Saturday, 30 October 2010

Classical flour

The back of a flour lorry, complete with Latin motto 'be mindful'. Latin used to be very widely taught in Scottish schools - in the 1970s my state secondary school in the north of Scotland offered not just Latin, to university entrance level, but classical Greek as well. Modern languages were French, German, Russian, Italian and Spanish. Now, last time I looked, my old school was offering only two European languages, and Latin and Greek had been discontinued. My children have both studied Latin as a compulsory subject at school, and I'm glad they've had the opportunity. They may not think it's done them any good, but I'm sure it hasn't done them any harm. And they may even be able to translate the back of a passing flour lorry.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Spiritual centre

A photo from a few weeks back, taken as much for my own records of the flood prevention work that's been going on in my home village for over a year now. The reddish-orange rectangle in the centre of the shot is a new bridge being built over the Burn of Rothes at Glenrothes distillery. But it also shows quite nicely what is known locally as the 'spiritual centre'.

Bouncing baby

A beautiful carriage pram, much sought-after in some quarters nowadays. I've just finished reading a book about life in Britain in the Second World War, in which I discovered that there was a great shortage of prams and pushchairs. A pram like this would have been snapped up immediately.

Or perhaps not when you see its occupant.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Am I the only person who finds this advertisement totally incongruous?

The clue is in the German, in case this brand of chocolate isn't 'enjoyed' world-wide.

The last time I looked, this brand was aimed at the 'you can eat our snack between meals' market of pre-teens, promoting a milky, quasi healthful content, and the even younger Kinder egg pocket money market, with a milk chocolate shell enclosing miniature, self-assembly toys. Some of them very clever and durable, like a wee wooden train. Times change, obviously.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Scottish diet

Jumbo sausage in batter with chips (fries), anyone? For a little light snack?

We didn't indulge when we stopped at The Hungry Haggis fish and chip restaurant in Aviemore, on our way back from Caithness. We just wanted honest-to-goodness fish and chips. The night was wet and stormy, and the steamed-up windows of the restaurant beckoned us in.

That trip was a microcosm of a certain type of Scottish cuisine. A meal in an Indian restaurant in Tain on the way north. Soup and cheese toasties at North Highland College during the Mod. Had we wanted dessert we could have had a range of home baking. Haribo Tangfastics Sour Mix sweets to while away the journey once it got dark.

We redeemed ourselves by starting breakfast at The Auld Post Office B&B with fresh fruit salad and fruit juice.

After that we had a choice of porridge or cereals with yoghurt, then full Scottish breakfast (bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans, mushrooms and tomato) or scrambled eggs and Orkney smoked salmon. Then toast and marmalade. Bliss.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Caithness wind farm

Causeymire wind farm is one of a proliferation of wind farms in Caithness. Flat, exposed, empty land, 'enjoying' high wind speeds. Also home to one of the largest areas of blanket bog in the world, and on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage status. Previously home to neolithic people who left stone rows and chambered cairns.

Hill O Many Stanes

Caithness Archaeological Trust

Our short visit didn't give time for neolithic exploration, just windfarms. On our journey north it was dark by the time we reached the wind farm. The giant leg of a turbine looming out of the gloom just beside the road startled us as we drove by. I thought we had encountered a Tripod.

More skies from around the world, possible with wind farms, are at Skywatch Friday.

England Expects

When I took this photo on my way to work this morning I had no idea of its significance. But as fellow bloggers know, the photo urge is irresistible. A busy day then followed, and I put the flags out of my mind.

On the way home, I saw that that flags were fluttering in similar array on the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill.

I was on a bus, for once, and asked the person beside me if she had any idea why the flags were flying. She thought, and I agreed, that it was hardly likely to be an ironic commentary on the Defence Spending Review, which this week has announced cuts of 8% in funding for defence over four years.

Google to the rescue. Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, fought in 1805 between the Royal Navy and a Franco-Spanish fleet. At the start of the battle Admiral Lord Nelson signalled to the British fleet, 'England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty'. And that is the signal flying today, until sundown.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Land of stone

The beach at Dunnet surprised me with its angular stones. I'm used to the smooth, rounded stones of the east coast beaches. In the almost tree-less landscape of Caithness the bones of the earth were much more evident than in the Lowlands.

Stone fences made from upright slabs were everywhere. When I got out of the car to take this photo I was met by the unmistakable and - if you've grown up in the Scottish countryside - comforting smell of sheep.

These fences were a surprise to me. I had taken photos of stone fences in the foothills of the French Pyrenees this summer, little thinking that they also existed in Scotland.

The stone dykes (walls) were of a different construction to the chunky construction that I know. In Caithness they're made from horizontal layers of stone slices, and topped with rough semicircles of upright slabs.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Language lessons

The whirlwind trip to Thurso for the Mod was successful for my daughter and her clarsach duet partner. They won the duet competition for their age group, gaining a trophy and the coveted gold badge, above. The wording round the top says, 'The Gaelic Association', and below, 'Our Language and Music', and at the foot, 'Royal National Mod' (the Queen is the patron).

The pieces the girls played were Crodh Chailein (Colin's Cattle) and Tha 'Bhuaidh aig an Fhigheadair (The Weaver's Triumph).

As a family we do not speak Gaelic. My husband and I both hail from the east coast of Scotland, where Norse is the greater linguistic influence in local dialects of Scots. Our children have learned several European languages at school, and our son has made inroads into Mandarin Chinese, but Gaelic hasn't featured in their schooling. There is Gaelic-medium state schooling in Edinburgh, but it's not a route that we chose.

At the Mod we had the unsettling feeling of being foreigners in our own country. We found ourselves deciphering signs and making (very) small inroads into understanding Gaelic. There were some sweeteners in this process - literally:

Mint Mod sweets, saying 'Caithness Mod'.

Easy readers, such as 'Spot's Snowy Day':

That quintessential English children's book, 'The Tale of Benjamin Bunny':

I even came across a personable young lady selling my husband the idea of taking Gaelic evening classes one day...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Skywatch Friday - farthest north

This is as far north as you can go in mainland Scotland. We are at the top of Britain, at Dunnet Head. Beyond, the turbulent waters of the Pentland Firth, and then Orkney.

All buildings seem exposed in this flat landscape. Imagine this white house in the winter dark, with gales screaming in from the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the North Sea on the other.

But as compensation there is this crescent of deserted beach.

One of our very few glimpses of Caithness outside of the Mod, on our less than 24 hour stay.

Other skies around the world are at Skywatch Friday.

Monday, 11 October 2010

It's that time again

Time to make a foray into Gaelic culture and travel to the northernmost tip of mainland Britain. The Royal National Mod is in Caithness this year, so we're packing up the clarsach (harp) and heading into what will be uncharted territory. Shamefully, despite Scotland being a small country, I have never been to this north eastern quarter.

The photo is of the front cover of the Mod programme. Some of it is translated into English, some not. There's enough English to give a glimpse of the range of categories. From the children's classes: 'Ancient Folk Tale (age 9-10). Tell a story in traditional style' and 'Bible Reading (age 13-15). Read at sight from the Bible'. In Gaelic, of course. Some of the most hotly contested classes are for Gaelic choirs. I hope we might have time to hear something of these.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Apply within

Sometimes you just can't help knowing what's going on in your bit of the world, even tho you've no interest in it. I do not follow football (soccer). I don't know the rules of football. No-one in our house watches football on TV, or goes to see a match.

If you live in Edinburgh it's pretty inescapable however that there are two big football clubs. One called Hibernian (Hibs), and the other Heart of Midlothian (Hearts). They are huge rivals. I know where the two big football stadiums are, but I'm not sure which belongs to which club. Nor could I tell you the colour of their football strips.

But thanks to the notice in the window of a pub in Broughton Street, I am now informed that Hibs is looking for a new manager.

(edited to say that football evidently confuses me so much that I forgot to put a title to this post.)

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Skywatch Friday - spotlight on the castle

Edinburgh's North Bridge was lined with people taking photos of this skyscape last Friday. Tourists with the whole range of camera sizes, commuters with mobile phones, cloudspotting locals like me with pocket cameras.

It was some compensation for a day spent in an office.

More skies around the world are at Skywatch Friday.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Late harvest

Up on Speyside, away from the warmer coastal plain, the harvest is often late. This shot was taken 3 weeks ago, and the barley is only being cut today. You know you're a country girl at heart when you're enquiring about the progress of particular fields when you phone 'home'.

Barley, and oats in the shot below, are the grains that suit this northern climate. There is some wheat grown, but not in this upland area.

All my life I've loved the form of cow parsely stems.

Once in a while an artist comes along who captures an essence of nature. Inspired by the Norfolk coast and Speyside, Angie Lewin's linocuts, wood engravings and screenprints do just this.

Angie Lewin


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