) which was built as part of Marseille’s year as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. So there is a contrast between the ultra modern buildings of the MUCEM, with their vibrant art exhibitions, and the mediaeval structure of the ramparts. The entrance is a stunning walkway of interlinked wooden branches.

Entrance to MUCEM in Marseille

Entrance to MUCEM in Marseille

As you walk around the ramparts, through the lavender filled gardens, you come across some very modern sculptures such as the 4 large faces and then, further on the very impressive Villa Méditerranée .

Sculpture at MUCEM

Sculpture at MUCEM

Villa Mediterranee at MUCEM

Villa Mediterranee at MUCEM

So Marseille has much to offer the tourist willing to walk around the city and discover the stunning views and a wide variety of cultural activities. Being on the Mediterranean, of course, it has wall to wall sunshine and the temperatures in late June were 25-28 degrees Monday to Friday and 32-34 degrees on Saturday and Sunday. It is a big city and we were told by locals to keep camera and handbags strapped across our chests, and not to keep them hanging on our shoulders.

Making minestrone, Sapiens and the honeysuckle is out

May 31, 2015

I’ve been growing basil from seed in wee pots on two windowsills and there are now large leaves on both sets of plants. Basil is very easy to grow and very nutritious, with some websites claiming a huge range of benefits, which I would need to verify from other sites before believing all the claims. So, what to cook with the fresh basil? A simple search will give many suggestions but I opted for minestrone soup. There are more minestrone soup recipes online and in cookery books than there are heads on my basil plants. What they all have in common is vegetables, tomatoes and pasta – after that, it’s up to the individual. My soup, which is fairly thick and chunky consists of:

1 large leek

1 large dirty carrot

Half of a medium sized turnip (called swede outside Scotland)

2 stalks of celery

1 clove of garlic

Basil and oregano – a mixture of dried and fresh

1 tin of tomatoes

A good squeeze of tomato puree

1 litre of stock – I used a ham stock cube and a vegetable stock cube but purists might want to make their own stock

1 mug of pasta

It involves a lot of therapeutic slicing, unless you use a food processor. I like to slice the leeks and garlic finely and then slice the celery, carrots and turnip into small cubes. I sweat the leeks and garlic in margarine, having added the herbs to them, then add the rest of the vegetables. I give this a good stir for one minute and add the tomatoes and the stock, then the pasta and the puree. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and it should cook in about 20 minutes – try the turnip to make sure. I find that it’s best to cook it one day and eat it the next day, as this deepens the flavour. It looks good with a couple of basil leaves on top – see photo below – and tastes wonderful – add some freshly grated parmesan to enhance the flavour further.

Minestrone soup

Minestrone soup

Out on my trusty Forme Longcliffe the other day, I listened (safely i.e. I could hear traffic at a distance behind me) to Start the Week which included a range of guests, but the most intriguing for me was the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind, Yuval Noah Harari.  The author tells us that there were many species of what we call human but only homo sapiens survived, mainly due to this species’ cognitive abilities. Harari argues that our society has developed through storytelling and myth and that many of the things that people believe in e.g. money, are in fact based on shared myths. Money works because we trust each other and believe for example that a £20 note (worthless in itself) can justifiably buy us 2 bottles of Rioja. He also argued that many of the revolutions that have been seen as hugely progressive – e.g. the agricultural and industrial revolutions – were, for most people, regressive as they lost previous freedoms which they enjoyed in small communities, as they were forced to join large communities (in towns and later cities) and become subservient. Harari is often controversial and many people may find some of his arguments overly simplistic, but he raises many interesting questions in his book.

In my garden, the honeysuckle is now showing its vibrant array of colours and shapes. As the photos below show, a close up look at honeysuckle flowers could be mistaken for underwater sea plants, with their display of tentacles, or something from science fiction, e.g. other world creatures landing on earth, having a look at the strange and very unsophisticated humans – and having a real good laugh.

Honeysuckle flowers

Honeysuckle flowers

Honeysuckle flowers

Honeysuckle flowers

Country walk and the end of the year

January 1, 2015

On Sunday, on a clear, crisp, frosty morning here in Dunbar, with a biting south westerly nipping at our faces, my wife and I went for a walk in the country. We parked at Oswald Dean – locally know as Oasie Dean – and walked up towards Doon Hill (good photos) where there is an important archaeological site near the summit. We walked towards the historic Spott House before going up the edge of a field at the foot of Doon Hill. On the way back down towards Spott Farm, there are views across to the sea and the Bass Rock. I took the photo below to show the winter bushes, the farm and the sea.

View from near Doon Hill

View from near Doon Hill

On the way back, we passed fields of newly emergent spring wheat which has a striking colour at this time of year and the colour is enhanced by the strong winter sun. I also like the defined lines of the winter crop.

Lines of Spring wheat near Spott

Lines of Spring wheat near Spott

Our route back to the car took us down Starvation Brae, the origins of which, apart from brae meaning hill in Scots, I have yet to discover. The strong December sun was in our back and, rounding one of the corners of the brae, my shadow lengthened considerably, giving an almost surreal aspect to the photo below.

Shadow on Starvation Brae

Shadow on Starvation Brae

At the foot of the brae lies the village of Spott (good photos), although this website contains a historical error, as it claims that Marion Lillie who was deemed a witch, was burnt to death near the village. A local historian has discovered that she was buried in Spott and therefore could not have been burned as a witch. One of the features of Spott village – it is more of a hamlet than a village nowadays – is Spott Kirk and the photos below show the kirk and what I saw as interesting shadows next to the grave stones.

Spott Kirk

Spott Kirk

Grave stone shadows at Spott Kirk

Grave stone shadows at Spott Kirk

This is the last day of December and of 2014. It is, in South East of Scotland parlance, Auld Year’s Day and the New Year will start at the end of Auld Year’s Night. There is also the Scots word Hogmanay which is generally pronounced “hog” at the beginning in the east of Scotland but “hug” in the west of Scotland. Traditionally, Auld Year’s Night was the winter festival in Scotland, with many people (e.g. in the late 1950s) still working on Xmas Day. On my poetry calendar, there is an excerpt from In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the 2nd verse begins with the familiar “Ring out the old, ring in the new”. This section of the very long poem has some what might be seen as utopian ideals e.g. “Ring out the feud of rich and poor,/Ring in redress to all mankind” and this, of course, remains an ideal today. Here in Scotland, people will ask each other “What are you doing for the bells?” and this relates to how, where and with whom people are going to bring in the New Year. “The bells” are thought to relate not to church bells but to the town house bell being rung at midnight. The Scottish New Year is emphatically linked to having a good time and to drinking alcohol, and tradition has it that the New Year should be brought in by toasting friends with a malt whisky e.g. Bowmore and this is often the only time that some people will drink whisky. At the time of writing, it is already New Year’s Day in New Zealand and in half an hour, it will be a new year in Australia. To everyone wherever you are, I wish you a Guid New Year and love, luck and laughter for 2015 and beyond.

Trip to Kirkcudbright and Dumfries

November 8, 2014

No blog last week as we were in Dubai – see next week’s blog. On a recent visit to my sister in Dumfries, we went to the attractive town of Kirkcudbright (Pr Kirk – ood – bri). Kirkcudbright is a fishing town on the far south west of Scotland, but is also known as an artists’ town, because of the large number of artistic and craft people who love there. We first visited the harbour, with an impressive wooden sculpture which is dedicated to families who lost fishermen at sea. The photo below shows the sculpture.

Wooden sculpture at Kirkcudbright harbour

Wooden sculpture at Kirkcudbright harbour

There are many interesting buildings in the town, including McLellan’s Castle (good photos) and an impressive curved building – like something you might see on a crescent in Bath – in the High Street – photo below. We went to an excellent food fair in the town hall where there was a wide variety of locally produced vegetables, cakes and pies. An example of the vegetables – delicious dirty carrots – is shown below.

House on High Street Kirkcudbright

House on High Street Kirkcudbright

Kirkcudbright carrots

Kirkcudbright carrots

The main part of our visit was in Dumfries, the county town of Dumfries and Galloway. Dumfries (good photos) is a very historic town, dating back to 1186 and was, over the centuries, involved in skirmishes between the English and the Scots, and loyalties amongst the townsfolk often shifted from one nation to the other. It’s a town whose distinguishing natural feature is the River Nith which flows rapidly near the centre. there are a number of bridges – old and new – across the river, the most impressive of which is the DevorgillaBridge, originally built in the 13th century. The photos below show the river and its bridges.

Devorgilla Bridge Dumfries

Devorgilla Bridge Dumfries

Autumn at the River Nith

Autumn at the River Nith

River Nith

River Nith

Bridge over the River Nith

Bridge over the River Nith

Literature on the web, and Sizergh Castle

May 20, 2014

In her article on My Hero: Emily Bronte, L Miller asks “What difference does it make to see the original manuscript of a literary text rather than just read the printed version?”. Ms Miller is referring to the availability of a range of manuscripts on the British Library website from authors including Austen, the Bronte sisters, Coleridge, Robert Burns and Charles Dickens. What excites Ms Miller most is not the original manuscripts which are in a neat form, ready to be submitted to publishers, but the rough notes and occasional diary entries which perhaps reveal more about the authors than the manuscripts, and she concluded that it makes a great difference when you can view the original.  It is certainly a site worth visiting for those interested in seeing the original manuscripts, but also for learning more about some authors e.g. the manuscript of a play by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.

A short break last week for my wife and for me, to Windermere in the Lake District. We stayed in the town of Windermere itself, which is not far from Lake Windermere, at the Hideaway Hotel, which offered excellent accommodation, complimentary tea and cake in the afternoon, and a delicious breakfast menu. The service was friendly and professional, and I’d heartily recommend it. The hotel is a little hideaway, being half way down a lane, but not far from the town itself. We checked the weather before going and were promised sunshine for 3 days by the Met Office site. We arrived on Wednesday to warm sunshine but awoke on Thursday morning to a heavy drizzle, the kind of rain which does not look very threatening, but can soak you to the skin in a matter of minutes if you are coatless or umbrella-less. So, instead of scaling one of the peaks of the Lake District, we set off for Sizergh (pr Sizer) Castle. The original castle was a stockade built in 1239 by the Strickland Family who have owned the castle, with its many upgradings and extensions, since that period. The Stricklands were a Catholic family who survived the reformation years by ingratiating themselves with Protestant queens such as Elizabeth 1. The castle has extensive gardens which were very attractive, even in the drizzly rain, which only gave up the ghost in the early afternoon. Photos 1 and 2 show a medieval sword and an ornate piece of furniture.

Medieval sword and ornate decoration at Sizergh Castle

Medieval sword and ornate decoration at Sizergh Castle

Decorative furniture at Sizergh Castle

Decorative furniture at Sizergh Castle

The gardens outside the castle are extensive and contain many different kinds of shrubs and trees. In the kitchen garden, a range of vegetables, herbs and flowers – the irises were spectacular – can be seen. Photos 3-5 show examples of trees and flowers from the gardens. There is also an extensive woodland walk, which would be very enjoyable on a sunny day.

Trees, shrubs and chimneys at Sizergh Castle

Trees, shrubs and chimneys at Sizergh Castle

Iris after the rain at Sizergh Castle

Iris after the rain at Sizergh Castle

Acer at Sizergh Castle

Acer at Sizergh Castle