Wednesday, 27 February 2008

reason for the silence

My Computer had a seizure, but it is well now and backed up with belt and braces.

Ben Alder Cottage (Photo Colin Baird)

Fifty First Timer No.6

Stay over night in the haunted bothy Ben Alder Cottage
(or A woman and her shovel)

And I am sorry to disappoint the ghost hunters of the world but the only thing this bothy is haunted by is vermin.

Four of us walked twelve and a half kilometers from Rannoch Lodge to Ben Alder Cottage. We had estimated our ETA based on normal walking pace and heavy sacks. What we failed to take into account was boggy terrain and the extra four kilos of fire fuel we each carried in our back breaking rucksacks. The result of this logistical error was four very tired walkers ploutering about in near darkness with only a twinkle of a light, way in the distance, to guide us to our destination. We eventually stumbled into the packed bothy five hours after our departure from the car.

This Mountain Bothies Association bothy hunkers at the foot of Ben Alder, a fine mountain, which is situated in the wilderness between the A9 and West Highland Railway Line. It is a pretty remote spot. The stone building has three rooms. The largest room has a sleeping platform and a stove, the middle and smallest room has a couple of bunks and the third room, the only one free for our occupancy, has a floor to sleep on, but also a fire.

In my novel Torque, character Frank walks into a bothy and produces from his rucksack a bag of coal and kindling, tined oysters and pancakes. My writing buddy disputed the feasibility of this load, but as I sat sipping my gin and tonic, crunching pistachio nuts beside the peat briquette fire and looking forward to couscous, salmon and a wee dram, I knew I had captured the experience accurately.

The other bothy occupants had traveled vast distances by car to then to either cycle, walk or canoe into this magical spot. The weather was freezing but dry and next day my party enjoyed a spectacular walk onto Ben Alder over steep ground and some crisp snow fields. That evening we enjoyed our G & T sitting outside on mouse chewed chairs and watched the moon sparkle on Loch Ericht. The previous company had departed in search of other bothies and shores, but we were joined by two guys from Sheffield who had carried a bag of coal over several mountains. The ironic thing is that Ben Alder is one of the few bothies where wood is plentiful from the near by forest and saws and axes are available for use.

The cottage toilet is a shovel and The MBA had pinned clear instructions on the door as to where to go with your shovel and how to act responsibly when shitting in the woods.

This fantastic image of Loch Ericht with Ben Alder on the left was taken on the walk out. The air was so still even the fish were scared to disturb the calm.

This same image turned on its side gives an interesting insight into the courtship rituals of the native ducks!

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The rain has stopped, stop building that ark

Michael Marra, one of Scotland's best

Fifty First Timer No.5

The Cremation of Sam McGee - Tolbooth, Stirling Saturday 9th February 2008

This performance qualifies as a fifty first on two counts.
Firstly I have always wanted to see Michael Marra live. I almost achieved this last year then he appeared in collaboration with Scotland's poet laureate, Liz Lochhead but by the time I got around to buying the tickets the event was sold out.

Secondly ever since I first heard a Robert Service poem during a performance at Oran Mor, Glasgow, I made a mental note to find out more about his work.

This staggering show at the Tolbooth was the creation of cellist Christine Hanson. She managed to cajole the finest musicians in Scotland to join her in this performance of multi media magic.

In The Cremation of Sam McGee, Hanson took the rascally poem of Robert Service and composed a series of intricate traditional pieces to blend through the story. As if that wasn't enough, her compositions were accompanied, not only by the fine musicians but by the bright, inspiring images of artist Ted Harrison, one of Canada's foremost painters.

Micheal Marra narrated the poem and for anyone one who has never heard Marra speak or sing, to say his voice is gravely is not only a cliché, it is an understatement. His voice is crushed concrete, fag ash and whiskey mash churned together and matured in the corner of a smoky bar room, it is perfect for this narration.

The Line up

Michael Marra

Christine Hanson

Rick Taylor (Peatbog Faeries)

Kevin Murray (The Cutting Edge)

Bruce MacGregor (Blazin Fiddles)

Gordon Gunn

Anna Massie (The Anna Massie Band)

Kevin Maguire

Brian McAlpine (Session A9)

James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty)

Spring is almost here

Today I heard a woodpecker rapping in the trees. Later my bird feeder was visited by a woodpecker, maybe the same one. His comic grin and red backside never fail to make me gasp in delight. Unfortunately he was too speedy for my camera.

Yesterday was spent in the garden, pruning and chopping. I hauled a rusty old bin out of the corner of the big compost heap and started off another household waste compost bin with it. With any luck the resident black bin that happily plays host to hundreds of clever little worms and beasties that break down the waste, if left alone, will mulch away to fine compost by this time next year.


After weeks of picking up, from the door mat, brown envelopes addressed to me in my own hand containing rejection slips, I received one this morning informing me that a short story had been short listed in a competition. The publication wanted to place my story in a forthcoming issue. Result!

Monday, 4 February 2008

food, books, and nag

Made-up Recipe

This tastes better than it looks - I think I need to add photography lessons to my list of Fifty First Timers!

I have been cooking for myself a lot recently and have tried to live on what’s in the fridge. This is a great way to use up ingredient and flex my imagination to invent new dishes. Here is the most interesting from last week

Tofu and Halloumi Frittata

Chop a clove of garlic, a red chilli, two spring onions, a ripe tomato and a couple of mushrooms; fry these for a few minutes, add about 75gs of Tofu and toss around a bit. Add two eggs beaten with a little soya milk and some ground black pepper. Cook as for an omelet, in the mean time heat the grill to hot. When most of the egg is cooked, take off the hob, slice enough slivers of halloumi to give a decent covering and sling the lot under the grill until the egg become golden and begins to turn up at the pan edge.

I always sprinkle Worcestershire Sauce over eggs for a special treat.

Note; this was delicious but I think in future I would try a mild tofu. I used a braised smoked tofu which overpowered many of the ingredients.

Just Read

Runaway by Alice Munro

Alice Munro has been on my must read list for years and I still can’t believe that I, someone who relishes good short story writing, has failed to read a single story by this accomplished writer. I have made up for this now.

Munro writes about everyday folk living everyday lives and her stories are long enough to let the reader into those lives in detail. A number of the tales in Runaway follows one character, Juliet, from early adulthood through to old ages, and it is fascinating to watch the character develop in this way. But even the shorter one-off stories left me caring for these well crafted characters.
I have watched my own writing style develop over the years but still can’t crack the short story form. I am now eager to immerse myself in all Master Munro’s writing to see if any of her style sinks in.

The Nag

After reading Briony's comments on my last post I thought I had better look more closely at The Nag.

I am now even more skeptical. Briony was right, she could change to what she believed to be Green energy in minutes because the website directs it devotees to do their bidding. But I doubt their motives, especially when they are selective in the sites they recommend, is this perhaps because they earn revenue for these schemes?

I joined The Nag because I thought it was a great idea to receive an email every month to prompt me to do something. But my major objection to the devises used in the Nag is that it is leading folk to believe they are doing some good and absolving them of responsibility to actually change bad pratice. I would prefer to see The Nag encouraging folk to do little things like turning their shower control down a couple of notches or grow some of their own vegetables. Even window boxes can produce a healthy crop of rocket or spinach.
But maybe The Nag wouldn’t earn so much revenue from a couple of packets of seeds.

Try looking at the Soil Association news letter Why Organic It has information about Fair Trade, Organic and local produce as well as seasonal recipes, gardening advice and free competitions – and no hidden agenda.

Green Energy and green issues are big business now, but it shouldn't be like that. We all have a responsibility to save our planet, not look for an easy buck or an easy let off.

I feel there will be more on this subject soon.