Monday, 31 December 2007

Happy New Year

This dignified old tree lives in the field overlooking my house. Isn't it splendid?

Happy New Year

This time of year is a time for reflection. I tend to chew over all the plans I made last year and never quite got around to fulfilling. But does that really matter? The most important things are the hopes I did fulfill. This is a time to rejoice with the friends and family and lament the passing of friendship I no longer connect with. And of course, this is a time to be grateful for the health and happiness of my loved ones.

I feel I have achieved loads this year. I completed my novel and even though I haven't managed to drum up any interest in it yet, I am proud of the accomplishment. I have embarked on new pastimes; guitar and pilates. I have made new friends and joined new writing groups.
I continue to marvel at what life has to offer me and what I can give in return.

2008 is going to be a bumper year for me. I was born in 1958, so this will be my fiftieth year.

The First Fifty

Because I want to make this year special I plan to dig up all the dreams and desires of the first fifty years and try some of them out before the beginning of 2009. I don't intend to get hung up on achieving a full list of fifty tasks, like the suggestions in those horrible list books "5 million things to do before you die and feel guilty if you don't do anything" etc.

My list is going to be achievable and desirable (to me anyway). Things like; read 'War and Peace', play a game of Bingo at a proper Bingo hall, bake a souffle, watch Stirling Albion play at home, and plant a tree. Easy-peasy stuff but worth making the effort to turn my celebration year into one I'll cherish for ever.

Monday, 17 December 2007

man's inhumanity to animals

Roe Deer

Living in the countryside is idyllic, (most of the time), but it sometime divulges its grim side. Yesterday I witnessed a sickening act. I was out in the garden protecting some plants from the anticipated frost when I heard horrendous screaming, Colin grabbed a stick and rushed into the field next to the house and what he found was a pitiful sight. One of the harmless little roe deer, that normally spends it days bounding through the long grass and darting in and out of the forest with its mate, was lying mangled on blood soak grass. By the time I had grabbed my coat and followed I was just in time to catch sight of a lurcher dog skulking off in the opposite field, scattering sheep in its wake.

At first we thought it was a stray, but as I called the police, Colin caught sight of a man on the skyline waiting for the dog. This was a poacher, he had brought his dog into the countryside to hunt and kill animals. Hunting with dogs is illegal in Scotland and I now know why. This was a barbaric act towards an innocent lovely creature. Thankfully one of our neighbours very quickly put the poor beast out of its misery with a bullet to the head, but the cruelty of the act lingers with me still.

An Interesting Discovery

While editing letters for my new magazine role I have noticed that Microsoft's spell check does not recognise the word 'renewables' (and neither, it appears does Blogger). Isn't that interesting?

Writer's workshop

I attended a writers' workshop last week led by talented Scottish writer Laura Marney. Building a character was the task for the afternoon, and although some of the exercises were similar to other I've completed, one exercise Laura dished up to the group was a meditation. She explained that she uses this method to clear her mind before she begins writing. The practice helps to rid the mind of all those niggly wee things that stop the flow.

I have been trying it this week and it works!

Great new blog

This is a rather unfortunate piece of synchronicity, considering the story I told at the start of this post, but I found this website and blog last week and always intended to feature it.

Velvet Antlers is the creation of Clare and Dave MacLeod. Dave is the world class mad man who climbs death threatening climbing routes and Clare is the crazy women who belays his climbs (for the uninitiated in the art of climbing this means holding the rope attached to her man and praying he doesn't fall off the rock). Clare starred in this supporting role in Dave's recent TV climb 'To Hell and Back' and my nails still haven't grown back from the chewing fest the climb induced.

Velvet Antlers website sells exquisite Scottish produce similar to the stuff I have been blabbing about for the past couple of months. The blog also features Clare's foray into the world of filming and mountain festivals. I am adding this site to my favorites list. Check out Dave's blog too.

Incidentally, I voted 'To Hell and Back' as the top TV programme in 'Best of 2007' section. I will post the link for the winter issue when she has announced its release.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Tunes of the Earth

Plain White Ts - Hey There Delilah

The guitar tune I aim to conquer before the New Year. Wish me luck!


I am a great believer in synchronicity, when two things happen at the same time with a strong connection. Some people call this coincidence, I call it spooky.
Maybe I am more open to this phenomenon, but I experience this all the time.

One such incident happened last Thursday. I picked up a book of poetry from the library, The Tree House by Kathleen Jamie. That evening I received the latest newsletter of The Ochil Mountaineering Club, a club I have been a member of for fifteen years. I was delighted to read of one member’s canoe trip to the islands of Loch Maree, Wester Ross. In the article the writer describes a tree on one island that has coins hammered into its trunk. Something triggered in my memory, something I had heard about Jamie’s poems. I grabbed the book and was astounded to find the first poem The Wishing Tree, describing the very tree on Loch Maree.

What is Inconvenient about the truth?

Last night I watched the DVD The Inconvenient Truth, the film by Al Gore. Most of the points made in the film were not new to me, but it was clear that the efforts of the rest of the world were pretty paltry compared to the difference the US could make if only they would take this matter seriously. The one thing that may make them sit up is the failings of their car industry. I personally traded my guzzling 25mpg Chrysler for a nippy 46mpg Suzuki. It was one of the best moves I have ever made.

This film also made me think of the other positive steps I have made to improve my own carbon footprint.

Two weeks ago I began ordering from a vegetable box scheme at This seems like a good idea until I manage to work my garden into providing my own fresh produce. The only problems is that the company do tend to heap on the root vegetables at this time of year and despite finding a great website, I am struggling to use up all the potatoes and turnips delivered.

It is difficult to come up with different Christmas Pressies for friends and family and still try to be earth friendly. But this year I think I have hit a winner. I live within staggering distance of Glengoyne whisky distillery and their gift shop is a full of locally produced gifts. One piece of their moreish fudge probably has more calories than I need in a year, but is so yummy it is easy to forgo the healthy options. The best product is their range of organic soaps handmade by Purdie’s. I bought the Whisky Ginger & Barley for my own use and have fallen in love with the evocative rich spice perfume. The packaging is simple and the price is not deadly. In future I will spread my soap purchases between the distillery and my other favourite soap shop, Arran Aromatics, from where I stock up during my annual visit to the island.

This year I also switched to Lush deodorant. Lush produce an organic deodorant sliced from a block like a lump of cheese. 100 gram purchase can be divided into small pieces and kept in paper bag. It lasts for ages. No need for the heavy plastic packaging used by most deodorant suppliers. My one concern with Lush is I don’t know how far the products travel before they reach the stores, but I can’t find a local supplier of deodorant.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Reads and Rants

Another troublesome bear - Rupert

Gillian Gibbons
Thank goodness sense has prevailed and the Sudanese Government have released the British schoolteacher jailed there last week for insulting Islam. This charge has been recognised as an over reaction and the Government have granted Mrs Gibbons a full pardon. How easy small mistakes can be exploded into life threatening situation.

Is voluntary work a luxury for the well off? £££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££

I have recently agreed to become the sub editor of a mountaineering magazine based in Scotland. The post is voluntary but because I have been associated with the magazine’s governing body for fifteen years I felt that I should give something back to them. But my main motivation for offering my services is that I felt I would learn about publishing and the position would, somehow, legitimise my decision to give up the day job and be a full time writer.

A friend of mine told me that some media organisations in London pay young graduates meagre salaries to work their way up in their particular field of interest. The graduates can do this underpaid work because they are supported by family money, trust funds and annuities. This practice limits the number of jobs for hard workers, struggling to carve a career in the same area. She argued this practice is creating an unfair advantage for people with higher incomes than others?

I don’t personally agree with that argument. I have not always been able to afford to take on such a large chunk of voluntary work, but I always tried to help organisations I've been involved in, even contributing a small amount of help.

One philosophy I have stuck to all my life is that if an opportunity comes my way, no matter how large or how small I grab it.

The world is full of people with more money than me, but the world is also full of people more talented than me, funnier them me, prettier than me. This list could end up quite large so I’ll end it now - you get the message. But there are also a ton of people who have not seized the opportunities presented to them because they are too busy moaning about not having choices.
The world is full of unfairness, but many people in the western world sit back and allow rich opportunities, even some large ones, pass by them everyday.

‘seize the moment try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it’ Eminem

Just Read

The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson

This book was recommended to me by a Canadian lady and at the time when I search for it in Amazon I found it was only available from . I ordered the book and then realised that ordering most books from the US was cheaper than buying through – not a good deal for the environment is it?

The novel tells the story of fifteen year old living on a farm near a Native American reservation. The area is terrorised by a daemon who invades bodies and turns the weak willed into evil beings. I believe that this theme is a metaphor for the girl to rationalise the abuse she suffers at that hands of her disturbed father and to help her deal with the ill treatment dished out to herself and her family by the community.

The focus for the action is a wood, a setting the author skilfully uses to create the menacing mood that percolates through the whole story. The characters were neither good nor evil but have extreme elements of both. The author show great sensitivity and compassion when dealing with the girl’s confusion over her awakening sexuality.

My one criticism of the novel is the use of repetition for certain pieces of information. Whether this is intended or not I found it distracting.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Service with a smile

The Wallace Monument, Stirling

I plucked this superb image off the web. I hope the owner doesn't mind.

There are tons of images, just search for 'wallace monument images' and see what's on offer

Service with a smile

Christmas is rushing towards us. Each year my sister and I take our dear old Mum Christmas shopping. Because she crawls along with two walking sticks, this trip always involves arriving at the shopping centre in Stirling and plonking Mum on a bench while I go in search of a courtesy wheelchair. We then wheech her round the designated shops buying appropriate gift vouchers for all her family. It would be easier for her and me if she handed me a list and I bought the lot for her, but this annual tradition means she still retains her independence and has a certain satisfaction that she bought the gifts herself.

In the past years Mum has received mixed reception from sales assistants. Many fall into the stereotypical role of talking over her head and addressing all questions to her able bodied daughters, but this year was different. Stores are finally clued up to the needs and feelings of the disabled. Every store assistant we encountered this week addressed my mum directly, and took the time to hand her the chip and pin machines on curly stretchy cords, to allow her to pay. It was easy.

All the stores have left to do now is to sort out the narrow lanes leading up to the checkouts to prevent me knocking over towers 3 for £5 Cadbury Selection Boxes and baskets of Terry’s Chocolate Oranges with a wheel chair

Good Local Food

Another tradition is Mum treating her daughters to lunch. This year we went to The Coffee Bothy in Blairlogie, a little village just outside Stirling. This former farmhouse serves wholesome food in a restaurant which is shadowed by the burnished Ochil Hills and has stunning uninterrupted view towards the majestic Wallace Monument.

Like many country restaurants in the Stirling and Trossachs area The Coffee Bothy has the formula sussed for its intended clientele, ‘silver scone scoffers’. They have acres of parking on flat land, a short trundle from the building. No hassle for the ‘auld yins’. I have been reliably informed that at weekends the place is stowed. The big plus for me is the farm shop which sells local produce as well as organic, whole food and luxury products.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Writing, reading and music

The Black Cab Sessions

Check out the website. One singer, one song, one black cab, that's the theme. BCS are currently presenting twenty chapters on the website. It's an unusual way to listen to music and see some sights around London on the way. The cabbies seem to enjoy themselves too.

The featured clip is by Emmy the Great. Her myspace has more mellow tunes to sample.

Artist's Waywardness

I have fallen off the Artist's Way. Oh, I try to read through the weekly chapters and I do try to work most of the exercises, but I find it is distracting me from my other writings. I will persevere and finish the exercises for the end of this year, but the course is receiving low priority from me these day.

Top Priority

The Scottish Association Of Writers is holding its annual conference in March 2008. I have registered to attend for the first time ever. They have a full programme of events, but the attraction for me is the many competitions the conference holds. Entries must be submitted in January, but I have been assured by previous conference attendees, that even though you may be unsuccessful in the prizes, each entry receives a full crit. I intend to make the most of this opportunity.

Just Read

Yesterday I underwent day surgery. after receiving a full anesthetic in the morning I wasn't up to much in the afternoon, I did my Elizabeth Barrett Browning impersonation, wrapped myself in a duvet and played invalid. I also read The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson from cover to cover. This book, set in the 1920s and written in 1958, tell the story of Janie MacVean, a small girl of eight growing up in poverty in The Lane, a backstreet of a city in North East Scotland. The story is semi autobiographical, but unlike the reams of hard luck fiction that fills the supermarket shelves these days, this novel contains some of the best prose writing I have read in a while. her characterisations are alive, the language is filled with poetic imagery and stunning metaphors. But it is the third person narrative of Janie that makes this book a classic. It is heartbreaking and funny without being sentimental.

I now own three Jessie Kesson novels, reprinted by B & W Publishing. These small volumes are a treasure. The front covers are emotive paintings by Dorothy Johnstone , a contemporary of Mrs Kesson. Two of these books I picked up from my favorite book seller, Oxfam Bookstore in Byres Road.

Thank you

I would just like to commend and thank the staff at Gartnavel Hospital Day Surgery. I have never been in hospital before and was terrified because of all the stories I hear of the British National Health Service. My experience yesterday was unbelievable. The day surgery was run with precision timing, I was processed through a number of well rehearsed steps and made to feel safe and well. All the staff were kind, helpful and friendly. The tea and toast was fab.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

National No Music Day

I wonder how this little lady is coping with National No Music Day. Better than me I hope.

Today is National No Music Day. A torture thought up by Bill Drummond formally of KLF. Bill had the bright idea that, because we take music for granted, we should work harder at appreciating it. Would we look at music differently once we were deprived of it? Well today we can find out while we starve ourselves of tunes.

It’s a shame because I had a great website to add to the blog today, but because it’s a music site it will need to wait for another time.

Not even a jingle is being played on Radio Scotland as it enters into the spirit of the day. This is a brave move and a great challenge for the music programmes. Tom Morton has made a not too bad job of filling his 2-4pm daytime slot with fascinating music interviews.

I can’t cope with listening to another ‘no’ music show but I have faith Brian Burnett will romp through his ‘Get it On’ hour. It will take him an hour to read out all the complaints I predict he will receive from his regular listeners.

I tried to deprive myself of music today but it was impossible. A trip into Glasgow saw me running out of shops the minute I realised music was playing. But it was unavoidable when I reached my final destination, Oran Mor, Byres Road. Oran Mor’s lunchtime theatre, A Play, A Pie and A Pint was airing its 100th play, which I was determined not to miss, unfortunately it was a musical!!!!!

And does this mean I can’t play my guitar tonight?

A Play, A Pie and A Pint

For the past couple of years I have been a regular attendee at Oran Mor’s lunchtime theatre productions. The event began 100 plays ago when Producer Dave McLennan and Scottish theatre legend Dave Anderson sat in the audience of a lunchtime theatre in Bewley's, Dublin. They brought the idea back to Glasgow and although it was slow to catch on, it is now hugely successful and part of a West End tradition. Dave McLennan has created a platform for new, one hour plays, to be staged, and although some of the plays don't hit the mark, most are exceptional. Good or bad, they are all superbly produced and performed by a wide range of talented actors and stage crews..

Sunday, 18 November 2007

A wild holiday

Callakille, Applecross

Callakille is the remote croft situated about seven miles north of the village of Applecross, Ross-shire. The house, owned by creator Rosi Brown, is the perfect place to relax and allow the wild west wind to blow the stresses away. It was certainly wild and windy while I was there last week but the cosy log burning stove and the robust traditional croft structure meant I could just snuggled in with my books and my guitar on extreme weather days. The location of this house is perfect for a novice guitar player. Access to the rocky beach just behind the house means it is possible to venture out doors and experience breathtaking gulps of fresh air and marvel at the views of islands Raasay, Rhona and Skye.

I had few good walking days around the peninsula and in nearby Torridon, after which the award winning Applecross Inn welcomed me in from the cold, with a warm open fire and great grub. And because I am a frequent visitor to this part of the country I could catch up with old friends.
The Potting Shed Restaurant ,which nestles in a walled garden on Applecross House grounds, serves fantastic locally produced food for lunch and dinner, but at this time of year is only open Saturday and Sunday.

Home to winter

Winter's here and in a way I am relieved. I love my garden but I am glad when I don’t have to spend so much time weeding. The glorious coloured leaves of Autumn have scattered to the ground. Being an avid composter, I collected the leaves from the garden and filled two ‘Love ‘em and Leave ‘em’ biodegradable leaf sacks. The label on the sack tells me by next spring I should have ‘nutritional leaf mould ready for use’. Can't wait!

Friday, 2 November 2007

What a performance

Sigur Rós

Venus as a Boy

One of the best books I have read this year is Venus as a Boy by writer and musician Luke Sutherland. I heard the author on the radio a few months back talking about his the forthcoming adaptation of this extraordinary book. I was so enthralled by the story I bought the book and on Wednesday this week went to see the National Theatre of Scotland production at the Citizen’s Theatre, Glasgow. This is part of the Glasgay festival.

The narration begins with the author being approached in London by a young boy Pascal, who asks Luke to record the story of his dying friend, Cupid. Cupid claims to have known the author in Orkney. After ignoring this plea Luke was surprised, when a couple of weeks later, he received a package containing tapes of Cupid’s story.

This is the tale of a boy with a gift of love. Through lovemaking he can offer the most miserable beings a glimpse into the wonders of heaven. The story follows him from his tortured childhood in Orkney to pot washing in Ullapool, where he discovers his gift. After a stint in Edinburgh he is forced into male prostitution in London.

The book is crammed with original observations and a poetic language that grasps the gut with its simplistic beauty.

The Tam Dean Burn's stage adaptation is equally awe-inspiring. Mr Burn acts and directs and makes the piece his own. He relives the life of Cupid aided only by Luke Sutherland, the author himself, who performs his spine tingling score as accompaniment to the narration. Mr Burn’s performance, in the intimate Citizen's Circle Studio, is exhausting and emotional to watch, he must feel wrecked after the hour and a half performance.
The Citizen’s run ends on the 10th of October. The production will then move to Liverpool.

New music and film (to me)

A new film ‘heima’ is released next week. The film features the music and artistic creations of Icelandic band Sigur Rós. I have been listening to downloads featured on their website all afternoon and am hooked – check them out!

I won’t have time to go see the film, which is screened at the Glasgow Film Theatre (GFT), because I am off on holiday to my beloved Applecross, the place I fell in love with ten years ago and pilgrimage to every year.

Applecross Bay

Monday, 29 October 2007

Winter Crops

I live with the hope that my crops next year will surpass the fine specimines I admired in a Paris street market.

Winter Crops

My first season as a gardener is almost over. I have preserved as much as I dare and am slowly working through the crop of potatoes I grew in whisky barrels. Because I didn’t want to leave the barrels empty over the winter I have sown them with turnip, cauliflower and onion seeds and today deposited a garlic bulb into a tub near the back door in the hope I will have a fine crop in June.

This week’s success is the harvest of alfalfa shoots and bean sprouts. Both of these can be grown all year round indoors and only take a week to grow. The crisp alfalfa has a crisp nutty flavour of the alfalfa complemented, in taste and texture, the carrots I mixed in with it. It is satisfying to have fresh crops straight from the airing cupboard.

The bean sprouts were a little messier than the alfalfa; they were grown in a tray filled with damp loose woven cloth. They required more handling and cleaning but made a fine addition to a stir fry. Both will be on the menu for the next few months.

il postino - DVD

This weeks offering from the Amazon DVD rental was il postino, the Italian made film about the visit of exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda to a small Italian community and how that visit effected the life of his postman. The film starred the wonderful comic actor Massimo Troisi who tragically died two days after the film’s completion in 1995. But the star of the film is the stunning poems of Neruda. I own a book of these poems and tingle in awe at their perfection. Like the postie in the film, I am inspired, yet again, to pick up pen and compose.

Just Read - To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee.

I first read To Kill a Mocking Bird at school too many years ago. And of course I remember the powerful performance of Gregory Peck in the film.
My reason for choosing to read this a second time came from a need to experience the voice of a child to help me build up my characters for novel two. And this must be one of the best examples of a novel narrated by a child.

Told through the eyes of eight year old Scout Finch, TKa MB tell the story of three children playing and living in a small town in Alabama before the civil rights movement changes the ways white people view black. The story is about fun and adventure and even contains a bogie man in the guise of Bo Radley, a recluse who lives in Scout’s street. But it is when Scout’s lawyer father, Atticus, defends a black man accused of raping a white girl, that the novel takes on its true purpose and uses the children to expose the injustice and warped human values around at that time.
Although this novel has a large number of characters, they are expertly drawn and nothing is lost in the telling. At times the eight year old’s vocabulary seems too mature, but she is the product of a legal household, which makes it easy to excuse.

I don’t normally read books more than once but I have a feeling this novel will be read for a third time in a few years.


Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Reading and Writing and Pumpkin Soup

The Writing Process

Starting is the first and worst hurdle. Novel Two (working title Witch) is whirling round in my head. It wont come out. Why? I have time, I am disciplined, I rise every morning and write my morning pages. I decide what to do for the day and then…well then I faff about doing anything and everything other than what I am suppose to do. I write my dreaded lists and I go through the motions.

I know! I will do some research, at least that's something towards the novel.

I know! I will read novels about the period I intend to write from. I will find books with a similar voice. That is all working towards the novel, isn’t it?

What about the music of the period. I'll just go and dig out some old CDs.

And then synchronicity steps in. I work on Week Nine of Julia Cameron’s Artist Way and read an insightful piece of advise. New projects are scary, she says, procrastination isn’t laziness, it's fear. What good is discipline without Enthusiasm?

Enthusiasm, I can do that. I put down another 1500 words and I wait. Ideas seep in.
I re-read some of my old note books from 2005, when I had a break neck busy life. I now count my blessings and read some Stephen King advice.

In his excellent memoir On Writing he states that he writes 2000 words every day, even on Christmas Day, not because he has to but because he wants to. That’s Enthusiasm.

Then it happens. I wake early with ideas bouncing off every brain cell active at 6.00am. I rise Enthusiastically, turn on the PC and chisel out the stuck words.

My Enthusiasm returns with a vengeance so look out.

Pumpkin Soup or Old Faithful

Today I made pumpkin soup from a featured recipe off the 101cookbook blog, well it’s that time of year isn’t it?

The colour was zen like, the taste divine,
but I made it so thick,
when I heated the gloop
Old Faithful erupted in the pan.

Just Read

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

I first heard of Barbara Kingsolver when I stumbled upon an interview with her on Radio Scotland's Book Café. There she discussed her latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and an Oprah choice The Poisonwood Bible. My local library had neither on their shelves, but offered her debut novel The Bean Trees.

This charming tale tells the story of Taylor Greer, a poor small town girl who leaves home to avoid an inevitable future of babies and maybe marriage.

When her car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, an Indian lady dumps a bundle in Taylor’s car, a bundle that is a small girl previously subjected to physical and sexual abuse. Taylor, described in the blurb as ‘plucky’, embarks on a search for a home for herself and the little Indian girl and finds both amongst good people in Tucson, Arizona.

The story is a simple one of love, friendship and human compassion told in an easy page turning style. There are a number of serious issues raised and aired but Kingsolver resisted delving too deep.

Friday, 19 October 2007

A Tale of Two Cultures

Culture Two

Toronto, a city of high buildings and the CN tower. It is a different city from Montreal, but with its own charm. Our train was delayed by a major fire beside the track. There was high excitement when the driver switched the electric off one side of the train, causing the tilting mechanism to shut down and the carriage to lurch to one side. She had been instructed to teeter past the fire site, a scrap yard with burning tyres and propane canister. But despite the delay chaos at the Central Station ,the information lady found us a decent hotel in minutes of our arrival.

One of the Toronto highlights was visiting three city centre bookstores.
1) World's Biggest Bookstore, who live up to their name. They stock a huge selection of Canadian and American literary magazines. I bought two, I couldn’t help myself.
2) Nicholas Hoare. I can honestly say is the best bookstore I have visited in my life. The interior is lined with tall wooden shelves bordered with green wrought iron detail. All books are classified to perfection and every book I saw on display I wanted to read. It is a class act. I could have browsed and lingered all day.
3) Indigo. I spotted from the eight floor café of the Hudson Bay Company. The curved glass street front window looked inviting; unfortunately I had to battle through Saturday afternoon shoppers in a mall to reach the entrance. It was not a good experience. The store is similar to the large bookstore in the UK. Popular fiction, cookery and self help books piled up for the masses.
Lucky Toronto, their bookstores cater for all taste.

French Bliss - DVD Cyrano de Bergerac (Gérard Depardieu)

My DVD rental was one of my all time favourite films this week. Cyrano de Bergerac, stars Gérard Depardieu as the French poet and soldier, expert swordsman and popular leader. His one distinguishing feature is his huge (in fact it is massive!) nose, Pinocchio without the strings.

Because Cyrano believes he is ugly, the love he harbour for his cousin, the stunning Roxanne, falls undeclared. Roxanne, who admires Cyrano is blind to his devotion and when the handsome guy she fancies joins Cyrano’s unit she asks her cousin to look out for him. He does more than this; he helps the tongue-tied youth win Roxanne’s love by composing exquisite love letters, so full of passion and soul they make her swoon. She marries the youth but becomes a young widow when he is killed in battle. Roxanne wastes the rest of her life mourning the lie and is content to live with the paternal company of her ugly cousin.

The film is heartbreaking because it allows the viewer to witness Cyrano's painful unrequited love until his death scene, when Roxanne realises the soul she adores belongs to her selfless cousin. It is then she tell him she love him. Too late!

One thing that is interesting about this film is that the personality of Cyrano is so strong his big nose become almost invisible. As my granny would say, ‘handsome is as handsome does.’

If a heart breaker is your pleasure, this is a must.

Winter is on the way
Today I spotted the first V of geese this season. I look forward to watching my friends from the frozen North make their morning and late afternoon flypast over the house.

Monday, 15 October 2007


Me and my minder

researching Torque The Novel

Last week I received another encouraging rejection letter for my novel Torque. For years I've been told to expect rejection, to have fiction published is an impossible feat. And yet I am also informed tens of thousands of books are published each year. If this is the case why do I find myself searching the reviews for a decent read and resorting to novels published years ago? Where have all the good novels gone?

This rejection backs up a revelation at the recent Wigtown Book Festival when on two occasions I heard speakers state that ‘everyone’ was sick of Scottish authors.
A journalist recounted his efforts to have books reviewed in the press, only to be told ‘We’ve recently reviewed McCall Smith, Rankin and JK Rowling, can you give us a break from the Scots?’

At another session, an author, who is an Englishman resident in Scotland explained to his audience that his publisher instructed him to loose his Scots connection, it was bad for business.

But it isn't only Scots authors who suffer. My depression sank deeper when I read this article from the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The ‘wise ones’ tell me to persevere. One quality I have in abundance is determination. I recently joined a forum, The Small Press Exchange, which I hope will put me in touch with writers and readers in a similar predicament.

And today I laid down the first 1500 word of novel number two.

Just Read

Halls Of Fame published by independent publisher Graywolf Press

This mix of essay and poetry from the distinctive voice of American writer John D’Agata was an invigorating and challenging read for a curmudgeon like me. His young enquiring mind takes nosedives into areas never before explored and what a thrill that ride was. The style is engaging and the language clear, but never being one for academia, I found some of his references mystifying. At times the essays soared over my simple head, in particular The Flat Earth Map: An Essay, about the Flat Earth Society. The highlights for me were Collage History of Art by Henry Darger, which tells the tale of an obscure artist. And the chilling final essay And There Was Evening and There Was Morning about the burning lights of Las Vegas. It plunged me back into my Eco Rant.

Why do tall buildings need so many lights burning all through the night anyway?

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Eco Rant

Scotland's shame

Last week one of my friends commented that recycling was the ‘new middle class obsession’. He wound me up after my passionate plea to use less packaged supermarket food and buy locally. I was horrified when others in the group joined him, saying that they had no trust in local governments and believed recycling was a big con because all the recycled items end up in the landfill anyway.

I once heard an influential broadcaster state on TV that she will begin to separate her cans and paper from the rubbish when China and India does something about their pollution.

It was reported last week in a Sunday paper that Scotland is one of Europe’s worst recyclers with 71% of our rubbish going to landfill. No wonder with attitudes like these from intelligent professional people.

Ten years ago I worked in Sweden and Denmark. There were no individual bins in the office. All rubbish was separated into recycling bins. When Swedes and Danes moved to work in Glasgow a few months later they could be found wandering the office floor with empty cans and plastic bottles wondering where to deposit them, they were mystified at our lax attitude towards the environment. 4% of Sweden and Denmark’s rubbish ends up in land fill.

Does no-one care! My efforts might be small but at least I am taking control of things I can contribute to saving our world. I can do little to change China, or India. If I could I would.

Check out the waste aware website to make a difference

Tale of two cultures

Biosphere, Montreal

Culture One

Even though I love the mountains, I also love cities. I love the buzz, the hotch-potch of smells wafting from competing restaurants, the clatter and honk of the traffic, the sirens and the expressions on people’s face as they go about their business. So it was a treat for me to end my holiday in Canada with a drop into two cities listed high on my ‘must visit’ wish list.

After we parted company from our trusty camper-van, we took The Ocean to Montreal. This is a sleeper train that leaves Halifax daily at midday and travels down the St Lawrence River to arrive in Montreal at 8.00am next morning. Unfortunately Canada is thick with trees, meaning the views in daylight are restricted and by the time the train reaches the St Lawrence night has descended. Never mind, the food in the dining car is adequate for a galley kitchen and the bunks are comfortable. Sleep came late however because the train rattles along at a hell of a speed and lurches like a fairground ride.

We spilled, disorientated, into streets filled with commuters. One lady stopped and pointed ‘you are here’ on our map and directed us to the best place to catch an early coffee.
In the café, above our heads, a TV blared morning news read in French. The waitress greeted us with ‘bonjour’. We soon discovered, back on the street, that French is the dominant language and culture. I fell in love with Montreal within minutes of arriving. The restaurant menus, the street signs, the toilet signs, all French. If it weren’t for the big trucks trundling along the roads I would have believed I was in France.

We headed for Old Montreal, by the river and found a boutique hotel, Auberge Bonsecours run by a very French matriarch, who dresses impeccably from head to foot in red and apricot. The bedrooms are furnished in red and apricot, even her dog is an apricot French poodle. And the breakfast she serves is a splendid feast of pate, spreads, cheese, ham and six or seven different varieties of bread (not forgetting the strawberry and apricot jams). What a wonderful way to start the day.

On our first evening we traipsed round the rejuvenate harbour area, dodging the ambush of restaurant staff trying to grab the trickle of custom in the dying days of the season. We settled for a French Restaurant 'Forget', which sat opposite our Auberge. The service was attentive and the caribou I ordered was lean and uncluttered.

The highlight of our second Montreal day was the Biosphere, a remnant of the ’67 Expo exhibition. Here we attended a passionate lecture on wind farms, geothermal energy and natural water treatment, all deliver by Veronique, who oozed zeal but was regrettably tinged with a little cynicism after all the knock back this kind of work receives. Keep up the good work Veronique, we will win in the end.

Monday, 8 October 2007

A film set or two

Loch Ossian on a good day
(photo Colin Baird)

A film set or two

Twice in a month I find myself stumbling into the set of a major feature film.

Film One

The first was in Toronto. It was our last day in Canada and having eaten mounds of wholesome Canadian food for two weeks the seams of my jeans were beginning to fray. We bought fresh peaches and bananas in St Lawrence Market and relaxed on a nearby park bench to slurp our fruit and watch Toronto at play. The park was busy. Young lads slept on blankets next to some electrical equipment, there was a table strewn with the wreckage of a picnic lunch. Two well made up ladies lounged in director’s chairs. Nothing too unusual. Our bench faced the street, the one of the occupants of a parked black sedan jumped out and made way for two dark haired men wearing black overcoat – an odd choice of garb considering it was 27C. A couple of police officers stood in the road to hold traffic, people with headsets buzzed around us. They began to build a metal frame at our feet on which they erected an expensive looking movie camera. I asked one of the techies should we move, no it was OK – we were not in their ‘wedge’, we moved anyway, to the next bench. From there we watched a company of about thirty bodies labour for over an hour to rehearse and execute what looked like twenty seconds of dialogue taking place in the black sedan. The film, we were told, was a feature called Target.

Better than a flask of tea

Film Two

This film set was less unusual considering where I was. On Saturday morning I met twenty odd hearty mountaineers from The Ochil Mountaineering Club for the auspicious occasion of Mhari’s Munro Compleation. It is traditional among hill walkers to invite a large party of friends and family to join you complete a round of all 284 Munros (mountains in Scotland over three thousand feet high). Mhari had chosen Ben na Lap as the finale to her round.

The happy rabble invaded the West Highland Line train at Crianlarich and travelled through mist and rain to alight at the remotest station in Britain, Corrour. This is the station that made a cameo appearance in the film Trainspotting. The station is situated about half a mile from Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, on the west bank of Loch Ossian. The loch is ringed by ribs of high mountains, including our hit for the day. At the eastern end of the loch, past the impressive lodge built for the Tetra Pak heiress Ms Rausling, is the gateway to another stunning range of mountains. This place is my favourite place in the whole wide world. There are no public roads. The only access to this unique setting is by railway, foot or land rover track.

Our party was cheery despite the rain, but I felt vexed for the number of folks who were new to the area and could not experience the full wonder that lay behind the murk. We were accompanied throughout the day by the sound of a helicopter.

The summit was bagged in record slow time which is also traditional for this hill because our train back was not until evening. Champagne corks popped into the mist, paper cups fizzed with bubbly and whisky, and hasty sandwiches were scoffed before the damp and cold drove us back downhill. Fine views and the mystery of the helicopter were revealed below the clag. Puffing down the track was the steam train we had spotted earlier at Rannoch Station, The Hogwarts Express.

The word at the station was that the train was being filmed for the next Harry Potter film and the passengers for the four or five trips this train made up and down the line were the children from Lochaber’s schools. We received a fine wave from them as they made their final chug past on the way back to Fort William

This remote station is lucky to have a tea room to soothe the weary traveller during his wait for the homebound train, unfortunately the lady who runs this establishment does not appear to enjoy the custom. When I entered the cosy wee tearoom intent on buying a beer, this scary lady looked at me as if I were a bailiff come to clear the land. Her gruff manner increased with each subsequent arrival and I took pleasure informing the crabbit hostess that more custom was on the way.

It is a pity the welcome is not friendly; the tearoom must have few visitors for trains are few and hill walkers must be the primary trade. With almost an hour to kill before the train I took my drink outside and ate the food left in my rucksack.

Hogwarts Express and Holly (the dog)

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Our Pick Up Truck

Canadian Dream - Revisited

We thought we'd try something new. Nova Scotia is a big province and to make the most of our time there we decided to hire, what Brits call a camper van and North Americans call a RV. This is our little baby, a skip chained to a Ford pick-up truck, but it was great fun.

We trundled up to Cape Breton to experience the famous Cabot Trail. We found our first well positioned and well equipped camping spot at MacLeod's, situated between Inverness and Dunvegan. Cape Breton was weird for us because all the place names are identical to those in Scotland and all the road signs are in Gaelic, as they are in the Highlands here.

The highlights of Cape Breton were;

The freedom of the camper van. It was fantastic to pull off the road to admire stunning views of crashing waves and snaking roads, put the kettle on and grab a ring side seat for lunch.

Meat Cove; This neat little community sits on the Northern tip of Cape Breton. The road is windy, steep and rough in places, and at times our trusty pick-up lurched and groaned, but despite the protests we made it.

Four Mile Beach, begins at SugarLoaf, Cabot's Landing, where John Cabot landed and discovered North America. This thin stretch of land forms a pristine beach, embracing the calmer East Coast Atlantic waves.

Hideaway Campsite, Dingwall. Along side MacLeod's this was one of the best campsites we stopped at. As the name suggests this site is sheltered within a wood, but its raised position awarded us spectacular views toward the Atlantic. As with all the sites we visited the facilities are clean and adequate.

The National Park. Cape Breton National Park maintains the environment around the Cape Breton Highlands. Like Kejimkujik Park, they have designated walks for tourists to tramp.

At the visitor centre we were warned of the high moose population. We thought, like the red deer in Scotland, the moose may be observed from a safe distance. Not so. In the park we had four encounters with moose on the Skyline Trail. One moose, having a grand feed on the trial, refused to move at our approach. We tried to skirt round her, but she began to look agitated, so we make a swift retreat. These beasts are huge and not to be messed with.

One night there was a fierce storm and our wee home morphed into a rollicking boat. Although it was a surreal experience I felt secure chained down to the sturdy truck.


From pick-up to classic

My brother Mike loves everything American. The music , the country, the people. Unlike me he has no need to pour over an atlas to find his holiday destination, the US is large enough for a lifetime of holidays.

His over-riding love is American cars. Ever since I was a wee lassie with skint knees and a pony-tail I have been aware of Mike's obsession. Now being in need of big toys he can indulge himself.

He recently sent me this rare shot of his current car and his previous car separated by the yellow car. They are all General Motors F-bodies: his old Chevrolet Camaro 3rd generation ‘80s, the yellow Pontiac Transam 2nd generation ‘70s and his current Pontiac Firebird 4th generation ‘90s. His ambition now is to become a real redneck.

Mike has agreed to become a guest blogger on this site, so look out for more 'Redneck News'

PS. Look out for ET in this photo!

Monday, 1 October 2007

Wigtown Book Festival

Louis and Ilone

Wigtown Book Town is currently running its annual book festival. Wigtown, a small market town situated in the south west of Scotland, is not the easiest place to reach from Central Scotland, so when a friend invited me there for the weekend, I was delighted. I went a bit mad buying tickets online. I booked five shows back to back during the day on Saturday and The National Theatre of Scotland performance in the evening. On Sunday I was committed to only one show, because I wanted to give myself time to soak up the atmosphere of my surroundings and to visit the towns many book shops.

The programme is diverse this year, with a theme of peace and unity. The festival was opened by Ireland’s first minister Ian Paisley. This, the organiser said, was to show Wigtown’s close links with their neighbours across the sea. The town is closer to Belfast than it is to Glasgow.

The highlights from the weekend for me were;

Robert Crawford, poet and Professor of Literature at St Andrew’s University treated his audience to an entertaining and witty tour through his impressive book ‘Scotland’s Books – The Penguin History of Scottish Literature'. His style was relaxed and honest, and he proved to be resilient when, stepping back from the podium, he fell backwards into the back of the stage. This unflappable academic, picked himself up, checked his glasses weren’t broken and resumed his presentation after warning his audience that if anyone saw him crawling about back stage later not to worry, he would only be looking for his money.

The National Theatre of Scotland Production of Molly Sweeney was staged in the nearby Bladnoch Distillery. The venue was intimate and the set simple but effective. The play, about a blind woman helped to regain her sight, was performed under what looked like a shattered mirror with lethal shards hanging from wires just above the actors’ heads. The tension of ‘that will have someone’s eye out’ was sustained throughout the whole performance. The three actors, Cara Kelly, Oengus MacNamara and Michael Glenn Murphy, played their intense parts with great skill. There were a number of long, powerful, soliloquies which must have required immense concentration. If I have one criticism it is that the play was around half an hour too long. I felt many of the scenes could have been shortened without damage to the story.

The best of the fest for me was Sunday’s performance (see photo). Louis de Bernières and Ilone Antonius-Jones, thrilled the audience with an hour of jokes, poetry readings and medieval music played on a vast array of instruments that Louis had collected and saved from obscurity. Ilone handed weird and wonderful percussion implements out to the reticent audience, but the performers’ easy manner soon had the hall reeling along to a Turkish folk song and a Greek melody Louis picked up while in Kefalonia.

Ilone twinkled with mischief as she declared what fun ‘one’ can have after writing a book.
‘Eight books’ Louis replied through gritted teeth. It was evident Ilone was the true musician of the pair, but Louis could be forgiven his many mistakes for the pleasure he gave with his sparkle and funny facial expression of concentration during some very tricky playing. The man is Captain Corelli in disguise.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A wet day in Halifax, NS

Canadian dream – revisited

The Highlights

My one day in Halifax was wet. The kind of wet that comes at you in a horizontal straight line and chases you everywhere you go.

I have just begun to play the guitar and someone suggested to me that I could buy a second hand guitar for $40, trail it around the country with me and give it away before coming home. The first stop in town was the Halifax Folklore Centre to see if such a buy existed. I spent about two minutes it this unique store, just enough time to gaze at immaculate instruments lining the walls while listening to a couple of customers, or staff members, belting out ‘Dueling Banjos’. I scuttled back out into the rain with my humble head hanging low.

It is just as well Halifax has some fine restaurants to hide in. Dinner that evening was a mouth watering seafood plate served up in the very popular McKelvie’s. But before that yummy nachos were gobbled up for lunch in The Argyll in Argyll Street.

It was while I was waiting in The Argyll for the rain to take a break that I was grabbed by a tune from the radio. A catchy little number with hilarious lyric; The Pick Up Truck by Shane Yellowbird. It was made even better by the accompaniment issuing forth from the cheery wee waitress who served me. I was amazed when, that evening, I watched Shane on TV lift an award at the Canadian Country Music Awards. Well done Shane. I now have another song to add my growing repertoire of tunes I can’t play.

Just read

I only wanted to take one book on holiday so I had to be a big one.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck is the semi autobiographical story of two families in the Salinas Valley in California. It tracks the life of the Trasks who have lots of money, good land and no desire to make use of the land and the Hamiltons, how have poor land and work hard to scrape a living from it. The story like Steinbeck’s other great novel The Grapes of Wrath has a biblical connection. In East of Eden Cane and Abel is used to throw up the strong themes of sibling rivalry and the quest for parental approval. Unlike Grapes of Wrath the characters in this book are given the space to show what they can do. The best character is the Chinese servant who rears the Trask boys when their mother deserts them to run a whore house and their father sinks into depression.

The style is that of a narrator telling the story from a chummy omniscient point of view. This works very well. Steinbeck uses a wonderful wholesome language, which thrills in its simplicity and effectiveness.

I loved this book but left it feeling that it didn’t quite impact me with the punch Grapes of Wrath swung. They are both worth reading

Monday, 24 September 2007

Back on Scottish soil

Sorry for the Absence

Well it just didn’t happen. I had hoped to blog some of my holiday experiences on the way round but the truth is I didn’t want to spend time indoors, away from the glorious Canadian sunshine, to write this blog.

Canadian dream – revisited

Glasgow, Scotland to Halifax, Nova Scotia in less than five and a half hours is pretty good going and the time difference is only four hours. I walked out of Halifax airport into a welcome 27C into a sunshine I hadn’t felt for years.
But even though Nova Scotia experienced an Indian Summer over the last few weeks, their tourist industry closed on September 2nd.

The highlights

Peggy’s Cove - This neat little fishing village, with its granite rock formations scattered around timber fishing houses, form the backdrop for some stunning photo opportunities. A tall lighthouse perched on massive rocks give the tourist something to aim for. Peggy’s Cove gave me my first encounter with a ‘Fifth Wheel’, a motor home the size of a Double Decker bus, strapped to a truck. These monsters are trundled back and forth across this vast country. Why do folks find the need to carry their entire homes with them?

Caledonia and The Kejimkujik National Park - On the map Caledonia looks to be a significant town, in reality it is one street with a supermarket, a hardware store, a junk shop and a diner. It does however have one great little bed and breakfast.

Aunt Nettie’s is run by Cindy and dominated by Abby, the mad Jack Russell terrier who ensures that the premises is kept squirrel free by terrorizing the garden tree. As soon as the front door opens Abby tears across the lawn to her tree yapping like a raging… Jack Russell.

A few miles up the road from Caledonia is the Kejimkujik National Park. The walks presented by the rangers vary through high forests of old hemlock to loch side rambles. I am sure the best way to see this park is by canoe, but being a land lover I opted to chance meeting a black bear on the trail.

After a hard day on the trail Colin and I ate at the nearby diner M & W’s. This busy dinner is run by the wily Marilyn who tempted me with the mouth watering pastry of her home made blueberry pie. She worked the diner, May through to October from 8.00 in the morning till 9.00 at night as well as looking out for customers to her store next door. But even after closing and leaving for home, if a hungry body turns up at her door she will feed them.

One such hungry body I met was a biologist who had trailed through the park. He was studying the decline of loons, the result of mercury in the water and their food. It seems that even in protected areas pollution still creeps in by way of rain fall. The poor guy had been eating trail food for five days; all he wanted was a plate full of grease and a big piece of pie.
Tip - make the most of everything
When I go on holiday I always try to leave the house clean and tidy. I don't go mad with the cleaning, just enough to make a difference.
When I arrived home yesterday it was wonderful to walk through the door into a sweet smelling, bright, shiny house.
I then proceeded to erupt my rucksack all over the floor and make a complete mess of the place, but that was OK.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Books and Films

DVD - Black Book

I don't watch telly, well maybe a little, but I do indulge in the occasional film. Three a month to be exact. We hire DVDs from Amazon. We compile a list of old and new release films and receive them by post. Once the film has been watched it's popped back in its pre-paid envelope, posted back and within a couple of days the next film on the list arrives. It's great.

This week the offering was Black Book, a dutch film with English subtitles. Black Book is the story of a Jew involved in the Dutch Resistance just before the end of WWII. The story is well plotted and convincing and the actress who plays the lead, Carice van Houten, is brilliant as the Jew who falls for the German she is sent to spy on. The revulsion she tries to hide, as she sings a duet with the SS officer she saw murder her family, can only be describe as simpering contempt.

Just Read

The Master and Margarita by Mikail Bulgakov is my first real venture into the world of Russian Literature and I enjoyed every minute of it. The novel is a fantastical story of a visit to Moscow by the Devil and a few of his side kicks. The Devil uses a theatre black magic show to gain access to large numbers of Muscovite and tempt these poor people with money and fine clothes. He exposes the worst traits in them and sends a number of the theatre staff to the lunatic asylum in the process. The only two characters immune to the mischief are the Master, a writer who burns his own novel about Pontius Pilate before ending up in the asylum, and Margarita his lost mistress, who left her husband to become a witch and host Satan's Ball so she could free her mad lover.

The novel is packed with fanciful stories and an intriguing account of Pontius Pilate's part in the demise of the Messiah. The descriptions and images are described in a rich and unique style. The one problem I had reading this novel was the weird nightmares that visited me, so in a way I am please to close the last page and look forward to a peaceful night's sleep.

On Holiday

I am off to Canada tomorrow. I hope I can post some snippets while I am there.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Tip - make the most of everything

Stoning plums

Stoning plums is a messy business and time consuming. When I have an activity like this I choose a piece of fun music, none of yon intense thought provoking stuff, and I blast it out of my little kitchen CD player. Yesterday I choose 'Most Wanted Music 7'. A cheeky little compilation number I picked up while working in Denmark in 1998. This mix of Euro trash is perfect for floating off into mind numbing nostalgia, although it did make me wonder what did happen to B*witched, Hit'n'Hide and Aqua. Madonna's Immaculate Collection is another good bet for this job.

As soon as I finish stoning I clean up the mess (and have a wee boggy round the kitchen) before moving on to the next stage. The stones go into my compost bin, but I would imagine they will take a while to break down.

Artist Way

I am currently working my way through Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. A twelve week course to free an artist's blocked creativity. I have tired this programme before, years ago, but I failed to progress past week three, I am now on week four. I don't feel creatively blocked but I thought this would be a good opportunity to try some of the exercises while I am between novels one and two.

One of the tasks on week four, which I refuse to do, is the reading deprivation. No way can I abstain from reading. It's just plain cruel.

The main problem I have with the Artist's Way is the heavy reliance it places on accepting that creativity comes from God. That coincidence and synchronicity occurs because God has willed it. I find it vain to expect God to be sitting around feeding struggling artists little gem ideas when there is so much suffering to be dealt with.

I do accept that when writing there is a form of Divine intervention, things do just happen to me. However, I prefer to believe this power comes from my dead ancestors. I can just see them floating around somewhere wanting the best for one of their tribe. I suppose this view is similar to that of the Native Americans. I'll let God get on with the serious stuff.

I am off on holiday next week but plan to continue with the tasks and record some of the outcomes here.

On my previous excursion along this 'Way' I learned the benefits of morning pages. This is a routine whereby I write three A4 pages of muses as soon as I rise in the morning. The purpose is to force myself to turn up at the page every day, but it also allows me to voice any issues or worries I have. This is a practice I have now been observing for about four years; as a therapeutic and writing practice there is no better tool in my opinion. I am hooked.

Another of Artist's Way basics is the Artist's date. This allows me to take myself off somewhere, alone, and spend time with my creative self. It doesn't have to be far, it might even be sitting at home watching an old movie. The important thing about the artist's date is that it frees the mind of humdrum. An Artist's dates can be doing what Julia Cameron calls an artist activity, a physical activity that allow the artist to drift away from day to day problems and enter the realm of fantasy.

I think stoning plums is a perfect artist's activity.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Blisters on feet and hands

Southern Upland Way

My usual lazy Saturday morning was disrupted this week. A 6.15am rise was required to transport me to Wanlockhead in the Scottish Borders to begin a long, long stage of the Southern Upland Way. But because this was a charity walk for CHAS, my moaning was kept to a minimum. Wanlockhead claims to be the highest village in Scotland, and judging from the freezing mist that welcomed me when I left the nice cosy car I realised the this boast was true.

The stage Colin and I did was Wanlockhead to Beattock. The freezing hill fog persisted as we climbed Lowther Hill. This hill has a huge 'golf ball' aircraft tracking station on top, and although I walked within feet of this marvel, I detected only a notion of a globe in the gloom. As the mist sprayed my face and dewed my leggings I realised that this fine moisture was beginning to soak through to my skin. I had no alternative but to don waterproof gear.

The terrain was undulating to say the least, as soon as my legs became accustomed to the climb they were asked to descend. A gentle wee stroll across a dam head was followed by a steep trudge along a switchback ridge. Fifteen miles into the walk I felt the beginnings of a blister. Miles later a visitor's car park sign told me I had only two and a half miles to walk to reach Beattock: it was far from encouraging. This last section was on The Crooked Road and the name says it all! What the sign failed to mention was that the way was peppered by herds of cows lorded over by a massive bull. My blister were forgotten while I manoeuvred past the beast.

After nine and a half hours and twenty plus miles of walking, with over a thousand metres of ascent, I finally peeled off my boots and socks to reveal first degree burns weeping on both ankles. Splendid!

Tibbie Shiels Inn

My reward for this endurance was a night B & B in a local hostelry. The Tibbie Shiels Inn is an old coaching Inn originally run by the widow of a Border mole catcher. The Inn sits on the southern edge of St Mary's Loch, surrounded by rolling heather splashed Border Hills. As I hobbled into the bar and guzzled a pint of the local beer my earlier ordeal began to fade. The menu was uninspiring but I could have eaten a scabby 'dug'. In the end I gobbled up an unremarkable mixed grill before the kitchen closed at the ridiculously early hour of 8pm. The accommodation was a strange mix of antique chairs and white DIY cabinets. 1960s net curtain screened our view of the car park and although the shower worked, a scorching hot bath would have been preferable to the pitiful hot trickle. But the bed was clean and comfortable. A duvet was forgone in favour of a traditional honeycomb blanket and simple hand made quilt.

The owner, a formidable elderly lady with an impeccable white coiffure, took no nonsense from her clients. The Inn's quirkiness was spoiled for me by the sadness I felt. This historic coaching Inn treasure has grown old and tired, but I can imagine that such an operation takes time energy and lots of capital to make it work.

Food for free
The two trees in my neighbours garden drip with jewels, rubies waiting to be plucked. When he invited me to help myself to the ripe plums I jumped at the invitation. A jelly pan full of plump juicy fruit made hardly a dent in the tree's offering. 12lb of fruit was collected in minutes. That is a hell of a lot of stoning. 6lb I tackle right away and soon had a gallon of wine brewing. The rest will be chopped up for jam and chutney tomorrow night; after I have been out to check up on the progress of the sloe bushes in the hedgerow