Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Bits and Blogs

A cosmic Loch Broom, Ullapool.

(Photo © Colin Baird)

Fifty First Timer No.4

Performed in Public with my guitar

OK there were two other guitars, a fiddle and a very out of tune singer performing with me. And it wasn't in front of a hostile audience in Glasgow but a handful of Ochil Mountaineers in Ullapool Youth Hostel. It was still a debut performance.

We played Dirty Old Town, that famous Ewan MacColl song that reminds me of school. Unfortunately performing is addictive and I wouldn't shut up for the rest of the night.

Sorry OMC.

Farewell Penguin Scotland

This weekend I was saddened to read that publisher Penguin are closing their Scottish office. To me it is another sign that reading markets (or supermarket book buyers) are tired of Scottish writers. When I look back through my reading journal I find that the majority of the books I read are published by Penguin. I am so disappointed in them

Lets hope the publishers left in Scotland continue to publish high quality Scottish literature and aren't tempted by the easy money to be found in the growing trend of celebrity biographies and sensational blockbuster doorstops.

Read the full story in the excellent blog Beattie's Book Blog.

Julia's Blog

Another Blog I discover recently is that of the late Julia Darling. I was prompted to search for information about her after reading Jackie Kay's poem Darling. I have admired the poetry of Jackie Kay for years but I believe this particular poem can touch every one who reads it. It is perfect.

The blog is very special. It starts in September 2002 and ends in April 2005 with Julia's death from cancer. The blog is the diary of a busy writer and is fascinating to read from that aspect, because Julia's style is friendly, funny and generous. But this blog also chronicles Julia's declining health and it is humbling to read how positive she is about the whole experience.

I have only read half the blog so far but I did read some of the later entries before posting it here and I am amazed at how Julia manages to work so hard and retain her bright outlook even when she must have been very ill.

Reading the blog is like getting to know Julia as a friend and I feel sad to know that I will never meet this special lady.

One Last Blog

The banner of this website is;

'do one thing a month to make the world a better place'

Once you sign up to The Nag you receive a monthly nag which suggests a list of improvements to make to your life and reduce your 'footprint'.

Some of them are totally unreasonable, like change to green energy, but that takes planning and needs lots of time and money.

I am still a bit sceptical about this site and not sure what it's motives are. Today I was nagged and chose to look at my lunch regime. I was immediately offered the opportunity to buy a lunch bag or a flask or a Tupperware box or a water bottle.

Is this really what The Nag is about, selling on merchandise? I can go to Woolies and buy all of these items the next time I am in town. That way I can save the planet by not having goods transported to my door from goodness knows where.

I will keep you posted.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Happy Birthday Rabbie

Happy Birthday Rabbie Burns
On Monday we commiserated on the most depressing day of the year but I have now discovered that this phenomena does not affect Scots as badly as the rest of the UK. And the reason why is the man on the right, the poet Robert Burns. We have a winter cure for the blues.
Today, in Scotland and throughout the world people will be celebrating Rabbie's birthday with a supper of cock-a leekie soup, haggis, neeps and tatties and a few drams of whiskey. A chosen few will be rehearsing the 'Address to the Haggis', a rousing poem directed at a steaming plate of sheep's stomach stuffed with offal and grain; 'The Immortal Memory', a personal account of why this bard's words are still relevant today; and of course no Burn's Supper would be complete without a rendition of 'Tam o' Shanter' a cautionary ghost story.
I will be celebrating tomorrow night in Ullapool Youth Hostel at the annual Ochil Mountaineering Club Burn's Supper. The agenda is a hill walk during the day, a quick scrub up and then a communal meal for about fifty members. The club is pretty talented so there is no doubt the evening will be a success.
The major problem for everyone will be the drive to Ullapool in the storm that is currently raging across Scotland.

How to catch a haggis

Monday, 21 January 2008

Cheer Up


Today is officially the most depressing day of the year. I think the fact that someone has actually taken time out of his life to work that one out should be enough to make everyone smile.

So what if all your New Year's resolutions have been washed down the gutter with the rain, you can always make some more next week when you're feeling more optimistic. I have found no matter how bad things become in life there is always someone else who needs cheering up more.

Outside there is a cracking full moon and the nights are getting lighter, buds are forcing there way through the soaking ground. It will soon be spring and time to plant the sunflower seeds.

Fifty First Timer No.3
I made and drank my first pina colada

We had friends over for dinner on Friday night and because the days are long and the weather dire I thought we needed a cheer up. I concocted a Caribbean dinner menu from my Australian Woman’s Weekly Caribbean Cookbook.

We don’t normally drink rum but a Trinidadian friend brought us some back the last time she was home and this seemed like the perfect excuse.


Pina collada aperitifs
Callaloo (a spinach and crab meat soup) served with homemade oat and maple bread
Chicken, rice and chickpea with mango and avocado salsa
Grilled mango cheeks

Served with lots of calypso music; and burned off with loads of singing and dancing and in the morning mucho sore heads. Great fun!

Buy my art

New Artist’s site

Have you seen great artists site?

Free competitions and heaps of inspiration from the fabulous pieces of work submitted from around the world, although at the moment it seems to lean towards Australian artists. It is a fantastic opportunity to be part of a community of like minded artists

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Storm tossed

Toscaig Harbour

The wild weather has given me the perfect excuse to stoke up the fire, coorie-in and settle down to some serious writing after the mad festive holiday. Today a finished a story, oringinally called The Pier and inspired by the pier in the photo.

Central Scotland has been blasted by storms over the past week and thankfully there is only slight damage outside, although I did loose most of my wee cabbage seedling when the frame they were sheltering caught a gust in the night.

This is also the perfect time for booking holidays and I managed to work a fifty first into this activity this year.

Fifty First Timer No.2

Spend my BA Airmiles

In the bad old days when I worked for Shell I managed, through work, to accumulate thousands of airmiles which I have never spent. One of my tasks for this year was to spend them.

I know I am always blabbing on about the environment and how we should all reduce our carbon footprint. And I know that air travel is the worst possible contributor but after all the grief I had traveling the world to earn the airmiles (often, I felt unnecessarily so), it would be such a waste not to use them. And, I know this is a bit of a cop-out but I do have some tree planting on my list for this year too.

Also I feel there is unfair guilt put on poor old Mr. and Mrs. Public because they burn up the atmosphere using cheap airlines whilst trying to experience a small part of this wonderful world. Instead the government and media should look at business travel. They would find a huge number of trips made for no other reason that to ensure the traveler reaches his/her gold card points quota for the year.

Oh well, there really is no excuse for me, is there? Except to say I am human too, and I never yet managed to earn that gold card, I preferred to stay at home.

After all that I am really excited to be going to Hong Kong - for three weeks! I can only image the number of first time experiences I will be able to fit into that trip.

Just Read - His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman

These three books have languished in my bookcase for years, taunting me with their reputation. When the film The Golden Compass was released in this country it was just the push I needed to devour these books one after the other.

The story, set in many parallel universes, tells the story of Lyra a young girl with a destiny. In her world everyone has a dæmon in the form of an animal. These dæmon’s are what we would probably recognize as our soul or inner reason.

In the first of the trilogy Northern Lights Lyra goes to the far North, armed only with a compass like device, to rescue stolen children. During her mission she is hunted by the Church and Mrs Coulter, and hindered by her guardian, Lord Asriel. But she is helped by Gyptians, an armored bear, witches and a Texan balloonist.

The Subtle Knife is the second book of the trilogy and finds Lyra in another world where she teams up with Will, a boy from our world, who is in search of his father. This time they encounter the same old enemies including some new ones in the form of Spectre and orphaned children. But they also enlist the help of a scientist, Doctor Mary Malone. And of course they have the knife to help them cut through into new worlds

The third and final book The Amber Spyglass, introduces the reader to yet more new worlds, as well as slipping in and out of the old ones. It also continues to build on all the old characters, who are now familiar, as well as developing new, strange creatures who move on wheels.

This book meets with some controversy because it seems to attack Christianity and it is aimed at young adults. On the first point I feel that the book throws up loads of questions for debate, but it also allows me as a reader to think hard about what religion means. At no time during the reading did I feel I was being preached to. In my opinion any book that makes me think deeper than the actual text is the mark of a classic.

Unlike the Harry Potter books, ‘His Dark Materials’ never felt like a children’s book. It worked for me on all levels.

It is a fantastic read and my copies have now returned to languish in the book shelve until I read them again.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Who said lists were easy?

Fifty First Timer No.1

Attend a Stirling Albion home game.

What better way to begin my list of first time events than on the Second of January with a truly Scottish tradition. After spending the last week sitting in front of the telly, sipping too many Sherry's, scoffing Thornton's Continental chocolates, we Scots must punish ourselves and there is no better way than to risk catching pneumonia, standing at a pitch side watching a bunch of guys trying to stay warm by running around after a ball. A visit to Stirling Albion has been on my mental list for years.

I hail from Dunfermline and have attend a couple of the 'Pars' more significant games, but now my home town is Stirling so I thought it only right that I should give the boys my support on this festive occasion. Unfortunately Stirling Albion are at the bottom of the first division with a considerable gap between them and the second bottom. Maybe I would bring them luck!

Their opponents were Morton, of whom I had heard many major scoffs, particularly, on TV, from their most celebrated supporter Christopher Brookmyre. We might be in with a chance, how good can they be?

I know little about football but it became apparent very early in the match that our boys couldn't run as fast as the other side. They tried so hard, but they seem to lack confidence. every time one of the 'Binos' took possession they seemed to stop and say 'well, what do I do now?' then it was too late, Morton took possession back.

The 'Binos' played with true spirit, which must be hard to stir up when you are at the bottom and after a valiant fight, eventually lost 1-2. Until I arrived at Forthview Stadium I had no idea my passions would be fired, but I was roaring (with frustration mainly) with the rest of the loyal supporters. But I wont be joining them on the 12th January when the wee 'Binos' meet Glasgow giants Celtic in a cup match, my heart couldn't take the pain.

Another tradition at football matches is a scotch pie and cup of bovril at half time. When the hot bovril performed its magic to my frozen core I thought it was Christmas all over again - the pie wasn't bad either.

I took this photo using the new mobile phone my son gave me for Christmas. Colourful, but out of focus, eh? We're playing in red.

In daylight, from the home stand there are super views of the Ochil Hills. The visitors have the stunning vista of The Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle.

Good Luck on the 12th of January.