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.


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