Monday, 10 November 2014


 We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain,
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly, and spent
Their lives for us, loved, too the sun and rain?
A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings –
But we, how shall we turn to little things,
And listen to the birds and wind and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?
(WW Gibson, The Watsonian, July 1919)

The poppies at the Tower of London, marking the centenary of the start of World War 1.  We were in London at the weekend and by chance rather than design were staying very near the Tower.  As a result we were able to visit late in the evening and then early next morning when the pressure of the crowd was slightly less.  Even so, we were part of a huge, silent mass of people. 

The installation, 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by ceramic artist Paul Cummins consists of 888, 246 ceramic poppies, one for every British or colonial death during the war.  After Armistice Day the installation will be dismantled and the individual poppies sent to those who have bought them, the proceeds going to six service charities.  

Returning to Scotland, and Edinburgh Castle.

The poem at the head of this post is by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, one of a group of poets known as 'the war poets' and including well-known names such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. It was published in the annual magazine of my children's school, George Watson's College, in 1919.  The school has just brought out a history of the school during World War 1, including accounts of war service and the tragic loss of young life.  In all 3102 members of the school community served in the forces - former pupils and current and former staff - with 605 losing their lives.  Of this lost generation, I only have space to mention two.

William Gordon "Seggie" Brown was a brilliant mathematician, who enlisted as a private rather than going to university.  He somehow continued with his studies in the trenches, providing the mathematical theory of a phenomenon in optics.  "It was said at the time that only two other people had achieved so much as undergraduates: Clerk-Maxwell and Kelvin. Seggie also left behind him other papers, some of which were placed in 1922 before the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  These dealt with tubes of electrical force in a four-dimensional space.  Seggie had arrived independently at the same conclusions regarding relativity as had Albert Einstein." [Watson's At War 1914-1918]  Seggie was killed in 1916 in the battle of the Somme, aged 20. 

Cecil Frederick Coles was a gifted musician who entered Edinburgh University to study music at the age of 16.  At the age of 23 he was appointed assistant conductor of Stuttgart Royal Opera.  During the war he was a stretcher-bearer.  He continued to compose in the trenches, sending shrapnel-torn manuscripts to Gustav Holst with whom he had a close friendship.  "Cecil was the musician of a doomed generation. His Behind the Lines, composed in 1918 amidst the thunder of the guns, has strength, depth and beauty, the last movement, Cortege, being the most powerful and haunting." [Watson's at War 1914-1918].  He was killed by a sniper in 1918, having volunteered to bring in wounded comrades following an attack.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Borders buffeting

We've resolved to try to get out of Edinburgh more over the autumn and winter.  Otherwise we're stuck in a routine where the weekends end up servicing the working week - food shopping, housework, gardening, allotmenting.  It can begin to seem like one big chore.  This Saturday past was our first 'escape day'.  The weather forecast was initially set fair, but as forecasts do it deteriorated into a mix of rain and gales.  By the time we reached our destination in the Borders, the hilly land south of Edinburgh, the gales had set in properly and we were experiencing what the Meteorological Office - known as the Met Office - calls 'buffeting' - winds strong enough to make you wobble on your feet.  For that reason we decided to stay on the flat rather than head upwards.  

For a while we walked along Glen Holm, and in the brief spells of sunshine I took the shot above and the three that follow.  First of all, another rainbow.  We have had a year of glorious rainbows, and every time I marvel at their beauty.

The heather and bracken are now shades of tawny brown and gold, and the birch trees light up in the sun. 

We saw no wildlife beyond the occasional soaring bird of prey, but there were plenty of sheep - Blackface sheep with their magnificent curling horns.  Although we could see them clearly with the naked eye, the compact camera we had with us didn't pick out that level of detail.  So if you follow this link you'll see the Blackface in all its glory.

As we walked out of the glen we came across this intriguing sign.  I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions about the shepherd.

After Glen Holm we moved on to Talla Reservoir, which provides the water for Edinburgh.  

On the way home we stopped briefly in the village of West Linton for a walk around its beautiful church and old buildings.  The daylight was beginning to decline by now - 4 pm and the long winter darkness is looming on the day British Summer Time ended.

The magnificent yew in the church yard reminds me of an illustration in one of my cherished books from childhood - the Ladybird book, 'What To Look For In Winter'.  I searched for the illustration online - there used to be a site where you could buy prints of the illustrations from the series, but it seems to have demised.  But if you had a British 1950s/60s childhood you may know what I mean.  The date 1160 on the gate is when the church was founded.

In the village centre is a clock with an unusual, much older sculpture of a woman.  She is Lady Gifford, wife of a laird of Linton who erected the sculpture on the village well in 1666.  The clock later replaced the well, which served as the market cross.

And very seasonally, on our way back to the car we noticed the West Linton Guy Fawkes/bonfire night bonfire taking shape.  As we watched a couple of women approached and donated the rolled-up carpet you see at the bottom right.

Returning to the Met Office website, if you scroll down to the bottom of the page you'll see that they offer weather forecasts for key events, including bonfire night.  It's worth a look for the historic information about weather on that night in the past.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Small beginnings

A new road bridge is taking shape across the River Forth.  Lots of word play about it being the 'second fo(u)rth bridge'.  We don't cross the Forth all that often - about once a month perhaps - so each time we do there's quite a bit of progress to be seen.  This past weekend we could see the support for what will be the carriageway taking shape.  And the pillars grow ever higher.

Down at water level there is a great bustle of supply boats, and at night the work continues and the pillars are lit up like purposeful Christmas trees.

A national competition was held to choose the name of the bridge.  From a selection that included the St Margaret crossing, the Saltire crossing and the Queensferry crossing, the Queensferry crossing was the most popular.  I am old enough to remember a time before the current bridge was built, when cars crossed the Forth by actual ferry. I'm only in my mid 50s, and it seems quite incredible that in my lifetime we have gone from a manageable queue of cars on a small stone slipway, to two bridges to cope with the weight of traffic.

I would be able to bring you a much clearer view of the new bridge's progress if I could bear to take photos from the footpath on the old bridge.  People merrily jog across the bridge, families take Sunday strolls across it, but such is my fear of heights that I wouldn't put myself through that suffering for the sake of a blog photo!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Skywatch Friday - The Balmoral

Streaming clouds provide the backdrop to an Edinburgh landmark, the Balmoral Hotel.  I've lived in Edinburgh long enough now to slip up occasionally and call it by its former name, the North British.  It was built in 1902 as the railway hotel for the North British Railway Company, and sits beside Waverley Station.  Apart from the useful information that it has a very nice cocktail bar, I can tell you two things about it:

  • the clock is set fast to help travellers going for a train hurry up and get there on time.  There's some debate as to whether it's 2 or 3 minutes fast.  I suppose I should check for myself by looking at it when the 1 o'clock gun is fired from Edinburgh Castle.
  • JK Rowling finished the final chapter of the last Harry Potter book in a suite in the hotel.  The suite has now been named after her, contains her writing desk and a bust of Hermes, the Greek god of travel, signed by JKR, and you can stay there for around £1,000 a night. 
 More skies from around the world are at Skywatch Friday

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Back in May we had decided that we were so fed up with the all-pervasive independence referendum that, whatever the result, we wanted to escape  the day after.  And so we booked cheap flights to Sweden, and steeled ourselves to get up at 3.30 a.m. on 19 September.  

There was no time to turn on news and hear the progress of the outcome before our taxi arrived.  Votes were being counted during the night by council region of Scotland - you can see the breakdown of the final result here.   Thankfully our driver was of the taciturn variety - I had been dreading a chatty  journey with a running commentary on the latest results to come in.  At the airport people were glued to their mobiles and tablets.  Halfway through my breakfast porridge in the Italian Cafe Nero (love that particularly Scottish combination), I had to go to the chemist and buy earplugs to block out the constant reading out of results around me.  All I could bear was to know the final result, and then just to move on, for better or worse.

We were just boarding the plane in Edinburgh as the result began to be firming up, and my husband showed me a picture on his mobile of a glum-looking leader of the nationalist party, but it wasn't until we arrived in Gothenburg that it was a definite 'No' to independence.  We had left Edinburgh in the same fog and drizzle that had hung low over the city for the past few days, and we emerged from that darkness into the clear light of the northern autumn.  I think I will always remember walking across the tarmac at Gothenburg airport into the low morning sun, and feeling the lifting of a great weight.

During our visit we spent a day with a Swedish friend at her summer hut, catching up on several years' worth of news and watching boats sailing through the archipelago.  It was the escape we needed.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Anguish, annoyance and absence

Or - reasons why I haven't been blogging.  Let's take them reverse order.  

Absence:  it's been a busy summer.  Busy at work, busy with family comings and goings, and I've had no inclination to be in front of a computer screen.  Another screen did claim my attention during July, as the annual Tour de France is essential viewing for me.  The photo above shows a patriotic breakfast from a Tour de France day, complete with home-grown blueberries and alpine strawberries.

Before touring France mentally by bicycle, my husband and I toured the Tarn valley in south west France much, much more slowly on foot.  Each day's walking started with steep ascents through chestnut and oak forests, up out of the valley floor and onto the high plateau.   Here I am below, complete with blindingly white Scottish legs and fetching hat.  The heat was pretty crushing for us Scots - mid 90s.  We were only walking about 10 miles a day, but it was enough in the heat. 

Our starting point was the beautiful city of Albi, with its cathedral of rose-coloured brick. 

We certainly saw a lot of fields of barley, with many more wild flowers along the edges than would be the case in Scotland.  Butterflies and bees were also much more in evidence, as were rather large snakes, which I could have done without.

At the end of each day, with our luggage transported in advance, we could look forward to cool drinks and regional cuisine in small family hotels.  If you are ever in this area, do stay at the Hostellerie des Lauriers in Villeneuve-sur-Tarn - mouthwatering sample below.

We visited medieval villages en route - another rare glimpse of me, below, at Brousse le Chateau.   I seem to be rather podgy round the middle in this photo.  Must be all the gourmet meals. 

More of Brousse le Chateau, with gathering thundercloud.

No summer is complete for us without a visit to Speyside, this time including whisky tasting at the Macallan distillery.

What about the annoyance?  Well, I started fiddling around with my blog template one night, and before I knew it the whole thing had transformed itself with no apparent way of going back to the previous template.  I was so annoyed with it that I signed up to Wordpress, but have had no time to set about the laborious-for-me business of creating a new template.  So absence and annoyance together combined to keep me away from blogging.

And finally anguish. With the Scottish independence referendum looming next week I am finding it impossible to think any sort of creative, positive thoughts, as I face the possibility that the UK may be split apart and I may have my identity as a British citizen taken away from me.  I find this deeply depressing and unsettling. For myself, but most of all for future generations.  Whether I have the heart to return to blogging if there is such a profound upheaval in my life isn't clear to me at the moment.  

Edited to add this link, which shows why my anguish is well founded:

Negotiations after a Scottish referendum yes vote.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Cycling to Syria

In aid of Unicef's Children of Syria Emergency Appeal, a group of cyclists is cycling the 3,284.5 miles from Edinburgh to Syria at the east end of Princes Street over two days.  I encountered them cheerfully setting up yesterday morning on my way to work.  By the time I passed then again on the homeward journey after 6pm they were into the grimly determined phase.  From the map below they seemed to be on the German border, judging by the white dot.

Their fundraising page is here, if you're moved to donate.


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