Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Heading North

Heading North today for a while, to a slow dial-up connection in the Highlands. Apologies in advance if I don't manage to put up or acknowledge comments very frequently - and photo posting may be a bit intermittent.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Shortest day colour

When everything else is dull, you need a zingy bus. I was thwarted in taking a photo of the rear - a lorry drew up and then the bus moved off - but it reads 'run, run, run', 'missed it again', 'stay cool' Not being up to speed with either mobile phones or 'pop music' (I can see my teenagers cringing), it took me a bit of time to work out that each line is the title of a 'tune' you can download to your Nokia mobile phone.

Solstice sunrise

A lurid, gale-driven sunrise for the shortest day. I hurried into warm anorak and hat to go out and take some pictures, and stepped out into spring-like temperatures. Weird. The tall building in the centre, which looks as if it could be a castle, is just an ordinary block of tenement flats.

This is Calton Hill from the opposite side to the photo here.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Hebridean sunset - Skywatch Friday

There's no sky visible in Edinburgh today, just a featureless grey blanket from which rain is pouring down. So for a bit of warmth, I've chosen a photo taken by our Austrian friends Thomas and Elke from a beach in the Outer Hebrides last summer. The photo was taken at 11 pm - oh for the long light evenings of summer!

Other Skywatch photos are on the Skywatch site.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Comfort food

It's not pretty, as restaurants go. It's not gourmet dining. But at 3.30 on a dreary December afternoon, when you've missed lunch and have another couple of hours to put in at the office, it calls to you. Just time to point and shoot from across the busy road, too hungry to pay attention to photo composition, before hurrying inside to warmth and the aroma of frying. A few minutes later, back out into the cold with the precious parcel of chips (fries) wrapped in brown paper (newspaper sadly being outlawed now by European decree).

A few important cultural notes. The lady in grey standing at the door is taking a good pull on her cigarette before entering the restaurant, smoking being forbidden inside public places in Scotland. The neon signs proclaim that as well as fish and chips, you can have an all-day breakfast, or pizza. The pizza comes deep-fried if you want. However, I chose the healthy option...just chips, with lashings of salt and vinegar. The vinegar is an important anthropological marker. It identifies me as coming from the north of Scotland. South of a line bisecting the country from roughly Perth to Dundee, the default seasoning is 'salt'n sauce' - the sauce being a gloopy brown concoction. We northerners are purists, choosing the astringent tang of vinegar every time. Other unhealthy options I could have gone for include the battered cheeseburger - as it says, a cheeseburger dipped in batter and deep-fried - or a white pudding supper. A white pudding is a savoury sausage made from oatmeal, suet, onions and spices, and the 'supper' bit means that it comes with chips.

Comfort food indeed. But not too often...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Lost property - with a view

On the railings of Princes Street Gardens, looking out over the Mound and the castle, an impromptu lost property 'office' has grown up. I don't know who puts the lost gloves there - perhaps the street cleaners - but there's a whole stretch of railings devoted to reuniting cold hands with their missing protection.

Lots of gloves, and yesterday one tiny, forlorn sock:

Monday, 15 December 2008

Old Man of Storr

From time to time I'll be featuring photos by two Austrian friends, Thomas and Elke. On a gloomy grey Monday, when it was getting dark at 3.30 p.m., I needed some sunshine, and so I reached for some images from their epic round-Scotland cycle trip. The luck of the Austrians - they had something like a day of rain.

This is the Old Man of Storr, on the Isle of Skye. Apparently it means 'Great Man' in Old Norse.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Dawn over Calton Hill - Skywatch Friday

A pink and blue winter's dawn. 8.30 a.m. Snatched through a high-up window that barely opened enough to let me poke the camera lens through, the view is towards Edinburgh's Calton Hill. To the right is the Firth of Forth widening out to the North Sea. On the horizon, a billowing snow cloud makes its way to the west coast of Norway.

The monuments on Calton Hill relate to Edinburgh's title as the 'Athens of the North'. One of them, the Acropolis-like building is the National Monument, an unfinished tribute to the dead of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). One story about its unfinished state is that the city's money ran out half way through construction. The city of Glasgow offered to pay, but Edinburgh was too proud to accept.

The tower is Nelson's Monument. It commemorates Nelson's victory over the French and Spanish fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 (apologies to my French readers in particular for our jingoistic past). Nowadays thankfully the nationalistic origins of the monument are less important than its historical role for ships navigating the waters of the Firth of Forth. On top of the tower is a mast, which acted as a time-keeper by which ships set their chronometers. A time ball was (and is still) dropped from the top of the mast at exactly 1pm on weekdays, at the moment the 1 o'clock gun is fired from Edinburgh Castle. When I checked the Wikipedia entry for these facts (because of course one always forgets things about one's own city), it mentioned that Edinburgh 'has long been a place where if a gun goes off, people check their watches'. Which is true - stand in Princes Street when the gun (really a cannon) is fired at 1 o'clock, and distinguish the alarmed visitors from the locals checking their watches.

Other Skywatch posts are on the Skywatch Friday site. With a full moon in this part of the world there should be some beautiful shots this week.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

In Memoriam - Oliver Postgate

"In the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long the men of the Northlands sit by their great log fires and they tell a tale..."

The opening words of all the Sagas of Noggin the Nog, created by Oliver Postgate as some of the best British children's TV ever made. Oliver Postgate died yesterday at the age of 83, and the black rocks of Eshaness in Shetland are my way of paying tribute to someone whose creations, I now realise, had a huge effect on the direction of my life. As a child I was entranced by the Northern world of his diminutive Viking, Noggin, to the extent that when doing my PhD many years later I sidetracked into an undergraduate course in Norwegian language and literature. Through this I met my now husband, and some very dear Norwegian friends.

The BBC website has an obituary about Oliver Postgate here, and worth reading is an article by Oliver about what children really need from TV. I was lucky enough to be of the generation that was offered his wonderful creations.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Looking North

Edinburgh is built on a series of ridges which gradually descend to sea level at the Firth of Forth. The suburb of Craiglockhart sits high on one of these ridges, and from here you can catch glimpses of the hills beyond the River Forth. These snowy slopes are the Ochil Hills, and beyond them, out of sight but always in my mind when I look northwards, are the true Highlands.

The two curious shapes just between the skyline of the city and the hills are the two Forth bridges. The light coloured chimney-like structure is one of the towers of the Forth Road Bridge. To its left is the rust-red humped back of the Forth Rail Bridge - the never-ending painting of which is a Scottish metaphor for the myth of Sisyphus.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Harps of Gold

Christmas started for us as a family today with the annual 'Harps of Gold' carol concert in Edinburgh's Queen's Hall. The title comes from the English carol 'It Came Upon the Midnight Clear', which starts:

'It came upon the midnight clear
That glorious song of old,
Of angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold.'

The harps are the small Celtic harp, or 'clarsach', although we did have one pedal, or concert harp today. Together they make up 'Na Clarsairean' (Gaelic for 'the Harpers'). My daughter plays in this, together with fellow harpers right across the age range. The clarsach has a long history in Scotland - it's Scotland's oldest instrument. Carvings of it have been found on Pictish stones dating back to the 8th century.

(Apologies for the photo quality - I've deliberately made this less sharp because there are young people other than my immediate family involved)

Saturday, 6 December 2008


A present from the City of Edinburgh to itself, all gift-wrapped for Christmas - new litter bins. The Grassmarket area, tucked under the great bulk of Edinburgh Castle, is a popular area for revellers at all times of the year. It's lined with pubs, restaurants and interesting shops, and has been undergoing a makeover since the summer. I took this photo a few weeks ago, and I imagine that the litter bins will be in full use by now.

The Grassmarket has a fairly lively history. Originally the site of cattle fairs in the 14th century, it later housed the city's gallows. Today it's still lively, but with French open-air markets replacing the cattle, and evening crowds enjoying the live music and real ales rather than any more grisly entertainment.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Morning traffic - Skywatch Friday

Morning plane traffic over Edinburgh. Flights from the west coast of the United States and Canada pass over Scotland on their way to London and points beyond in Europe. On a chilly winter morning like this it's nice to look up and think of California.

City centre chimneys are much less used nowadays. The 'plume' from one of the chimneys is an opportunistic plant rather than smoke.

This week's skies from across the world can be seen at the Skywatch site.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

First to decorate

The tell-tale tinsel appeared at the bottom of the tall glass frontage well before any of the other shops had begun to think about Christmas. For some reason, chemists' shops in Scotland have always been at the forefront of decorating for Christmas. Perhaps because in the not-so-distant past they cornered the market in Christmas gifts. Flowery talcum powder. Bath cubes (whatever happened to bath cubes?). Boxed sets of handkerchiefs. Old Spice aftershave. I wonder if much has changed?

Paton and Finlay chemist's is in the Bruntsfield area of Edinburgh - a 'village' within the city reminiscent of a Parisien 'quartier'.


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