Posts Tagged ‘snowdrops’

Highlights of 2016

December 31, 2016

I was going to give myself a festive break from the blog but, every day in the paper there is some sort of review of 2016, so coming back from my walk today I thought I might do one as well. This is what went through my head: best photo, best meal cooked, best restaurant, best visit, best novel read, best book of poems read, best …. Not to mention major highlights such as the arrival of our new grandson Zachary Buddy in June and in the previous month, the glorious victory – the Hibees won the cup after 114 years! So I started to read the blog from the beginning of January and realised that it was going to take a long time to read all of the posts. So this is a flick through, fairly randomly and not covering all the categories mentioned above.

In January, we went down to London as I was going to the T S Eliot Prize poetry readings at The Royal Festival Hall. I’m going again in January, so more of that later. A highlight of the visit was a meal at The French Table in Surbiton. The meal was delicious and one of the dishes on offer was monkfish which was served with crispy samphire and truffle froth – photo below sent to me by staff at TFT.

tft-2

Monkfish served at The French Table (Click to enlarge)

Flowers feature often in the blog and I’m always trying to improve my close up photography in my garden and other gardens and wood lands. So here’s some examples (photos below) – snowdrops at Pitcox, tulips in my garden and the multi-coloured and delicate honeysuckle, also in my garden.

img_0110

Snowdrops at Pitcox

img_0331

Tulips in my garden

img_0406

Honeysuckle in my garden

Best picture I took this year? A hard one this as there’s such as variety of photos that I like – of favourite places like St Abbs Head or Dunbar harbour, but I’ve settled on one from my garden again, except the focus this time is not on the flower but on the bee. This is from a post entitled Summer flowers. Bees are not obedient. They move constantly and their wings beat even when they are attached to flowers. This one must have been enjoying the nectar so much that it momentarily stopped moving, allowing me to capture the bee’s complex physical structure, its vivid colours and its wing, which looks like a piece of ornate glassware you might find in an art gallery.

img_0666

Bumble bee on a hebe flower.

The best visit we did this year undoubtedly to the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From the moment you walk towards the outside of the building, you are in for a series of eyebrow raising moments and you lose count of the times you say “Wow!”. The external and internal structure of the museum represent a triumph of modern architecture, so impressive is the design and flow of the building. The two photos below can’t capture the wonder of this building but if it inspires you to visit, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

img_0793

Back of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

img_0817

Front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

So that’s (part of) the old rung out and next week/year, I’ll ring in the new – more travel, more novels, more poetry, more photos – and anything else that comes in to the mind of this (at times) Bear of Little Brain – even if my favourite word is crepuscular.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Frosty days and Pitcox farm

November 29, 2016

Last week, we had a series of very frosty days in Dunbar. When you get frosts in November, there are always gloom merchants around who see this as a sign of a bad winter to come. Likewise, if you get a comparatively warm day in November, there will always be someone in the street saying “Aye, we’ll peye (pay) for this!”. This view of life of course, sees the world in simplistic terms, for every gain ( a sunny day), there will be pain ( a frosty day). We optimists argue that you should enjoy both sunny and frosty days – if you can. I was out cycling last week on 2 of the frosty days and I took my camera on the second one. Unlike last week, both these cycle rides were very enjoyable – sunny days, with big Australian clear blue skies, on my mountain bike and hitting the occasional thick patches of ice en route in the countryside. The thick tyres on this bike mean that you can crunch through icy puddles on the road. The key thing is never to touch your brakes on the ice, as you inevitably end up lying on the said ice and looking up to the big sky, and feeling an ever-growing pain in your knee.

I stopped the bike at Pitcox Farm, of which more later. On the roadside, the fallen leaves had been highlighted by the 3 days of frost. I took these close up photos and looking at them when enlarged, I’m sure we may see different things. What do I see? What strikes me most are the patterns on the leaves, some like splayed fingers, others like branch lines of a metro system, some like a child’s drawing of a tree and others like protruding veins, which are white, unlike their varicose counterparts. There are also twigs, leading your eye from line to line.

img_1110

Frosted leaves in November (Click to enlarge

img_1109

Frosted leaves in November

Back home, I went out to the back of the house to catch the thick frost on the beach. There looks like a confrontation in the photo below. The frost has marched out from the stone wall towards the incoming tide and the two armies are separated by the Independent Republic of Sand, upon which the sun shines. The tide receded, the frost stayed put and then it was completely annihilated by the invisible Thaw. The following day, there was high tide and the jubilant sea laughed its way up to the wall. There’s a lovely image in Amy Lowell’s poem The Hoar Frost, with these lines: “And when I came into my garden,/My silken outer-garment/ Trailed over withered leaves”.

img_1132

Frosted East Beach in Dunbar

Back to Pitcox Farm, which usually makes an appearance here in late January, early February when the first snowdrops for miles around can be seen. The farm, with its impressive house and farm cottages is 4.5 miles (7.2K) from Dunbar and you get there on quiet country roads. I was on my way back when I took the photos here – of where I’d come from and the road down to the cross roads.

img_1119

The Pitcox to Stenton Road

img_1114

Approaching the Pitcox crossroads

At the place in the photo above, the roadside was frost-filled, the leaves static, the air cold and my breath steamy. At the bottom of the road, just past the crossroads sign, the sun was out and the frost had been banished, with the leaves enjoying the temporary heat, as in this photo, which appears to contain unknown stick insects.

img_1128

Autumn leaves in the sun

There were also magnificent shadows cast by the now leafless trees in the garden of Pitcox House. In this photo, the shadows look animated as if engaged in mid morning tree shadow aerobics and the trees themselves stretch out as far as they can.

img_1121

Trees and shadows at Pitcox House

 

Snowdrops at Pitcox and trip to Aberdeen

February 18, 2016

It’s February again, so my annual trip to Pitcox House to photograph the snowdrops and aconites. Pitcox is a hamlet about 4 miles from Dunbar and is on one my regular cycling routes. The big house (aka big hoose) is a feature of farms in Scotland and is the place were the (usually wealthy) farmer’s family would live. In contrast, the workers’ houses would be much smaller but this would depend on status. Across the road from the big hoose in Pitcox is the Grieve’s Cottage and opposite is the Gardener’s Cottage. The grieve was the farm manager or farmer’s right hand man and was the chief employee. The origin of this meaning of grieve has nothing to do with sorrow but is from the Old English graefa reeve. A reeve was an officer or King’s representative in a locality in medieval England, so graefa reeve was presumably a senior officer. If you know different, let me know.

IMG_0118

Pitcox House

The snowdrops are in profusion here. As I’ve noted before in this blog, lovers of snowdrops are called galanthopiles and, as the highlighted site shows, it is a very serious and often very expensive hobby. On the literature front, my favourite snowdrop poem is by Alice Oswald, and it’s simply called Snowdrop. The full poem can be found here – I hope this blogger asked for permission. Oswald sees the snowdrop as a sad girl and “One among several hundred clear-eyed ghosts/ who get up in the cold” but although the girl may be grieving (that word again!) she is “a mighty power of patience”.

IMG_0105

Snowdrops at Pitcox House

The other splash of colour – this time yellow – in the garden at Pitcox House comes from the aconites. These perennial plants are lovely to look at but most species are poisonous and shouldn’t be handled. They look like large buttercups and provide a nice contrast with the dazzling white of the snowdrops.

IMG_0112

Aconite at Pitcox House

At the weekend, we travelled north to the city of Aberdeen (good photos) for a wedding reception on Saturday but we made a weekend of it, driving up on Friday. We used to live in Aberdeenshire in the bonnie village of Kemnay and I taught at The Robert Gordon University in the 1980s. On Friday evening, we went to an old haunt, Poldino’s Italian restaurant in the city centre. We shared the Antipasto Vegeteriano – a very tasty ” selection of marinated and grilled vegetables, salad, olives, cheese and grissini”. I learned that grissini are breadsticks. I then had Panciotti Cappesante e Gamberi : “Scallop and prawn spherical pasta parcels through a fennel and smoked salmon sauce” which were light, with a delicate taste and an excellent sauce. My wife had Sogliola Certosina : “Fillets of lemon sole pan fried with, prawns, lemon, dill, cream and tomato”, which came as a very good sized sole fillet with a sauce that complimented, but did not overwhelm the fish. We finished by sharing a dessert – Montenero “First we drench sponge in Marsala then we add vanilla ice cream, over this we pour our own rich chocolate sauce” and this has not changed in 30 years with high quality ice cream and a delicious chocolate sauce. So, a nostalgic evening and a very enjoyable one. If you are in Aberdeen, this is a fine place to eat.

Poldino's restaurant in Aberdeen

Poldino’s restaurant in Aberdeen

On the Saturday, we were picked up by friends outside Marischal College. This magnificent building has recently been cleaned up and the granite was sparkling in the sun when we were there. When I looked up at the numerous spires, it reminded me of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, although Marischal College’s gothic design is more traditional. Outside the college is a statue of Robert the Bruce who was King of Scotland in the 14th century and the 5.6m high statue adds grandeur to the impressive college building behind.

Marischal College Aberdeen

Marischal College Aberdeen

 

Gothic spires of Marischal College

Gothic spires of Marischal College

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Marischal College Aberdeen

Statue of Robert the Bruce at Marischal College Aberdeen

After lunch, we went for a walk with our friends to the nearby Brig O’ Balgownie which in past times was the main entrance to the city. Further on, we visited the historic St Machar Cathedral, a 12th century building. The very helpful guide gave us a history of the church which was  a catholic cathedral until the Reformation in Scotland. It’s an unusual building because the walls are made of rough granite, which was gathered from the fields and this is different from usual cut granite or stone you see in other large churches. The pillars are cut granite and of a smoother appearance. Another distinctive feature is the flat, heraldic ceiling whereas you might expect a vaulted ceiling in such a building. The large organ dominates one side of the kirk where this is a different ceiling. This is another of these remarkable buildings which were erected with little available technology and often in hazardous conditions, and you have to admire the work of the stonemasons and labourers who built it.

Twin towers of St Machar Cathedral Aberdeen

Twin towers of St Machar Cathedral Aberdeen

 

Interior and heraldic ceiling in St Machar Cathedral

Interior and heraldic ceiling in St Machar Cathedral

 

The organ in St Machar Cathedral

The organ in St Machar Cathedral

Six little terns, wintry St Abbs harbour and green shoots

December 16, 2015

I’m reading the new Poetry Book Society ChoiceLes Murray‘s Waiting for the Past. Murray’s poems are dense with images and he has the poet’s knack of reducing into a few words what the rest of us would need a paragraph to explain. One of the early poems in the book is entitled Dynamic Rest:

Six little terns

feet gripping sand

on a windy beach

 

six more just above

white with opened wings

busy exchange of feet

 

reaching down lifting off

terns rising up through terms

all quivering parallel

 

drift ahead and settle

bracing their eyes

against the brunt of wind

So we have four short verses and like all the poems in this book, you need to read and re-read to gain an insight into the depth of what the poems is about and what happens in the poem. The title is an oxymoron in that dynamic and rest appear to be contradictory. My English teacher at school, Mrs McKie, would be impressed that I remembered the term oxymoron. The terns are “resting” on the beach and in the air, and in the last verse, they “settle”. Murray imagines the birds – I assume that you cannot see birds “bracing their eyes” – perhaps narrowing their eyes in the face of a strong (and cold?) wind. The last phrase is “the brunt of wind” i.e. not the brunt of the wind, suggesting a forceful and unpleasant wind for the birds. The wind also affects the birds on the ground as their feet have to grip the sand. So the poem is dynamic, with “terns rising up through terns” and there is constant movement in this attempt at rest. Murray’s white terns are common in Australia and have striking blue/black beaks and black eyes.

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

We drove down to St Abbs Head on Sunday on a cold and damp winter’s day. It was grey all day and dark in the morning until 8am and dark again at 4pm. Despite this, we were well rugged up for a short walk, there was still plenty to see. The harbour, which still contains the now defunct lifeboat station, has fewer boats, with some on the shore for maintenance (see photos). The sea, of course, never stops and the waves were gently caressing the sea walls – the wind was light and south westerly, so no dramatic coastal scene on Sunday, but the sea still looked cold. There were some people about but you felt an absence – of tourists, divers and fishermen that throng the harbour in the summer.

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

Before walking to the harbour, we parked at the Nature Centre and visited the excellent Number Four Gallery. On the way to the gallery, I remarked that it would not be long until we saw snowdrops here. Looking down at the leaf strewn ground, there was no sign of growth, but when I pushed back some leaves, the green shoots of the snowdrops were well above the ground – see photo. I pushed the leaves back over the stems for protection. I remembered the final lines of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind – “O Wind, / If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”. Apparently not, as the snowdrop growth looked strong and healthy and the green provided a good contrast to the ever-fading leaves from the trees, although some ivy leaves were still green.

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

First snowdrops, snowy fields and snowy graveyard

January 19, 2015

It’s January. We are having a very cold spell here in Dunbar, with temperatures not rising above 3 degrees all day. OK – this may be a mild winter for some of you, but it’s counted as cold here. In Scots, the word cauld (pr called) is used for cold and there’s a take-off of the biblical saying “Many are called, but few are chosen” (the equivalent of Private Fraser’s “Wur doomed”). The take-off is “Many are cauld, but few are frozen”. January is also the month when the first snowdrops appear and I paid my annual trip to Pitcox House  which is about 4 miles up country from Dunbar. This is traditionally where people first see snowdrops. As in previous years, I urge you to find Alice Oswald’s poem Snowdrop from her collection Weeds and Wild Flowers (with superb etchings by Jessica Greenman). Oswald describes the snowdrop as “A pale and pining girl, head bowed, heart gnawed”, so a tragic figure who brings “her burnt heart with her in an urn/ of ashes, which she opens to re-mourn” and is “no more than a drop of snow/ on a green stem”. Despite this, the poet sees the snowdrop as having “a mighty power of patience”. I think that most people delight in seeing the first snowdrops, The photos below were taken at Pitcox House which has a dazzling array of winter trees,

Snowdrops at Pitcox House

Snowdrops at Pitcox House

Snowdrops among the leaves at Pitcox House

Snowdrops among the leaves at Pitcox House

Sun on winter trees at Pitcox House

Sun on winter trees at Pitcox House

Pitcox House and trees

Pitcox House and trees

From Pitxox, we drove on past Stenton and on to the road to Gifford. There had been a snowfall the night before and the snow still lay on the fields we passed, highlighting the lines of the spring wheat, which is temporarily dormant in the icy conditions. There was more snow in the Lammermuir Hills in the distance, as the photos below show.

Snowy fields near Garvald

Snowy fields near Garvald

Snowy fields near Garvald

Snowy fields near Garvald

In the bonnie village of Gifford (good photos) the wintry scene was most noticeable in the grounds of the historic Yester Parish Church where the snow still lay amongst the gravestones, as in the photos below.

Yester Parish Church graveyard

Yester Parish Church graveyard

Yester Parish Church graveyard

Yester Parish Church graveyard

Pitcox House, The Wire and philosophy course

February 12, 2014

I featured pictures of snowdrops last week and included a couple of close up photos. This week, I made my annual visit with my camera to Pitcox House. Pitcox is a hamlet through which I frequently cycle and is 4 miles up the country from Dunbar. What is striking about Pitcox House and farm at this time of the year is that it is always the first place around here that you see a carpet of snowdrops. This year, I was lucky to have the sun shining through the trees in the early afternoon and casting shadows across the snowdrops – see pictures 1 and 2 below.

Snowdrops and shadows at Pitcox House

Snowdrops and shadows at Pitcox House

Snowdrops and shadows at Pitcox House

Snowdrops and shadows at Pitcox House

Also on show at Pitcox, although not in such a proliferation, were aconites which provided a bright splash of yellow to contrast with the dazzling white of the snowdrops – see pictures  3 and 4 below.

Aconites

Aconites

Aconites

Aconites

After much encouragement from a number of friends,  I recently bought the boxed set of The Wire. The Guardian reviewer argues that The Wire is ” the greatest ever television drama” and quotes one source as describing the programme as “a Homeric epic of modern America”. so, much hype for this series. I have to say, having watched most of the first season, that The Wire is TV of the highest quality. It has a driving plot, complex characters on the police side and on the drug dealers’ side and it presents a detailed insight into a number of small, discrete worlds – the police’s project location, the police HQ which is dominated by an immoveable hierarchy, and the high rise “projects” which are riven with drug dealing and poverty. there is ambition, corruption and many attempts to justify moralities which are interpreted differently by a range of intriguing characters. It can be brutal but is also funny at times – and it is definitely compulsive.

I’m a student at Edinburgh University again – many, many year after graduating with an Honours degree in History – albeit only for 7 weeks. I’ve joined the free short course Introduction to Philosophy. The course takes the form of video lectures by the university’s philosophy team, and includes handouts, further reading and online forums. I’m used to being on the other side of forums – raising issues and responding to student queries – when I worked at Charles Sturt University’s School of Information Studies . so, it has been an enjoyable experience – listening to lectures, taking notes and doing the quizzes at the end of each week. I’m just about to start week 3, having done What is Philosophy? and What is Knowledge? There are of course a wide variety of views on these questions and the key aspect of this course is the thinking needed to explore the issues such as How do we know what we know? This has got my brain into gear again and I’m enjoying the challenge. If you have spare time and want a rejuvenating experience, then this might be the course for you.

Textile art, Moniza Alvi and snowdrops

February 4, 2014

A visit to the latest exhibition at the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) in Aberlady proved to be rewarding. The exhibition featured work by Pat Beveridge and the East Coast Stitchers. There was some impressive work on show and some intricate collages of flowers and insects by the Stitchers which was much admired by my wife. The work of Pat Beveridge stands out in the exhibition with some superb stitched textile works. Indeed, if you were not alerted to the fact that some of the works on display were textile based, you could view them as “regular” paintings, as it’s only when you are closer to the frames that you see the depth of the art is enhanced because of its textile format. I contacted Pat and she was kind enough to send me the two works below. In both works, there are recognisable features – the birds, the sea, the waves but this accompanied by more abstract shapes and some surreal elements. If you get a chance to see this exhibition, don’t miss it. Otherwise, check out Pat Beveridge’s website.

Over the Waves - Pat Beveridge

Over the Waves – Pat Beveridge

Seascape_2 - Pat Beveridge

Seascape_2 – Pat Beveridge

The latest Poetry Book Society Choice  is At the Time of Partition by Moniza Alvi. The book contains one extended poem and although there are 64 pages, it is a book that can be read in 2 or 3 sittings. However, when you have finished the poem, you are likely to be drawn back into it, such is the depth of experience – and occasional horror – in the poem, which deals with one family’s view of the partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947. Alvi has used the history of some of her family who were involved in the partition. The poem begins with a startling image: “It lies helplessly, wrong side up/like a turtle showing its underside -/ the family story”. The story which follows is, on the face of it, fairly simple – a family, along with thousands of others, is forced to leave their home in India to go to live in the newly created Pakistan. Alvi presents some striking images and manages to convey the uncertainty, the fear – “Not the thousand and one nights/but the thousand and one fears,/ each one as full/ as a night” – and finally, the hope of those involved. The grandmother is the focus of the poems and leaving her house in India is a severe blow – “The house was her second skin/hardier than the first”. I would strongly urge people to buy this book or request it at your local library.

It was a lovely bright day on Sunday – and a mild 6 degrees here – so we set off for our first visit to St Abbs Head – featured often on this blog – in 2014. There was a very strong SW wind and we had to be careful to keep away from the cliff edges at times. It ‘s a very rewarding walk, and looking down the high cliffs to the sea surging against the rocks, we were struck by the absence of birds – only the occasional seagull. Come May, the place will be swarming with kittiwakes and guillemots. At the beginning and end of the walk, we came across clumps of snowdrops, which raised their white heads above ground in mid January and are now in full bloom. Snowdrops (Galanthus) bring a welcome splash of brilliant white on the ground in winter and galanthophiles are in their element. These  flowers are mild mannered, shy, head down creatures and once again, I return to Alice Oswald’s poem Snowdrop, from here wonderfully illustrated collection Weeds and Wild Flowers. The second verse describes the snowdrop as “One among several hundred clear-eyed ghosts/ who get up in the cold and blink and turn/into these trembling emblems of night frosts”. So, here are my first two photos of snowdrops this year.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Snowdrops