Sunday, 4 October 2015

Skywatch Friday - a batch of skies

Bus stop with sunrise

Lately with the shortening days I've seen a lot of sunrises on my way into work.  All the photos in this post have popped up on my Instagram (@occasionalscotland), which I continue to enjoy in my time-strapped state.  While I've been too exhausted in the evenings to open up my laptop, a 2 minute Instagram is just about do-able. 
Westering moon, early morning

Con trail noughts and crosses

Colour block sunrise

Winter clouds boiling up over the North Sea
 I'm not sure why Edinburgh appears to be gently leaning to the right in the shot above.  Perhaps it's the phone camera effect. 

The joy of clouds
More skies from across the world are at Skywatch Friday.  Lots of great photos of the 'super moon' there at the moment.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Wayfarers All

Illustration by Arthur Rackham for the chapter 'Wayfarers All', in 'The Wind in the Willows'

 "And you, you will come too, young brother; for the days pass and never return, and the South still waits for you.  Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! 'Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new!" Wayfarers All, 'The Wind in the Willows'.

We are missing our young people here.  One back at university, and one just left for a year in New Zealand.  No more clutter of shoes in the hall.  So many things that tug at the parental heartstrings, but of course they have to leave and take that 'blithesome step'.

Still, they do leave some things behind - and quite large things at that. 

We are custodians of the harp in a university year that's going to be too busy for much playing.  I'll have to remember to dust it (very) occasionally, in line with my approach to dusting in general. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Instant Instagram appeal

It's time to admit it: I've been seduced by Instagram.  It was the last thing I expected.  It started slowly, I suppose like all seductions.  An account opened out of curiosity, then a few tentative photos posted over several months, but without hashtags so that I wasn't visible.  Needless to say my children found this hilarious - what was the point of being on social media if I wasn't being social?  

A big breakthrough was when my son explained, very gently, that the 'instant' part of Instagram didn't need to be taken literally.  I had thought that it all needed to be done live - take the photo, sort out your hashtags, publish.  Of course when I'm out and about I don't have my reading glasses on and it's always too much of a fangle to fish in my bag for them, so I was squinting at this tiny screen trying to get everything done instantly.  Discovering that it's possible to post photos that I'd taken previously made me very happy indeed.  

So why have I been Instagramming away this summer and neglecting my blog?  Well, I spend five days a week in front of a computer screen, choosing words very carefully.  An ever so slightly misjudged word can have huge consequences in my workplace, and I feel as if my days are spent leafing through a mental Roget's Thesaurus.  When I get home the last thing I feel like doing is crafting more words in front of a screen.  Instagram is also much faster technically than Blogger.  Most of all, it's made for the posting of a single photo that doesn't need to carry the weight of a narrative.  My camera and phone memory cards are full of photos like this.  Interesting (I hope), perhaps quirky, things I'd like to share, but not enough to support a blog post. And I am loving discovering glimpses of other people's visual worlds through hashtags, in a much more agile and pick up/put downable way than blog hopping. I still love reading other people's narrative blogs, and wish I had more time for it.  In a way I'm returning to how I started this blog back in 2008, which was with the photos foremost and minimal text.  I will probably continue blogging, but it's a bit of a relief not to feel dutiful about it, and I'll have to see how the balance goes. Coincidentally, I read Stephanie Donaldson in Country Living this month giving the same reasons for why she is enjoying Instagram.

After all of that, here are some of the escapee photos from this summer.  A day of lochs and historic houses in the Borders.  Above, Talla Reservoir in high summer, grasses that are now bleached by autumn, blowing in the soft wind.  Below, Megget Reservoir, beautifully remote-seeming and yet pretty close to Edinburgh.

Below, Traquair House near Innerleithen.  A fascinating house to visit, with lovely gardens.

Traquair House

From the house looking up the driveway

The maze, from an upstairs window

Next time I have a story to tell I'll be back here, but you can catch up with the instant side of things on @occasionalscotland on Instagram, or use the Instagram button on my sidebar.

Sunday, 23 August 2015


Fidra island

We took a very quick trip to nearby Yellowcraigs beach the other weekend.  Very quick - we were having yet another busy weekend but had promised ourselves that we would escape from the city.  It was very late on Sunday afternoon before left and we almost decided it was one thing too many on our list,  but I'm so glad we broke free.  Yellowcraigs is a gently shelving sandy beach a short walk from parking in a field.  The parking isn't totally rustic - there is a well-maintained toilet and shower block, an ice cream van, and a Treasure-Island themed (but tasteful, seemingly all made of wood) children's play area among trees nearby. It's the beach of choice for many primary school end of term trips - I remember the packing list for my daughter's trip included sunscreen, sun hat, fleece and waterproof jacket - the typical any-weather-is-possible of the Scottish summer. 

Out in the Firth of Forth are several islands, basalt left-overs from long ago volcanic activity.  The one above is Fidra, with its lighthouse and rock arch - you can just make it out to the right of the main island.  There's speculation that Robert Louis Stevenson drew on it as part of his inspiration for Treasure Island.  Looking east, there's Craigleith and the Bass Rock off North Berwick.

Craigleith and the Bass Rock

I have to admit that as a Moray Firth/North Sea girl I don't find the seascape of the Firth of Forth all that exciting.  So it was the wildflowers behind the shore that captured my attention.  The vibrant blue of Viper's Bugloss was everywhere.  This was the first time I'd seen it in the wild.  I had longed to do so ever since childhood when I read a description of it in one of Monica Edwards' books set on Romney Marsh.
Viper's Bugloss

obligatory summer shot of bee and flower

There were some ferociously-spined roses.  Not the wild Scots rose, I think, as they fairly bristle with spines, but they seemed to have larger spines than the common Dog Rose.

And teasels, which reminded me of Zebedee in the Magic Roundabout.
"Time for bed", said Zebedee

One thing which did catch our attention on the shoreline was this rock, seemingly a magnet for shells.  We moved in close to take photos, and then a wave dislodged some of them.  A very plausible bit of environmental art!

On the way back to the car park we came across this plant in the woodland.  I have no idea what it is - rare wildflower, escapee from a garden?  Internet searches haven't turned anything up, so any information welcome.  I may email a photo the countryside rangers for the area. 
mystery plant

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Summer reading part 1

 Yes, this is part 1.  I'm having a library binge this summer, and let's face it,our sodden, cold summer is just right for cosy evenings spent reading indoors, ideally in front of an open fire or wood-burning stove.  Since we lack those in Edinburgh I can be found keeping warm sitting on the large squashy sofa under a soft Swedish throw.  There is now a 'reading dent' in the sofa.  We are desperate not to put on the central heating, so it's a case of that good Scottish solution of putting another layer on.

I am fascinated by the 1930s - literature, art, politics.  I've read a lot about Britain in the period, but shamefully for a French graduate I'm rather ignorant of the feel of the decade in France.  This is a fairly dense read, and it's not going to be too cheerful.  Right now I'm still in the aftermath of the First World War and its effect on the French social and political psyche.

 When I want cheered up I turn to Ned Boulting's account of the 2014 Tour de France.  This is funny in the category of "Oh no, Mum's laughing out loud at a book on a transatlantic flight" - blame Bill Bryson for that one. In fact I've enjoyed it so much I extended its loan period and am on my second reading.  I now accept I'm going to have to buy it.

Because I'm new to this following cycling lark, I've only just become aware of Matt Rendell.  Matt is a freelance cycling commentator/author.  During this year's Tour he did an exquisite interview in French with a former French cycling professional turned journalist about his sceptical comments on Chris Froome's performance.  You can see it at the end of this short clip here.  Just shows the power of being able to speak other languages. After all that I felt I should read Matt's book about the history of the Tour de France.  As the French would say, 'j'ai appris des choses', discovering the even more extreme, punishing early days of the race, how the time trial and peleton came about, and how the race has adapted over the years.

A very pastoral, ideal-for summer read next - the life of an English meadow through a year.  Poetic yet brutally realistic about nature.  I've learned about moles harvesting worms and keeping them in suspended animation in worm-larders underground.  The Wind in the Willows didn't mention that.

Ever since watching the original BBC TV series of Survivors in the late 1970s I've been fascinated by post-apocalyptic scenarios.  That fascination has been tempered a bit since I've become a mother.  No hospitals! dentists! pain relief!   But without going as far as being a prepper I am concerned that we are really pretty helpless about even basic survival skills.  This was a very technical book, some of which I glazed over because of my complete lack of scientific knowledge.  I guess I could be useful growing food and making contact with French survivors.  In fact this year's Scottish summer made me conclude that the only sensible thing to do would be to pack up here and head for the south of France, where at least post-apocalyptic misery would be slightly warmer.

Last year I read a fascinating account of life in North Korea - a survival situation if ever there was one - by a former British diplomat there: 'Only Beautiful Please'.   'North Korea Undercover' is by a journalist who travelled to North Korea embedded in a party of students.  There was a fuss about it in the news when the subterfuge came out.  I was disappointed by this book - I felt it was sensationalist/tabloid-ish in parts, and I limped along to the end.

This account of six 19th century English women who made second lives in America is by one of my favourite travel writers.  I've read all her other exploration books, but found this very difficult to warm to.  There was a tenuous thread of the author's own inner turmoil at turning 50, but it came across to me as rather contrived.  Oh dear, I've gone into lit crit mode.  What impressed me in this book was the tenacity of these women at a time when they were expected just to fade out and grow old quietly, so perhaps it was a worthwhile read just for that message.  

That's another thing to add to my 'appreciating Edinburgh' list - great public libraries. 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Appreciating Edinburgh

A busy time at home and work = lack of blogging.  And also, I have to admit, a certain fatigue with Edinburgh.  We've lived here for 30 years now, and if one has to live in a city it's a rather lovely one.  But still.  I'm in danger of taking it for granted/being bored by it/longing to escape.  One day we will escape, back to the north east, but for the moment our working lives are here and things are conspiring to prevent mini-escapes to hills or coast.

So I've given myself a mental shake and decided to appreciate Edinburgh.  What would I miss most, I asked myself, when we eventually move from the city?  After all, its Old and New Towns have UNESCO World Heritage status.  It has 12 festivals of culture throughout the year, with the peak in terms of volume coming with the International Festival and Festival Fringe in August.  And art galleries and museums and gardens and trams.  The answer, I was startled to discover, was...cafes.  I told myself to think again, but the answer came back even more firmly, and I realised it was true and that I was unapologetic about it.  Edinburgh has a blissful range of independent cafes, so that there's no need to darken the doors of a Starbucks or Costa. My nearest cafe corner is in the Canonmills area, beside the Water of Leith.  Canonmills was originally a small village, and got its name from the Augustinian canons of Holyrood Abbey who had a watermill here from the 12th century.  Jump forward several centuries and I present the Blue Bear cafe as top of my list for appreciating Edinburgh.

Photo credits are due to my daughter, who took these shots for me unasked.  And if you're very observant you'll notice from the Christmas tree that they were taken a while ago.  But at any time of year, what could be nicer than afternoon tea in these lovely flowery cups?

And some of the home baking.

What would you miss most about where you live at the moment, if you had to move?  I'd love to see a blog post about it!

As well as the Christmas tree, you may also notice I've added an Instagram button to my sidebar.  You'll find me at @occasionalscotland. I've been puddling around with Instagram for a bit, as much for my own interest as anything else.  I still have to get round to adding any tags to my posts so I'm obviously not in it to maximise my followers!  But I'm enjoying the immediacy of the thing, especially when my time for blogging is limited.  What about you - are you attracted by Instagram?  

Monday, 13 July 2015

Tour de force

It's that time again - the Tour de France.  I'm no cyclist, not having been on bike since my student days.  Back then I used to cycle to the tennis courts on summer evenings, and cycle out with friends on the quiet country roads around the village.  But over the past few years I've become besotted by the Tour de France, that epic 3 week unfolding drama. We holidayed in the Bordeaux area one year just before the Tour passed through, and it was evident in even the smallest of hamlets that something of the magnitude of a royal visit was about to happen.  Everything that could be was painted, swept, polished, renovated.  And unlike a royal visit, no-one would even stop - unless they fell off.  I started watching the race on TV.  At first it was the footage of France that drew me in.  Then gradually, almost without noticing, I began to pick up some of the technicalities.  And now it's a highlight of my year.

It's one thing to watch it from the comfort of the sofa, but almost unimaginably another to ride the actual route within the same timeframe, a week in advance of the Tour itself.  However that's what a friend is doing this year - riding the route for charity.  The Tour de Force takes riders on some or all of the stages of that year's Tour, raising money for the William Wates Memorial Trust to help the most disadvantaged young people keep away from a life of crime and violence and fulfill their potential.   Imagine riding the daily hell of the Tour without having chosen this as a career, without the corporate resource of the big cycling teams, without years of finely-tuned training programmes.  Have a look at Tony Does TDF and you'll see someone doing just that - and perhaps consider donating to the charity if you feel moved to.

You weren't going to get photo of me on a bike to illustrate this post, so I popped out from work to take some cycling-themed photos in the neighbourhood.  The last photo below is one of the bike stores for cycle commuters at the University of Edinburgh. 

And bon courage to Tony as he approaches the Alps!



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