Posts Tagged ‘rain’

A Walk down to Cove Harbour and different skies

June 26, 2018

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, we drove the 8.6 miles (14K) to the tiny hamlet of Cove (good photos) where a few cottages overlook the sea in a beautiful setting – on a summer’s day. We walked down the steep path to the secluded little harbour. Cove is one of these places that you would not come across by accident, as it is off the main road. As you walk down the path, to your left, you can see the steep sandstone cliffs. This area is well-known for its geology and the upper old red sandstone was observed in this area by James Hutton, known as the founder of modern geology. Further down the path, you look out to the sea and on the shore are what look like man-made structures but are “shales and thin coals” according to one geology source. You then walk through a narrow – and on a sunny day, very dark – tunnel from which you emerge to see the small harbour at Cove – photo below.

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Cove harbour at low tide (Click on all photos to enlarge)

In the harbour are a couple of small creel boats and some small leisure craft. The harbour is well protected by the sea wall and just to the left of the wall above, there is a natural wall of limestone and sandstone, with a variety of colours in it. If you look very closely at the sandstone, you can see tiny fossils – perhaps from millions of years ago. In the photo below, you can see the intricate patterns which the wind, rain, frost and sea have formed over the millenia. This was here long before the harbour was built and you wonder who was the first human to touch this stone.

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Intricately patterned sandstone

This is an intriguing and very peaceful walk on a day when the strong winds and high tides are absent. I did a video of the walk and you can see the wide range of rock formations on the cliffs, the shore and near the harbour.

 

Recently, within one week, we had a thunderstorm on one day and a calm day, followed by an impressive sunset on another day. The day of the thunderstorm produced a truly threatening sky. The photo below looks towards the horizon from our house. The sky appeared to have twisted itself into a fury from the top of the photo, down to what looked like a clenched fist, ready to punch the horizon. The large tanker parked out there, is dwarfed by this natural phenomenon and is being drenched in rain. What the photo does not show is the constantly shifting shape of the clouds, which slowly writhed and reformed as you watched it. It was so mesmerizing that I must have watched it for 5 minutes, as it very, very slowly moved eastwards along the horizon.

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Thunderstorm on the horizon

Two days later, the storm was a mere memory. The sky was clear and the sea returned to a calm blue for most of the day. I’ve taken many photos of the sunsets in Dunbar and very few of them look the same. On the evening of the photo below, the clouds appeared to be falling towards the sea, taking on a range of colours as they slowly drifted across the sky. To the left, the white clouds take on the shape of a fish skeleton and are sometimes known as mackerel skies. My memory from primary 7 at school is that our excellent teacher Miss Murray, called them haddock clouds or skies and they are a sign of good weather to come. Sure enough, the next day was sunny and cloudless.

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Clouds illuminated by the setting sun over Dunbar

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Homegoing and a brief visit to the Botanic Gardens

April 14, 2018

I have recently enjoyed reading Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing. For most of this novel, you would not guess that you are reading an author’s first book, so assured is Gyasi’s writing. The book’s early chapters are focused on slavery in its African setting and Gyasi paints a vivid picture of the mechanics of the slave trade e.g. tribes capturing men and women from villages and selling them to the British, who live in a white fort. There are also some gripping scenes where slaves are captured and kept in the castle’s dungeons in horrible conditions. The key characters at this stage are Effia who is sold to a British captain and slave trader as a wife, and her half sister Esi who is captured as a slave and taken to the castle’s overcrowded dungeons. The chapters that follow tell the stories of seven generations of these two women, firstly in West Africa and subsequently in the USA. There are further harrowing scenes of the mistreatment of slaves in the cotton plantations in the southern states of the USA. This is contrasted by the stories of how the characters meet their future husbands and wives, and Gyasi’s writing is vivid and moving, but never sentimentalised. The later chapters on the lives of black Americans in more recent times are less convincing, with Gyasi’s lack of experience as a novelist showing through at times. Despite this, Homegoing is a brilliant book and well worth reading. Some of the characters will live in your memory for quite a while.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Click on all photos to enlarge)

Our visit to Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens was cut short by heavy rain but in the short time we were there, we saw some exquisite spring flowers and shrubs. There is so much to see in the gardens – and entry is free except for some special exhibitions. You can get a flavour of the gardens and the myriad of plants to be seen all year round in this short video. What first attracted my attention were the large buds opening on a variety of trees. In the photo below, this close up of a bud bursting into leaf seems to show the tremendous energy that the tree has to exert to produce this new elegance. There is also a beautiful range of colours on display here, from the vivid purple at the bottom to the delicate greens and yellows at the top. You also get the impression that once the leaves open fully, the emerging kernel – partially hidden by the leaves at present – will expand and provide another show of colour. Unfortunately, I did not take a note of which this tree this is from. Any arborists (ahem) budding or otherwise out there who can tell me?

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Bursting bud in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh

Then it started to rain. It looked like a shower, so we sheltered under trees. The one I took cover beside was chamaecyparis lawsoniana aka Lawson’s Cypress and a very impressive tree it was. Looking up – photo below – there appeared to be multiple trunks to this tree, with a plethora of branches appearing further up. Also, look at the all the different colours in the tree trunks. You do not see these colours until you look closely. A magnificent specimen.

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Lawson cypress tree in the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh

The rain stopped for a while and then we saw the first rhododendrons,  some which were in bud while others had put on their full, glorious display. In the photo below, the blossoms are crowding each other, desperate that their pink flower will be seen by the passers-by. There is an elegant shape to the tree/bush and the pink is shown off to good effect by the greens of the trees behind.

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Rhododendrons at the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh

Closer up, you can see how delicate the rhododendron flowers are. In this photo, the individual cells of the flower are still compact in little pink bells, with the stigma protruding from the circle of anthers in side. Again, there is a complimentary contrast with the beautifully structured green leaves above and below. You can also see the later buds which are still to open.

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Rhododendron flower at the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh

At the next rhododendron bush, which was much more low-lying than the one above, I took a close up photo of a flower. The compact bells have gone and the flower is displaying its petals in a flourish, showing off the purple dots and dashes normally hidden and taking the eye away from the attention-seeking stigma.

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Rhododendron flower at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh

When the rain started to pour and the sky was completely grey, we gave up but this brief visit was still memorable and it leaves so much more to see in the next visit.

Contrasting seas and a bulb that might “see me oot”

March 10, 2017

I’m very lucky not only to  be living by the sea but having an uninterrupted view of the sea from my back door. Each morning when I open the blinds in our conservatory, I see something different and, of course, unique. The tide will be fully in or fully out, but more usually at some stage in between. The uniqueness of the sea – that individual wave will never been seen again, although its almost identical siblings will – and the sky – those clouds will never be seen again and if it’s a clear blue sky, that shade of blue will never be exactly reproduced. It always looks similar but it’s never the same. There are rocks that emerge on the outgoing tide and they attract a variety of birds, which I view through my scope. This morning, there was a small group of dunlin (includes video). These are energetic little birds (see video) and pitter-patter amongst the rock pools, constantly feeding. I also see groups of maybe 20 dunlin take off and fly around. As you watch them they turn and flash their white bellies. It’s like a magic trick as first you see birds flying, then you see an aeronautic display of little white shapes. I hadn’t realised – until I did a search on a well known search engine – that you can see murmurations of dunlin, as in this spectacular video.

What I see out of my window depends, of course on the weather and last week, on consecutive days, I had contrasting views of the sea. On one day, as in the photos below, the sea was universally grey, apart from the white waves, and the rain battered the balustrade. I took the photos in a slight lull, when the rain had eased off a touch. For most of the morning, the rain spat angrily at the sea, the land and our house. It was driven on by its pal the wind, which blew off the tops of the waves. So going for walk was not an option. However, there’s a certain pleasure to be had from watching the wind and rain from the calm interior of your house. I found it interesting when I lived for a while in Australia, that people there would still have corrugated roofs on very expensive houses, as they liked the sound of the rain on the roof.

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Grey seas in Dunbar

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Grey seas and sky in Dunbar

The next day, the outlook was completely transformed. The storm had worn itself out, the rain had gone elsewhere and the wind – an angry old man yesterday – was now a twenty-something breeze, bringing warmth and calm. In the photos below, the white waves really are white against the blue sea and there’s a lightness about the sky, so different from yesterday’s heavy and almost indistinguishable clouds. I find it interesting that we would mostly see the 2nd photos as containing more beauty than the first two. Is that because we are conditioned to see light as more beautiful than dark?

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Spring pots on the decking, blue sea and sky at my back door

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Blue skies and blue sea in Dunbar

Last week, we had to replace the bulb in our bathroom and my wife returned with a new bulb. We have a solatube light fitting, which brings in natural light during the day from the roof and is fitted with an electric light for night time. The light – photo below taken in daylight – looks as if it has 4 bulbs but it has only 1.

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Solatube light source

When I got the new bulb, I looked at the packaging (below) and I noticed 2 things. Firstly, not only does it use 85% less energy and you save lots of money BUT it claims that it will last 23 years! There’s a Scottish expression which people use, usually in a jocular fashion, addressed to someone of a certain age – “Aye, it’ll see ye oot” (will see you out). This means that a person who has bought e.g. new furniture may die before the furniture is replaced. Now, I’m hoping that I will still be here in 23 years time, although as a Scottish male, certain statistics may be against me i.e. it might “see me oot”. The second thing I noticed was the wording at the bottom right of the photo below i.e. that the bulb will “deliver a colour matching the warm and comforting feel of an older incandescent lamp”. It was the word incandescent that intrigued me, as I’d never heard of an “incandescent lamp”. Looking it up, I discovered the history of such lights which  were a real breakthrough in their time. The original incandescent lamps were, according to this website ” Not energy efficient (90% of energy goes to heat, 10% makes visible light”. So now I know. I knew what incandescent meant, in terms of someone being, for example, in an incandescent rage, meaning that they were furious. By coincidence, reading this morning’s Guardian Sport, one article begins “Jose Mourinho was left incandescent after a UEFA official appeared to laugh off his concern…” This of course made me think about what an incandescent lamp might be like. A lamp so mistreated by its owners that it refuses to light up except when they leave the room and go to bed? A jealous lamp, following the arrival of a new lamp in the room, switching itself off and on constantly? Okay, I know that a lamp is an inanimate object but, can you prove that your lamps don’t light up when you’re not there?

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Light bulb packaging

 

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”.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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Elegant swans at Seafield Pond

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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.

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Swan with dripping beak at SeafieldPond

A Word A Week Photograph Challenge – Raindrop

March 13, 2015

One of my favourite tasks with a camera is to catch raindrops on flowers. Here are my attempts, see many more at Sue’s website.

Iris after the rain

Iris after the rain

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Gladiolus

 

Wagga Wagga rose

Wagga Wagga rose

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Osteria, making soup and natural shapes and contours

August 30, 2014

Last week, we went up the coast from Dunbar to North Berwick to have a meal at the Osteria Restaurant. We’ve been before and once again we were treated to excellent personal service and high quality food – most of it locally sourced – cooked in a way which brought out the depth of flavour of the ingredients. Osteria is an Italian restaurant but not in the normal pizza and pasta sense. In fact, many people go to Osteria without having pasta dishes at all, although these dishes are a treat e.g. from the Primi menu “SPAGHETTI ALLA CHITARRA CON GRANCHIO: Homemade guitar string spaghetti tossed with crab meat, monkfish and cherry tomatoes”. If you talk to customers who’ve been to Osteria, the main word they will use is fish. I had prawns and scampi on skewers for a starter and my wife had asparagus and pea risotto. We had a taste of each and they were delicious. For mains, I had the fish platter – delicately cooked monkfish, sea bream, scallops and scampi. The fish is cooked so that you enjoy the individual flavours of each fish/seafood. My wife had chicken but not just any chicken dish. The menu describes it exactly as “POLLO CON SPECK: Succulent chicken breast stuffed with smoked italian ham served on a bed of warmed fine beans and potatoes and drizzled with a pesto sauce”. This dish has superb depths of flavour. The service is very attentive but not in an intrusive way, and there is always a very good atmosphere in the restaurant, which was packed on the night we went. Quality is the keyword for Osteria and while it may not be a cheap option, the value for money is way above what you get in most restaurants. Osteria kindly let me copy 2 of their dishes from the restaurant website.

Prawn dish from Osteria

Prawn dish from Osteria

Fish of the day dish from Osteria

Fish of the day dish from Osteria

The summer is nearing its end here in the south east of Scotland but my garden has been productive in terms of courgettes/zucchini, runner beans and coriander. I have made courgette, leek and basil soup a few times but decide this week to use up some the coriander which is growing at a rate of knots in my herb tub. Coriander has a long history of use in many countries and the word has Greek origins. It also has medicinal applications and is recommended for people with indigestion related problems. You will mostly find recommendations to use coriander in carrot and coriander soup but we prefer to include a sweet potato with the onion, carrots, ground/dried leaf coriander and fresh coriander. It’s the simplest of soups. You sweat the onion, add  the ground coriander, then the chopped carrots and sweet potato, cook for a few minutes and add the fresh chopped coriander. You then add 2 pints (1.1 litres) of chicken or vegetable stock – I use stock pots – and cook for about 25 minutes. Let it cool, then blitz the soup to your own preferred thickness – I blitz on normal for 10 seconds and then on pulse for 10 seconds, as this makes it not too smooth. I like to add some crème fraiche when the soup is served. The photo below shows the finished product. It’s very tasty – although not at the Osteria level!

Carrot, sweet potato and coriander soup

Carrot, sweet potato and coriander soup

I looked up from my book yesterday and saw that there was crane fly (aka daddy long legs) which had attached itself to the outside of the window. When you look up close, you can see that the crane fly is a delicate creature with geometric legs, a slender body and constantly flapping wings. It was the shape that attracted me as it’s almost abstract. The legs appear to have been created by adding lines at different angles, and the body resembles an early aeroplane. The photo below shows these aspects.

Crane fly on the window

Crane fly on the window

A little while later, I looked up again from my book and the day had changed from bright sunshine to heavy clouds and rain. Above the horizon there was an unusual sky – dark and looming, but what attracted me (and my camera) was the shapes and contours in the rain clouds – see photo below. The dark and threatening sky reminded me of some of Ruth Brownlee’s paintings – see the website for many examples of her new work.

Looming sky over the Firth of Forth

Looming sky over the Firth of Forth

 

Stoical cycling, strawberries and post-rain flowers

July 7, 2014

In a Guardian article on Stoicism, the writer states that stoicism “brings about three specific qualities: the life of good flow; freedom from negative emotions; and beauty of soul. In contrast to all the aforementioned stereotypes, then, stoicism aims for human flourishing in a very full sense, and an ability to find ways through times of crisis”. For cyclists, stoicism is very apt. You need a “good flow” when on the bike e.g. a steady rhythm, whether on the flat or going up a hill. You certainly need to avoid “negative emotions” although this is very hard – sometimes you can convince yourself that a slight tiredness is an all encompassing fatigue or that slight pain in your leg is an oncoming thrombosis. The “beauty of soul” of course, is getting to the summit of a big hill and freewheeling down the other side. cyclists have  many “times of crisis” – in their heads mainly – and many would doubt the use of crisis in these situations. I needed my stoicism this week.  I was getting back on my bike, after having a drink half way through a fairly hilly route. I put my shoe into my right cleat, pushed forward to go off but I was in too high a gear. There was a moment of stillness and motionless and then my hip whacked the tarmac i.e. instead hitting the road, I hit the road. I now sport a bruise, the colours of which would not be out of place in a painting depicting dark purplish, rain-filled clouds. Stoicism finds a way.

For the last fortnight, we have been enjoying strawberries from the garden. It’s a very satisfying experience to go out each evening and pick strawberries that you have cultivated yourself. However, it’s easy to over romanticise this and think that gathering in your own produce is a constant pleasure. For people who have had to grown their own food to survive, gathering vegetables or fruit was a daily chore, not a leisure activity. Despite this, there is a definite feeling of achievement – and possible smugness – in bringing in the fruit. Photo 1 shows today’s crop – and, of course, they taste much better than those for which you have paid.

Strawberries from the garden

Strawberries from the garden

Those of you of a certain age will remember The Move’s song Flowers in the Rain but it’s not just the sound of the rain ( you can listen here for 2 hours!) that I like, but the after effects of the rain on flowers in the garden. Like many other would be serious photographers, rain is a promise of close-up photos. Photo 2 shows raindrops on a begonia flower. Begonias are big, showy, in your face, big bright red flowers and some regard them as rather too showy. Photo 3 is of a more gently coloured geranium. Geraniums look more refined than begonias. You might see a begonia returning from a trip to Spain with a kiss-me-quick hat on, but a geranium would be in business class, with a smart outfit. Photo 4 shows raindrops on the leaves of not yet flowed cornflower. There’s an abstract quality here – can you see a serpent’s tongue?

Begonias after the rain

Begonias after the rain

Geranium after the rain

Geranium after the rain

Rain on cornflour

Rain on cornflower

 

 

Kailzie Garden Restaurant, rain and evening sky

June 5, 2014

On our trip to Peebles (see 28 May posting), we enjoyed a pleasant walk along the River Tweed (nice photos on this site a) and enjoyed the reflections of the trees in the river – Photo 1.

River Tweed at Peebles

River Tweed at Peebles

 

After our walk, we went for lunch to Kailzie Gardens Restaurant. This very attractive restaurant, set in an old stables building, is part of Kailzie Gardens, an extensive area of garden with spectacular displays of flowers at different times of the year. We go back to this restaurant because of the quality of the food and the service. The lunch menu presents the visitor with a problem – what to choose? The very tasty smorrebrod or the flavoursome quiche or the smoked haddock risotto, which is light in texture but has a depth of taste. I enquired on a previous visit how the chef got his risotto so light and he said that it was done simply with butter and parmesan – yes, and a lot of practice. There are always specials on the board and on this visit, I went for the pork belly with mash potatoes and savoy cabbage. I like pork belly but am wary of ordering in restaurants unless I know it will be crisp on the edges and full of flavour in the middle. This pork belly – see Photo 2 – was the best I’ve had. The crackling was very crisp but not overdone i.e. it does not threaten your teeth with its hardness, the meat was tender, the mash was creamy and the gravy had the depth and quality of a good red wine. On the photo, you will see a small sliver of smoked eel at the side of the plate. On of our party had smoked eel and scrambled eggs, and the eel was gently cooked and I liked the mild taste, never having tried eel before. There ensued a discussion in our party about how best to scramble eggs. We all knew how not to scramble eggs e.g. as served in cheap B&Bs and made with eggs and milk. My wife cooks her eggs only with butter, while I like to add a little crème fraiche to mine. We asked about these eggs and were told that the chef used butter, a little rapeseed oil and a teaspoonful of cream. If you visit this restaurant, you must try the warm border tart with ice cream and butterscotch sauce. Border tart comes in a variety of forms and recipes differ e.g. this recipe includes a lemon glaze, which I would not recommend. The Kailzie border tart has crisp pastry with a very fruity filling and the butterscotch is light but adds much to the dish, as does the local ice cream. This is one of the best puddings/desserts I’ve ever had. I forgot to take a photo but you can see one here. This is a restaurant for food lovers, with the food freshly cooked and served by friendly and informative staff, and a chef who is very approachable.

Pork belly dish at Kailzie Gardens restaurant

Pork belly dish at Kailzie Gardens restaurant

Today in Dunbar, the rain was relentless all morning, driven by a cold NE wind – welcome to June in Scotland. Having said that, this is a cold interval in between warmer and sunnier weather. The other day, I turned over my poetry calendar and found the poem Rain by Linda Pastan. It’s a poem that has striking images – “A rage of rain/on the tin roof;/ a hammering/ as of a thousand/ carpenters;/ …. bright sheets/ of water/ blowing about/ in the wind/ like translucent laundry”. John Lennon sang “When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads” in the song Rain and Thomas Hardy’s We sat at the Window has the lines “And the rain came down like silken strings/ That Swithin’s day./Each gutter and spout/ Babbled unchecked in the busy way/    Of witless things”. I like to watch the rain fall from indoors – it’s less alluring when it’s hammering down on your bike helmet, as it was on Monday, and you’ve 10 more miles to go.

Last night was the first brilliant sky of what I hope will be many this summer. There was truly a red sky at night and while this may traditionally be a shepherd’s delight, and promise a beautiful day to come, this morning’s deluge proved it to be an exception to the rule. I love the range of colours you get in skies like these, and never tire of taking photos of these wonder displays of shapes and colours – see Photos 3, 4 and 5.

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

Evening sky over Dunbar

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

 

 

Forward Prizes, spring garden and free will

April 4, 2014

I have just finished reading The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. It’s an annual collection of poems submitted for various elements of the Forward Prizes. The best collection was by Michael Symmons Roberts entitled Drysalter which I’ve referred to in the blog. Taking the book off my bookshelves and opening it at random, I find Discoverers including the lines “History as layers of paint, sedimentary/ and underneath them all, spread/ like a painless contagion, stone”. The best first collection prize went to Emily Berry for Dear Boy, which includes the truly original prose poem “The International Year of the Poem” in which the poet imagines poems being seen as internationally subversive and governments taking action e.g. an Israeli prime minister stated that “We have now declared war on the poems of Gaza….we will treat the population with silk gloves/ but we will apply an iron fist to poems”. If you don’t normally buy poetry books, buy this one and read one or maybe two poems a day – your imagination will be richly stirred.

For the last 10 days, the east of Scotland and most of the east coast of  England has been covered in low cloud, with the occasional slow inrush of haar (sea mist) and the temperature has hung about 6 or 7 degrees. At times, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s sentence at the beginning of his novel The Road – “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world”. Now in The Road, the world has suffered a disaster – possibly nuclear war – and the sun has been permanently blocked out. The sun will return next week here but the image of a “cold glaucoma” is startling. Despite the ubiquitous grey in the sky and on the sea, my spring garden provided some relief and welcome colour, in the form of wallflower. grape hyacinths, daffodils and tulips in the 1st photo below. The 2nd photo is a pot with pansies, red and white tulips and daffodils. The 3rd photo shows the aftermath of the rain on a cyclamen plant.

Spring garden

Spring garden

Spring pot

Spring pot

Cyclamen after the rain

Cyclamen after the rain

Out on my bike this week, I listened to an episode of In Our Time, the weekly radio programme hosted by Melvyn Bragg on free will. This episode is from the programme’s archives. It was a fascinating discussion and it did not get too bogged down in terminology. Proponents of free will argue that we have freedom over our actions – will we choose the chicken or the fish in a restaurant? – although this is not complete freedom as our choices will be influenced by factors such as societal pressures, our experiences and our tastes. Opponents of free will – the determinists – argue that everything we do is determined e.g. by nature or by divine intervention, so we cannot have free will. However, if everything is determined, why don’t we just act as we like, possibly irresponsibly, as what we do is determined anyway? Some philosophers argue that if we have moral responsibility for our actions, then we don’t have complete free will but they also reject determinism. As with all things philosophical, there are many arguments and counter arguments e.g. we must try to define “free” and “will” before we can discuss it. So, while it looks like you have free will with regard to reading this blog post or not, you don’t make that decision uninfluenced.