Posts Tagged ‘Seamus Heaney’

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

 

Dunbar Battery redeveloped

June 22, 2017

Following the award of a grant of £700,000, Dunbar Harbour Trust has been instrumental in transforming part of the harbour site. The Battery has a long history, being built in 1781 as a fort to defend the existing Cromwell Harbour from attack by American privateers and also from a possible French invasion. In the 1870s, the Battery became an isolation hospital and at the start of the First World War, the hospital was taken over by the Red Cross and revamped. In the 1930s, it was the site of housing for a time but this was abandoned when the roof blew off. Until this year, the Battery has been an open space for visitors to look out from its walls out to sea or back to the south and the Lammermuir Hills. The Battery  (good photos) has now been transformed into an amphitheatre and coastal garden, with areas for public art. I took my trusty camera along to take a personal look. When you go through the stone arch, what first catches your eye is the wooden seating which is part of the new amphitheatre.

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Seating in the amphitheatre at the Dunbar Battery (click to enlarge)

On closer inspection, you see that on the lovely wooden steps, there are the names from the Shipping Forecast which can be heard on Radio 4. There’s an excellent video available on why people love the Shipping Forecast. The forecast has a lyrical quality to it, as many of the names could be from a poem – North Utsire, (pr Ootseeri) South Utsire, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger. As the Battery is next to the sea, this was an inspiring idea. The Shipping Forecast is also a poem by Seamus Heaney from his Glanmore Sonnets and you can hear Heaney reading the poem here  – a wonderful experience.

The public art on display at the moment is The Sea Cubes by Scottish artist Donald Urquhart.  In the photos below, you can see the steel cubes on display and a close up of one of the fossils engraved into the cubes. The cubes are attractive to look at and people of all ages can use their imagination to decide what they look like – ice cubes which have floated down from the North Pole or steel mirrors which have landed from space? They are a very peaceful sight. When you look closely at the intricate nature of the engraved fossils, you can see the complex structure of these fairly basic creatures. This one also reminded me of a map of an archipelago, with a thousand islands.

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Sea Cubes by Donald Urquhart at the Dunbar Battery

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Fossil engraving on a Sea Cube by Donald Urquhart

The Coastal Garden section is also very interesting and pleasant on the eye. The photo below shows the pebbles, the wooden blocks and the range of plants which can survive in the harsh seaside conditions. The plants include sea pinks (aka thrift), red valerian and Caradonna Meadow Sage. It will be interesting to see the plants develop and spread and bring more colour to the site in the future.

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Coastal garden at the Dunbar Battery

As you leave the Battery, you see Dunbar Harbour and Dunbar Castle through the archway as in the photo below. I’ve featured Dunbar Harbour on this blog a few times and it is an ever-changing view, as the light differs or there are different boats in the harbour. The 1st photo shows the magnificent stone wall and arch which gives solidity to the entrance and frames the harbour very well. After you walk down the slope from the battery, you are on the harbour quayside and you are looking across the harbour to the castle, as in the 2nd photo below. This is the view on a calm summer evening at the harbour. In October, the small yachts are taken out for the winter as the winter tides turn the harbour into a turbulent rush of water.

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Dunbar Harbour and Dunbar Castle from the Battery.

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Dunbar harbour from near the Battery

Back on my bike, John Clare podcast and crocuses

February 23, 2017

I had my first cycle on Saturday after being off the bike for 5.5 weeks with very painful sciatica i.e. intermittently, you get a sharp pain in your side and shooting pains going down your leg – and this can happen during the day or night. Okay, it’s a fairly minor complaint but it’s very annoying and frustrating, particularly with the knowledge that cycling will make it worse. When you look up sciatica on the web, the first thing your told by all the websites I looked at is: There is no cure for sciatica. You just have to wait until it calms down and do warm up and warm down exercises before cycling. So, on the bike – tentatively. When you come back to cycling, especially when you get older, there is a change in the environment. What used to be inclines are back to hills, and what used to be small hills are now biggish hills and as for the big hills – forget about them for a while. However, I know that after a few longer cycle rides, the inclines will return to their former status, as will the little hills and the big hills can be conquered – maybe at a painfully slow rate at first.

On Saturday’s bike ride and on today’s, it was refreshing to be out looking at the countryside again, passing clumps of snowdrops now at their peak and also emergent crocus and the odd daffodil in flower. Plus, many of the fields are going green again, while others, newly ploughed, have a sheen on the turned earth which the sun catches. So it was appropriate today that, while on the bike, I listened (safely, able to hear traffic behind me) to a podcast from Melvyn Bragg’s educative and informative series In Our Time on Radio 4. This podcast ( you can listen from anywhere in the world) was on the poet John Clare  and there was a fascinating discussion by three academic experts on Clare’s childhood. He was brought up in relative poverty in the village of Helpston in Northamptonshire, where his father worked on a local farm. Clare left school at 11 and was introduced to poetry by fellow farm labourer, who showed Clare a book of poems about landscape. Clare was published in his 20s and was marketed as a poor farm labourer (a la Robert Burns in Scotland) with a gift for poetry. The podcast reveals how Clare became a poet of the countryside – from the countryside’s and its animals’ point of view i.e. Clare on his walks delved into elements such as the Nightingale’s Nest. As one of the panel observed, Clare did not observe the rural landscape “from over a 5-barred gate” as other rural poets did, but included details – such as the composition of the nightingale’s nest. Clare’s fame did not last and he ended up in a lunatic asylum, but he still wrote poems which have endured until today, later in his life. Clare’s style fell out of fashion but there has been a revival of interest in Clare by poets such as Seamus Heaney and Tom Paulin, who admired Clare’s use of local dialect words. I would recommend this podcast to everyone, not just those interested in poetry.

We are two-thirds of the way through February and the crocus flowers have added a welcome splash of early Spring colour across the UK. Here in Dunbar, the local council have planted hundreds of crocus around the town. The photos that follow are from the council-planted crop just up the road from my house. It was very windy when I took the photos but the sun was out and the crocus glittered and swayed in the wind, which is not cold today. Tomorrow, however, the temperatures are to plummet and we may get gales and snow, which means a battering  for these attractive but flimsy flowers. In this photo, I like the combination of colours, yellow, purple and different shades of green.

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Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the next photo, a close-up (difficult to do in the wind), the crocus appear to be reaching up to the sun and opening their flowers to ingest the sun’s rays.

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Close up of crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

In the final photo, which includes both yellow and purple flowers, the crocus are like open-mouthed choir boys, singing at the top of their voices.

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

Crocus on Spott Road, Dunbar

John Clare refers to the crocus in some of his poems, such as this from Early Spring “The Spring is come, and Spring flowers coming too, The crocus, patty kay, the rich hearts’ ease;”. The patty kay is the hepatica flower and the photo below is included under the Creative Commons licence.

Hepatica flower

Hepatica flower

 

 

Wenlock Edge, potato dreels and bored sheep

March 29, 2014

An intriguing and poetic entry from Paul Evans in a Country Diary in The Guardian this week. It begins “At wood’s edge, on a rabbit-scrabbled bank, a patch of white sweet violets, five yards square, glows under trees. There is so much energy in the air: a flash of sunlight catches the flowers and is gone under heavy cloud; in a matter of minutes there’s rain, then snow”. Evans goes on to tell us that sweet violets were dedicated to the Greek goddess Persephone one of whose roles was to encourage spring growth. Evans is also the author of an article How to be a nature writer and he gives an excellent list of what to do and what to avoid.

Out cycling yesterday and there was an east wind that would cut your cheeks off if you stood still for long enough. So, I headed out towards the local cement works, with the Barns Ness lighthouse on the shore to my left, and on to Torness Power Station, which admittedly, is not the bonniest sight around our countryside, but if you ignore the power station, and concentrate on the fields, beaches and the sea, it’s a rewarding cycle. Near the power station, 3 tractors were planting potatoes (aka tatties in Scotland) and forming rough furrows, which are then smoothed out and de-stoned in the process. Around here, these furrows are called dreels and when you see a newly planted field of tatties at this time of year, it heralds the onrush of Spring, although the stinging east wind tells you otherwise. I went back and took my camera. Photo 1 shows the rough dreels which contain the newly planted potatoes and photo 2 shows a tractor de-stoning and smoothing. Seamus Heaney’s poem Digging has images of his father ” Stooping in rhythm through potato drills/ Where he was digging”. His father was digging up the grown potatoes. Heaney uses drills instead of dreels.

Rough potato dreels

Rough potato dreels

De-stoning and smoothing

De-stoning and smoothing

Just beyond  the power station, I passed a field of sheep, which appeared to be ewes with swollen bellies in preparation for lambing. On going back with my camera, I discovered an anatomical indication that told me that these ewes were in fact rams. Now, I know that anthropomorphizing is not always recommended, but these sheep looked particularly bored with life. On our bikes, my pals and I pass many sheep on the country roads and some sheep can be seen merrily chewing at grass, or lambs can be greedily feeding, or some sheep can have a philosophical look, as if they might be trying to work out the implications of Hume’s arguments on human nature. The sheep I saw yesterday (see 2 photos below) definitely looked as if the world was not doing them any favours i.e. they were stuck in this field again, grass for breakfast, lunch and dinner, no conversation, no jokes, no laughter,  and not even a mountable ewe in sight. Or maybe they saw me on my bike, and then back with my camera, intruding on their personal space – without even asking permission! – and wondered what was wrong with ME.

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Bored sheep

Seamus Heaney, West of Ireland (2) and bees

September 6, 2013

The death of Seamus Heaney – my favourite poet – was ” a breach in the language” as one commentator wrote. Heaney was only 74 and who knows what exquisite and telling phrases he might have produced had he lived. Not that his extensive output did not contain countless phrases and sentences that any poem would have been proud to write and that readers like me could only wonder at the originality and the tautness of phrase. I’ve just taken down from my bookshelves my own collection of Seamus Heaney and I have nine books of his poems as well as a book of interviews with him. I have many favourite Heaney poems, too many to list here, but one is Sunlight “There was a sunlit absence. /The helmeted pump in the yard/  heated its iron,/ water honeyed/  in the slung bucket/ and the sun stood
like a griddle cooling/ against the wall”. One of the skills that a poet like Heaney had was distillation. If you take that first stanza in Sunlight and try to write out a description – in prose – of what the poet allows you to see – and of course, to imagine- how many sentences would you end up writing. I’ll be reading Seamus Heaney for the rest of my life.

Following on from last week’s description of our visit to the west of Ireland, another outing  was to Kylemore Abbey. Originally built as a castle and lavishly decorated in the Italian style, it was sold in the late 19th century to a British duke who, trying to impress the then king, ripped out all the Italian interior and replaced it with Victorian furniture etc. In the end, the duke gambled away the castle and it feel into ruin before being taken over by nuns in the 1920s. Photo 1 shows the outside of the abbey and Photo 2 shows the elegant dining table. It’s an interesting visited and we would have also visited the extensive walled garden but the rain poured down incessantly – another time. We did go to the church which the original owner built for his late wife – Photo 3 – and one of the most interesting aspect of this church is the use of Irish marble (Photos 4 and 5) and my favourite was the green from Connemara.

An interesting link to Seamus Heaney appeared in my poetry calendar yesterday – the Lake Isle of Innesfree by W B Yeats, as Heaney’s greatness as a poet was compared to that of Yeats in many of the obituaries. The poem begins “I will arise and go now, and go to Innesfree” and the poet aims to build a hive for bees “And live alone in the bee-loud glade”.  In the phrase “bee-loud” you can hear the incessant buzzing of bees. Having planted new lavender and some wild flowers in my garden, this year has been great for bees to visit and to feast on the nectar. I managed to catch a couple of the bees in close up – not an easy thing to do as they move continuously – see Photos 6 and 7. If only Seamus Heaney could have seen them and written a poem about them.

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey church

Kylemore Abbey church

Irish marble

Irish marble

Irish marble at Kylemore Abbey church

Irish marble at Kylemore Abbey church

Bee on lavender

Bee on lavender

Bee on lavender

Bee on lavender