Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Hardy’

Deputy weatherman’s deputy and rain on flowers

July 12, 2017

My pal Kenny Stanton reads the weather station at Winterfield in Dunbar every day and sends his results off to the Met Office. He was on holiday recently and his deputy Ronnie took over. Then Ronnie was on holiday and I took over and became the Deputy Weatherman’s Deputy, something that not many people achieve in their lives, and surely ranks alongside positions such as Vice President of the USA or Steve McQueen’s stuntman in The Great Escape. It is an intriguing post to hold, particularly in relation to the use of language. The first task is to enter the weather station (photo below). For security, the station is fenced in with iron railings, so you go in as a prison warden with your keys jangling, in the style of Mr Mackay (video).

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Dunbar Weather Station (Click to enlarge)

Once inside, you open the Stevenson Screen   which is not a screen but a white, wooden, slatted box, which could be mistaken for a beehive, seen on the left of the photo above. It is called after the Edinburgh born engineer Sir Thomas Stevenson, the father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson i.e. the father had the novel idea first. Inside, the Stevenson Screen looks like this.

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Thermometers inside the Stevenson Screen

My instructions were to record the air huidity by looking at the left hand vertical thermometer and this is recorded not as air temperature but as dry bulb as the thermometer is “not affected by the moisture of the air”. The right hand vertical thermometer reading is recorded as wet bulb. “By combining the dry bulb and wet bulb temperature in a psychrometric chart or Mollier diagram the state of the humid air can be determined”. Are you still with me? So, dry and wet bulbs are not planted in the autumn and dug up in the spring, they record humidity. Wouldn’t it be good if you had something similar for humans e.g. bright bulb and dull bulb which recorded stupidity? You could do this surreptitiously and avoid people with high dull bulb reading.

There are many other readings but, at the risk of losing you, I will focus only on the sunshine element. The Met Office state that “A glass sphere focuses the sun’s direct radiation on a graduated card and the length of the burn trace on the card corresponds to the duration of sunshine”. The photo below shows the Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder and if you’re feeling nerdy about sunshine recorders, check this out. My task was to replace the card which showed the previous day’s sunshine, with a new one.

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Sunshine recorder in Dunbar weather station

The next photo shows the distorted view of part of the weather station through the glass orb and you get a weird sensation looking through the orb, which is 10 feet above ground.

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Looking down the sunshine recorder at Dunbar weather station

The weather has inspired song writers and poets for many years. The Beatles (video) sang ” When the rain comes they run and hide their heads/  They might as well be dead … When the sun shines they slip into the shade/ And sip their lemonade..”. The first song heard on Radio 1 was “Flowers in the Rain” (video) by The Move. The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova wrote “Sunshine has filled the room/ with clear golden specks of dust”. In An Autumn Rain Scene, Thomas Hardy wrote “There trudges one to a merry-making/ With sturdy swing,/ On whom the rain comes down”.

We’ve had a lot of rain here recently, with heavy skies often moved along very slowly by a distinctly cool north easterly wind. One joyful aftermath of the rain is in the garden where raindrops on the flowers and leaves are a sight for sore eyes. I took these photos yesterday, to capture the ephemeral nature of the rain. An hour later, the raindrops had gone, extinguished by the sun. It’s a short existence if you’re a raindrop.

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Raindrops on a gladiolus leaf

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Raindrop on flowers and leaves

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Raindrops on begonia flower

 

 

 

Winter cycling and broccoli and Stilton soup

March 5, 2016

It occurred to me the other day that I had not mentioned cycling for quite a while on this blog. In the winter, while the mileage goes down, the regular bike rides on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday still take place. Winter cycling is obviously very similar to summer cycling insofar as I go on similar routes, but there are differences. The first difference is in clothing. In the summer, I put on my cycling top, shorts and shoes and off I go. In the winter, I have 3 thicker, but breathable tops and my winter jacket. I also have a skullcap to protect my ears and a snood for my neck. This means that it takes me longer just to get going. It also means that you have extra weight on the bike AND because it’s so cold, you use up much more energy, so you need to extend more effort to go the same distance as in the summer. My pals and I also go on our mountain bikes more in the winter and it’s very enjoyable, as you get off the road and face the challenges of rocky tracks, mud and ice at times. One of our routes when there’s an east wind is out past the Whitesands beach and on to Barns Ness Lighthouse.(good photos). On our last ride there, the track next to the beach was flooded, so we cycled along the beach itself. It’s OK on hard sand but you have to get off now and then when you hit soft sand or slippery rocks.

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Whitesands Beach near Dunbar

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Barns Ness Lighthouse

On Saturday, I went through part of the Dunglass Estate and on towards the village of Oldhamstocks. This is a good cycling route for mountain bikes (good photos). At one point, I was at the top of a hill, going along tractor tracks in a grassy field and I approached a flock of sheep about 50 yards from me. They stared intently, then one or two stirred and as I got nearer, as one they ran about 20 yards down the hill, turned and stared at me again. What came to my mind was the sheep in Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy’s wonderful novel and also a well known film from the 1960s (video trailer) and more recently. Did my sheep wonder why Gabriel Oak from the novel was on a bike? It was a beautiful morning, with the  sun coming through the clouds and in the next field below, a tractor was ploughing, followed by a flock of feasting seagulls. This reminds me that I must buy a video camera for my bike – I’ve been meaning to do this for years.

To misquote an old adage, of the making of soup there is no end. I thought I’d try something different this week and it was the leftover broccoli in the fridge that reminded me that I’d never made broccoli and Stilton soup, something I’ve enjoyed in restaurants over the years. So, on to a well-known search engine and after a browse of different recipes, I settled on the BBC Good Food recipe as it had a variety of ingredients and was healthier than others e.g. the ones suggesting double cream. It’s easy to make. I sweated a finely chopped large onion, a celery stick and a medium sized leek and added a teaspoonful dried mixed herbs, then added a chopped (and soaked) large potato. I stirred this around for a minute and then added 2 heads of roughly chopped broccoli. I added a litre of stock – ham stock cubes for me but you choose your stock – and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, until the potato was soft. I then mashed it down with my potato masher and used my hand held blender to make it smooth. The recipe suggests 140g of Stilton cheese but when I measured this out, it was too much cheese. I added 85g of the cheese and this turned out to be to our satisfaction as the cheese does not over power the broccoli flavour. We had the soup today with a lovely loaf from Bostock Bakery in North Berwick.

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Bostock Bakery loaf

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Broccoli and Stilton soup with fresh bread

While the soup looks (and was) very tasty, any good chef would have told me to properly clean the plate before serving.

 

Visit to Cove and harvest time in the Dunbar area

September 9, 2015

On Sunday, we went 9 miles (14.6K) along the coast to the hamlet and harbour of Cove (good photos). From the road into Cove, there is no indication that there might be a harbour nestled below the cliff face. At the car park, there is an information board about Cove and its coastline, and there is also a memorial block with metal figures of women and children on the top. This is in memory of the men from communities along this coast who were lost at sea in a freak storm in 1881. The website notes that “Cove itself lost 11 of the 21 fishermen who worked from the harbour at the time”, so this was a local disaster of epic proportion, as fisher families were the bulk of the population of Cove at the time. The photo shows a close up of the distressed women and children. There is a similar memorial at St Abbs Head.

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

Cove memorial to lost fishermen

From the car park, you walk down the hill with the sea to your left. On Sunday, two surfers were enjoying the generous waves. At the bottom of the hill, you can either turn right and go through the tunnel to the harbour or keep going and end up at the main harbour wall. The harbour itself is very small and perhaps more attractive when the tide is in. The photos below show the harbour at low tide and the entrance to the harbour with the coastline – to St Abbs and beyond – on the right. Sunday was bright and warm and blue was the predominant colour.

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

Cove harbour at low tide

At the harbourside, there are two large stone dwellings which were no doubt occupied by fisher folk in the past. Next to the houses, there is a  rock escarpment which comes up from the shore and forms a natural wall, next to which was built the existing harbour wall. Cove harbour is a little pocket of tranquillity, especially if you go on weekdays or in the winter. Thomas Hardy’s poem At Lulworth Cove a Century Back begins “Had I but lived a hundred years ago/ I might have gone, as I have gone this year,/ By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know/ And Time have placed his finger on me there”. If you could go back to Cove in 1915, I’m sure that, while the sea, the rocks, the harbour wall and cottages would look the same, the lives of the people there would be so much different.

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

Cove harbour cottages and harbour wall

It’s harvest time around Dunbar now and the wide fields of barley, wheat and oats, having turned from green to cream in colour and having developed fecund heads of grain, are subject to relentless destruction by combine harvesters which gobble their way across the fields, digesting the barley/wheat/oats and spewing out straw at the rear and then grain from a long tube into a tractor. This is at once a fascinating sight for the viewer but also a regretful one, as soon the swaying, creamy corn will be replaced by the glistening brown of the ploughed earth – darker and colder, although attractive in its own right. The combine harvester I photographed – a few hundred yards from our house – left a trail of straw but also a fine dust behind it, as the ground is very dry.

Dust storm from combine harvester

Dust storm from combine harvester

The combine completed two lengths of the field before disgorging its load into the waiting tractor. It made me think of the gannets we see from the back of our house, who dive for fish and return to feed their young although the combine regurgitates its grain at a phenomenal speed.

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Combine harvester filling a tractor with grain

Close up the heads of grain take on a beautifully sculptured multitude of shapes, like neatly stacked little parcels waiting to be opened.

Close up of ripened grain

Close up of ripened grain

As I walked back to the car, the tractor pulling the trailer full of grain has spilled some on the road. The grains could be peanuts scattered on the floor. The grains will shortly be disembodied and made into flour and then into bread, rolls or cakes for us to eat. In the days when barley was cut by hand with scythes, and it took men and women days to cut what the combine does in an afternoon, bread was the staple diet, and while it continues to be in some parts of the world, in the resource-rich west it is no longer of such importance. If you’re lucky enough to live near the countryside, watching a combine harvester is an exhilarating experience.

Grain on the road

Grain on the road

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

“Poetry is the bomb”, making chowder and crocuses

March 15, 2014

I recently bought The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. I buy  this anthology  every year as it is a collection of poems which were considered for the Forward Prizes each year. The best collection, I was very happy to see, went to Michael Symmons Roberts for his book Drysalter which I have featured on this blog e.g. here. The foreword to the book, written by Jeanette Winsterston, has a dramatic start. Winterson writes “POETRY IS THE BOMB [original capitalisation] and the safe exploding of the bomb”. The author acknowledges that this may be “too violent an image” but argues that the world is besieged by the rich, environmental and religious problems, and by information overload. Winterson concludes that “The poem as the bomb is the poem as the flash of energy capable of blasting an opening into our private bunker”. You can read the foreword by clicking on the book cover here. Today, I read one of the poems At Llantwitt Beach by Oliver Dixon, which includes the imaginative lines “the sea itself now/ that giant loom/ perpetually unravelling/ the striped tapestry/ it’s just woven”. The book is a snip at £8.99, so buy it now.

There are many, many recipes for chowder including fish – just do a search. I’ve been making smoked haddock chowder for a long time, and I started off only including smoked haddock along with leek, carrots, potatoes (mashed and chopped), fish stock, milk and crème fraiche or cream. Recently, I have started adding salmon to the chowder and including some celery. So, my method is to sweat a large, thinly chopped leek, 2 carrots diced small and 2 sticks of celery. I then put the smoked haddock and salmon, cut into big chunks, on top of the vegetables. I turn the fish and cook until it’s steamed and then I add half pint of fish stock, made up to a pint with milk. To this I add previously cooked mash potato and chopped potato. To finish, I add the crème fraiche or cream and simmer for about 10 minutes. Serve the chowder with a crispy baguette warmed in the oven, and 2 servings of this constitute a full meal. You can of course, add prawns, mussels or other fish, as chowder is one of the most flexible of soups. It tastes delicious.

March sees the crocuses emerge from grassy areas here in Dunbar and there’s a magnificent display in the nearby village of West Barns, which is known to some of its former residents as The People’s Republic of West Barns. The photos below are from Spott Road in Dunbar, just up the road from my house. The crocus is one of the oldest known flowers and following on from the snowdrops, the crocuses provide a welcome splash of bright colours at (you hope) the end of winter. Thomas Hardy’s poem The Year’s Awakening asks how the crocus bulb knows that winter might be over and that there will be “mild airs that do not numb”. Once the crocuses are above ground, however, you have to admire their beauty because, as soon as strong winds arrive, their delicate petals are threatened.

Crocuses on Spott Road

Crocuses on Spott Road

Crocus close up

Crocus close up

 

Crocus bunches

Crocus bunches

Crocus close up

Crocus close up

 

 

Bordersnakes, waves and autumnal planting

October 18, 2013

I’ve just finished reading the late James Crumley’s novel Bordersnakes. If you don’t like reading hardboiled novels, where the “heroes” are  just a bit less mean and violent than the baddies, then you won’t like this. Given to me by my brother-in-law Tom, an eclectic reader and a  Crumley aficionado, Bordersnakes is a rollercoaster ride set in Texas and Mexico. Milo and Sughrue are the good guys. However, as the  review notes “Of course, “good guys” is a relative term. A scuzzier pair of hard-drinking, dope-smoking, trash-talking testosterone-overdose cases than Sughrue and Milo would be hard to imagine”. The dialogue is what makes this book. It is often laden with expletives and very funny e.g. Milo threatens a baddie, saying that if he ever threatens MIlo or Sughrue again, “I will kill you, your family, and everyone you ever said hello to”. OK – not everyone’s sense of humour but if like me, you haven’t come across Crumley before, and like this style, he’s a very entertaining read. The plot is fairly straightforward but new characters appear constantly and there are some unlikely coincidences, but it’s very well written and a sheer pleasure.

This week, the tides have been high at the back of our house, with lines of waves relentlessly streaming towards the shore. Waves are  fascinating to look at e.g. you stand on the small promenade and try to pick the big wave, which will hit the sea wall hardest, or you watch the waves ripple along the wall until they exhaust themselves, and fall flat. There’s also a fascination of watching the waves retreating after hitting the promenade and often depositing stones and/or seaweed there. That you wave you picked as the big one, is whacked by the outgoing wave and produces a huge, airborne mass of water (see Photo 1). Then there’s the wave that you underestimate and hits the wall with a huge slap and turns itself into a whirligig of water (see Photo 2). Lastly, there’s the noise of the waves when you are close to them. Thomas Hardy wrote that the waves were “engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling say”, and the sound of the waves can seem to be a thousand voices all talking at once.

It’s changeover time in my garden. Out go the withering summer flowers and, from under the table in my garage, out come the daffodil, tulip and crocus bulbs which have, unlike animals in this country, been hibernating all summer. In addition, I’ve bought pansies and violas, which both provide an extravagant show of colour for this time of year (see Photos 3 and 4 for close-up shots). One aspect which is fascinating about these winter plants is that, when the hard frosts arrive (later rather than sooner I hope), the pansies and violas curl up into themselves and wait for warmth to return.

Two waves crashing

s Two waves crashing

Launching wave

Launching wave

Vibrant violas

Vibrant violas

Multi coloured pansy head

Multi coloured pansy head