Monday, 14 December 2009

Computer says, 'fat bitch'!

Computer says, ‘fat bitch’

OK maybe it didn’t use those words but that was what it meant. My new toy, a Wii Fit, pulled no punches when it diagnosed the state of my body. I thought it would be just like any other computer game but was shocked to learn that it weighs you, gives you a BMI and awards your a body fitness age based on its results.

And its results on me were pretty damming. I have been avoiding the scales for years and tend to judge my weight on how comfortable my clothes feel, but I have always known I could do to loose a few (ah-hhem) pounds. The poor weather recently has meant that my meager attempts at running have been reduced to once a month, if I’m lucky. Pilates once a week isn’t enough and the empty calories consumed in the red wine I drink are a disgrace. But do I really need a computer to tell me that I am overweight and dying prematurely? Apparently yes.

The Wii gave me a fitness age twelve years my senior! I am a crumbling heavy wreck according to the black box plugged into my telly. But help is on hand, this little darling has promised to help me, all I have to do is visit each day for 30minutes and I will be saved.

Being a computer of course means it doesn’t sugar coat anything with excuses; the fact I am big boned does not wash with Wii. This is a nuts and bolts solution you can’t argue back with and that is the reason I like it. I have decided to give this solution a go, I know it is the wrong time of year or maybe it is the right time of year. I have to do something because if what this thing is telling me is correct, my body is going to start giving up twelve years before it is suppose to. I live in the West of Scotland, I am surrounded by premature old, young folk, it is not going to happen to me!

Once I made a Wii mini Mii (small and dumpy) I was ready to go. So what is it like having a computer as a trainer? My personal virtual female trainer is very encouraging, but individual games have their own scoring system. The boxing trainer, a crabby faced cockney, is horrible and shouted that I hadn’t even broken sweat. The text rankings aren’t much better; they hurl cheeky insults at you like ‘couch potato’ or ‘amateur’. It gave me an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude.

There is one exercise where I managed to persuade the computer to call me ‘Champion’. This is Zazen, a zen exercise that measures how still you can sit. It involves sitting on the balance board and staring at a candle on the screen. If the flame flickers your body is moving, if it moves too much the flame if extinguished and it is game over. Distractions are thrown at you, creaking footsteps and fire flies that sizzle in the flame. I can out sit the computer time of 180 seconds. It seems I excel at sitting doing nothing.

Monday, 7 December 2009

History Lesson

My weekend was spent in London and the highlight for me was a trip to see Billy Elliot the musical. I remember a few years ago watching the film with great interest particularly the parts about the miners strike, but the musical is a far better representation of these times.

When I was at school reading '1984' for my 'O' Level English I had no idea the year would have such an impact on my life. Billy Elliot is not just a musical it is a social history. There were many foreigners in the audience who I am sure did not really understand what was going on, or maybe thought that police riot scenes are exaggerated. But they aren't. The writer of Billy Elliot obviously lived close to the miners strike - as I did. From the years of 1977 until my divorce in 1991 I was married to a coal miner. I lived through that time and I had forgotten what that life was like.

It was the orange overalls that did it. Each week I would boil my husband's overalls in my hire purchase automatic. Tiny pieces of coal would get stuck in the rubber of the door. I would hang them out in all weathers just to get them out of the house. often bringing them in frozen from the line, like cardboard cut out. They never really were clean.

I never agreed with the miners strike. I hated all the leaders; MacGaughy, Scargill, Macgregor and of course Thatcher. Not one of them cared what happened to the families.

During the strike we had our rent paid and received a food voucher for the local supermarket. I would go armed with calculator and carefully buy a week's shopping trying to use the whole amount of the voucher. No change was given, no non-groceries were allowed. My blood still ices over with the humiliation suffered at the hands of the checkout girls if you miscalculated and had to decide what to leave out of the basket, while other shoppers looked on.

It was during this time that I learned to economise and have now turned this skill into my How to Survive the Credit Crunch course. The single mothers I teach are fascinated with my hard luck stories.

It wasn't until after the strike that many wives, myself included, found that Social Services were giving cash hand out to the men to help the families. In my case these handouts got no further than the Miners Welfare Club. How did I find out? As soon as the strike ended, Social Services billed us over a thousand pounds, the handouts were in fact loans and had to be paid back. Oh happy times.

There is a nostalgia attached to the demise of the coal industry that I will never understand. It was a terrible way to make a living. I remember my ex husband had pock marks all over his back from falling debris coming off the tunnel roof, the only time it cleared up was during his three week annual holiday. Many men were injured or lost their lives working in unsafe conditions. I admit that the small communities were unique but I don't believe it was only the pits that kept the community spirit alive, the strike shattered communities as is documented in Billy Elliot.

With the right attitudes and the right resources communities can thrive again, they just need another enemy to fight. It would be good, considering the damage the coal carbon omissions make to our world, if their fight is against climate change.

On a brighter note, Billy Elliot is not all doom, the dancing is superb and the young actors are to be admired. And the sight of burly men dancing in tutus over those orange overalls made washing them all those years ago worth while - my ex husband should be spinning in his grave.

Monday, 30 November 2009

The Final Countdown

It is almost finished - I'm almost finished!

My first attempt at the Write a Novel in the Month of November (Nano) has been an experience that I will definitely repeat.

I hadn't contemplated trying Nano until one of my writer Facebook friends suggested this was a great way to clean up lurking WIPs. I have loads of those. I mentioned in a previous post that the Nano novel I am writing is something masquerading as a short story. In that previous post I said I was hand writing the story and would type it up when I had the time. That is still the case, I have continued to write almost every day although I have to admit that I didn't take full advantage of the support offered from the website set up to help all the participants in this challenge.

So how did I fair in this gruelling challenge? It was tough especially because I continued to edit my other WIP novel. I have never written so much in my life before (and my house has never been so dirty). I have over 17,000 words on my hard drive and I calculate another 13,000 in the two note books I filled over the month. I still haven't finished the story even though I know most of the plot.

OK, so it isn't the 50,000 words the challenge set, but 30,000 is still a good shout and I will continue to write the same volume each day and hope to have the first draft finished by Christmas.

This process has been a real revelation to me. I normally take two years to write a first draft and here I am with the potential of a two month draft. I can't wait to start the edits.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

My Silver Darlings

Many years ago, when I was a fledgling writer I took a trip with a Glasgow writing group to Pittenweem in Fife. This was strange for me, being a Fifer who had spent many holidays on this fishing coast, but it was an excuse for a trip back in time and some free time to write. The purpose of the trip was to pick up on any inspiration the Pittenweem Arts Festival had to offer. There was so much on offer that my poor senses were bombarded so I took myself off, on my own, to the harbour wall and the experience of the sea. While I sat on the wall I composed the poem Cut Fingers based on the history of fishermen’s knitting which has long been a passion of mine.

But the poem didn’t tell the whole story. A year later I joined a writing class and wrote a short story using the same title and the same subject. I knew the story idea was good but my writing skills were poor. I put the story in a drawer and bided my time.

Last year The Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) held a competition with a theme of Homecoming. I took the original story, which was written in the third person, and rewrote it entirely, this time in the first person.

The story was commended in the SAW event but has since gone on to win Second Prize in the Bournemouth Short Story Competition 2009.

A good lesson in hoarding.

To read Cut Fingers click here

Seaside Inspiration

While updating the website with some of my more successful pieces of writing, one thing has occurred to me – the sea plays an important part in my writing.

Monday, 16 November 2009

National Novel Writing Month - A good excuse

I always said would never do it, but I have to admit I have succumbed to the National Novel Writing Month (nicknamed Nano). For one month only I am expected to shove all other commitments to the edge of the desk (if I can find it)and write, write, write. The reason I decided to do this was to give myself a break from editing my second novel, The Incomers.

The Mongrel, a short story I wrote about two years ago has been gnawing at my bones. It always was a novel, but being a fantasy story I could never see myself writing it. I reckoned if I could do it in a month then I could purge it from my system once and for all.

I thought the process would be tedious and distracting. It's not. I am hooked.

The website that monitors the project, lays on advice and offers facilities for writing buddies to give encouragement, but I am not into that. Writers are also expected to log their word count as they go on. By the end of November the total words logged should be 50,000. So far I have logged 7500, but these are only the words I have managed to type. I have written many more.

The process I use is to write every morning, at least 6 A5 pages; no editing, no reading back. The plan is to type them up when I have time, but unfortunately I am not good at ditching my other commitments and have lagged behind with the typing. Does it matter? I reckon I have about another 15,000 words hand written in a notebook, which is incredible; I have never written so much in such a short time before. And the story is so alive in my head, I think I might use this method for first draft from now on. This is the third week and I know I will stick in and work with my own wee process. Maybe by the end of next week I will be done with the story.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Blog, Blog, Blog, Blog

I am chilled, I worked hard today and was rewarded with a prize.

Today I was delighted to receive a Lovely Blog Award from my writing friend, Rosemary Gemmell. When I first joined the writing group Erskine Writers, Rosemary was one of the first people there to make me feel welcome. Rosemary is a fine writer of fiction and articles and is tireless in her work; I am always a little in awe of her productivity. Her blog is a tasteful reflection of her gentle personality and a showcase for her writing. I am honoured to receive the award from her.

The rules of the award are that you should:

1) Accept the award, and don’t forget to post a link back to the awarding person.
2) Pass the award on.
3) Notify the award winners.

The two blogs I would like to give the award to are both children of Misha Somerville. I first found Misha's blog Red Light Ray when I bought his exceptional book Bamako Boom Boom and started to learn the whistle. This is a blog that makes me think.

I have now discovered his other blog High-8. High-8 acts as a vicarious feed for my adrenalin need - check it out. It has some stunning photos of Scotland and offers accessible alternative adventure outside of the munro bagging circuit.

There is an uncanny coincidence about the new project I started yesterday for National Novel Writing Month (there - I've announced it, now I'll have to do it)and the High-8 blog. I am writing something set in the future but I wanted some old traditional Gaelic names for my characters, the main character was originally called Solie but I decided, after a read through an old Celtic Review, to change his name to Somhairle, a name I had never heard before. About one hour after making this change I discovered that the co author of High-8 is called Somhairle Macdonald. Spooky eh?

Loch Ossian, a photo stolen from a WIP Lovely Blog

I would have liked to also award the blog prize to Colin for his photography blog but it is in bits at the moment so you will have to settle for one of the photos I stole years ago and have used here and there ever since - he doesn't seem to mind too much.

PS I wish the award had been called something other than Lovely - I hate the word although I have been known to use it occasionally in this blog!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Krakow - The City of Inspiration

The Chess Game - Children of all ages spend a wet Saturday afternoon playing chess in a large shopping mall. Now that was inspiring.
Somehow I can't see that being replicated in Glasgow's Silverburn Centre!

At the risk of being thrown off Blogger by the cliche police I have to report I was stuck in a rut. After a burst of enthusiasm in September, my novel has moved from trundle mode to stutter. I needed a holiday to find some sparks and Krakow in autumn hit the spot.

It was sunny when we arrived but that didn't last long. The clean and adequate Hotel Kazimierz had made the prudent decision that it wasn't cold enough for heating - the room was a little chilly. That first night, as Colin and I sipped our duty free G&Ts, we planned our week. We scanned the many tourist tours on offer and decided they were not for us. The two things I wanted to do was to travel down to the border town of Zakopane and also visit Auschwitz.

Apart from the straight forward journey from Airport to town, I found the train system in Krakow incomprehensible, but the buses had easy to understand and frequent timetables and cheap fares. Because of this we bused it to both our desired destinations.

A direct flight from Edinburgh to Krakow, followed by a two hour bus journey to Zakopane means the town has the potential for a cheap skiing holiday. Unfortunately the day we were there the Tatra mountains hide behind the thick veil of rain, but the town was neat and seemed to have good facilities for walkers and skiers.

The next day we braved the cold sleet to make our way to Auschwitz, which was appropriate weather for such a trip. I have never experienced such a huge sense of bewilderment. As I stood, cold and hungry, on those famous tracks and listened to the Polish guide explain that it was here the new arrivals were split, some to the camp, most to the gas chamber, I swore I would never complain again. Words fail me still.

When I got back to the hotel I went straight into bed to warm myself up, or maybe it was to make myself feel better.

A visit to Auschwitz should be compulsory for everyone in the world. What happened there should never be allowed to happen again.

The weather didn't improve but at least the Hotel put the heating on.

The people of Poland seem to have forgotten how to smile but I liked them for that, when I did get a smile I knew it was genuine.

And the inspiration appeared while I was there. Two poems and one short story tumbled out of nowhere and when I came home my characters were waiting for me with a few surprises.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

What happened to September?

The Month of September

I have not managed to post one entry in September. Where did the month go?

Granted I was on a writing retreat for one of the weeks, finishing off the first draft of novel number two. But that still leaves three weeks.

The preparation and commencement of my two community courses used up a huge chunk of time. The first course, How to Survive The Credit Crunch, I am attempting to deliver to eighteen rowdy young mother's who have, up till now, had few breaks in their lives. They still have to realise that making the right choices and taking control is the key. I hope I can teach them a few useful tips. I would have had more chance to succeed with a smaller class, but it appears to me that funders are more interested in the numbers than the actual results, which is a shocking situation.

The second course is with a small creative writing group I am leading into the varied world of musicals.

I have never written a musical before and neither have they, but they are inspired (and inspiring) and having fun and that's all that matters.

1st October

The first of October arrived early for me with small scratching sounds at 4.30 this morning. At first I thought it was rain, but soon worked out that is was a mouse working its way from the outside wall to the inside wall. Living in the country, we can't keep them out, but I cant remember them arriving this early in the year before.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Country Life

The winners along with a peely wally bottle of Sloe Gin that didn't stand a chance. Now I know.

There are a few drawback to living in the country but not many. I was brought up in a small village in Fife so I embrace country life. When I moved into this area four years ago I was determined to try to join the community. This is hard if, like me, you are not a member of the church or have children at school. The Annual Village Show, is a great way to support your village and see the natives at play.

I have never shown vegetables before but I do know it is a deadly serious business. This was my first year at the show and I treated it as a vegetable reccy. I had however entered into Women's Rural Shows before, so I know the score with jam and scones. I entered seven exhibits into the Preserves and Wine categories. Imagine my surprise when I found I had won two firsts, a second and a third. The locals must have wondered who this incomer was.

I took my time doing the rounds of the vegetable exhibits, noting the style of presentation and the winners' good points. Next year I will enter my vegetables but judging from the monumental size of some of the onion and leek exhibits I doubt if my efforts will raise much excitement among the seasoned winners.

My new raised bed will help my chances at next year's show.
The jungle between the bed and the green house is a crop of sweet corn and butternut squash. They are both first timers in my garden. The sweetcorn is a great success, the butternut squash, I am still waiting to see.

A Lovely Thing

Today while walking home along the West Highland Way I met a young lad of about nineteen or twenty. He wore cheap, obviously new, waterproofs similar to the type I had when I first started walking. He was grinning from ear to ear.
'There's a calf just been born, just back there,' he said in a strong Glasgow accent.
'What a way to start my week's holiday,' he continued before marching off with pride.

His joy was infectious and I hope he sees many more wondrous sights on his way to Fort William.

I walked only a few feet further on and watched the mother finish licking her baby and the little one take its first shoogly steps on this fine earth.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Importance of Being Moira

I did two significant things today.

First I posted off my application for a writer's bursary. If I am lucky enough to be selected for this I will receive money to continue the research for my novel and further the development of my creative writing courses.

The second was to go to Glasgow's Western Infirmary for a chest Xray. My doctor suggested this because she is not happy with my persistent cough. While I was sitting in the waiting room I finished the excellent book, My Year Off by Robert McCrum, which is an honest account of the author's recovery from a stroke he had when he was only forty two years old. This may not have been the best book to read in a hospital waiting room but a loved one recently suffered a similar fate and I wanted to understand the condition.

As I walked out onto Church Street I thought about the fragility of our lives and how, in seconds, our futures can drastically change course. I thought about the possible outcomes of my application and my Xray. One I hope is positive, the other negative, no guesses as to which outcome goes with which event.

Such ponderings could have led to low spirits, but they didn't. They provided me with a startling clarity of what is important in my life. My spirits lifted, I treated myself to a delicious lunch at Peter's Restaurant, Hyndland Street, I tried on expensive dresses I couldn't afford in Hyndland Road and I found and bought the handbag I have been seeking for almost two years. This seems very indulgent and it was, but I also had fun haggling with the fruit seller in Bryes Road and selecting fish for the freezer from the fish monger.

Now I am at home, when I should be somewhere else.

I am sitting in a cosy kitchen, sipping a glass of my home made wine, listening to the radio and admiring the ruby red pots of plum jam and plum compote I have just made for Colin and my lovely family who I am going to visit tomorrow.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A Reflective Post

Enough of gardening, persistent coughs and bad weather. I heard this song on the radio the other day and couldn't believe I had never come across it before. Where have I been?

It is like a musical version of Desiderata by Max Ehrmann which was written almost ninety years ago and runs like this:

"Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass.

Take kindly to the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

But don't forget the sunscreen

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The hills are alive with the sound of coughing

Morning Sun on the Mont Blanc Massif

Relaxed and refreshed after the holiday - No.

Today is the first day since I came home that I have enough energy to post a blog.

I developed a sore throat and cough just before setting off on a trekking holiday which would take us over passes and through the valleys of the Pays de Mont Blanc. What should have been an action filled, spirits lifting, weight dropping fortnight, turned into a barking trudge up hillsides; sometimes to as high as 2500 meters where I would collapse into hacking, gut ripping, coughing fits.

I had looked forward to meeting fellow travellers of different nationalities. But at the end of each day when I wheezed into the refuges, my fellow walkers eyed me with dread, knowing I would keep them off their well earned sleep. I tried in vain to muffle my coughs by burying my head in my sleeping bag, but the only relief I got was the night an elderly man two spaces down kept the whole valley awake with his apnea.

Despite my disability I managed to enjoy the trip. The refuges were clean and the wardens fed us well and soothed my throat with fresh lemon and honey. The mountains and scenery were stunning and the meadow flowers would make Jeremy Clarkson feel guilty about the Mont Blanc Tunnel.

Chamonix in the shadow of the Mont Blanc Summit

Why I Like Chamonix

The big surprise of the holiday was how much I enjoyed visiting Chamonix. My expectations of this tourist trap was of fat hoards splodging about on dog poo covered streets. There are tourists, but they are there for a reason - the mountains.

The hulk of Mont Blanc follows you round every corner of the village. A cool grey glacial river runs between the pristine streets. Everyone looks healthy, there is no smell of chips, no pubs doors decorated with smokers. Beers are served ice cold in small glasses, coffee comes black in even smaller cups and there is not a drop of mayonnaise in sight. Missing is fat men with bellies on proud display, despite the scorching weather. Men and women with defined muscles eat crepes and appropriately dressed salads while they pour over guide books and maps.

Of course there is the climbing poser brigade who jingle jangle off the Aiguille du Midi cable car, exuberant at their morning's climb, but I am assured by Colin that often these poor alpinists just manage to catch a car and may not have time to take the gear off on the way down.

Above the clouds

When we arrived home to Scotland we finished off the holiday with a meal in a local restaurant. We walked along a litter strewn pathway to reach the pub that was bursting with wobbly bellied bodied, glugging down pints and stuffing their faces with grease and sugar laden muck. It's great to be home.

What a difference 14 days makes

My garden was well tended while I was away, but what a sight met me on my return. The New Zealand Flax, which has been cursed as a waste of space by our household's chief grass cutter (not me) has been busy producing flowers. I took this photo last week, I think it has grown another two feet since then. The flowers are burgundy, almost black and the bees and butterflies are having a nectar feeding frenzy; apparently this plant is packed full of the stuff. I wonder if global warming will bring humming birds to Scotland?

New Zealand Flax - The Grass Cutter's Bane

Friday, 3 July 2009

The difference between the English and the Scots is...

While the English commentators were happily comparing Andy Murray's expected win to 1966, we Scots were hiding behind our sofas, scared to look in case our interest might hex the boy and make him lose. Why are we like this? We have had it beaten into us since the cradle - "don't get too big for your boots now!"

Today Andy shook off the national curse, and played his wee heart out. Next year he will win for sure.

More Firsts

Someone asked me the other day if I am still collecting Firsts. In a way I am and always will. One first this week was the harvest of my first time growing beans. They were delicious steamed and served with local venison stew and redcurrant sauce (another first - last years redcurrants were enjoyed by the crows).

Unfortunately my garden is dripping with produce waiting to be picked and I am off on holiday for two weeks. My house sitters and garden waterers will have a great feast while I am way.

Classic moment of the day

Just spotted - a car with driver and passenger who looked as though they had eaten all the pies and were searching for more. Emblazoned on the car side "Want to loose weight? Contact us" I think not!

Friday, 26 June 2009

The Good, The Bad and The Privileged

The story of Molendinar Family Learning Centre.

The Eco Flag flies above flowers donated earlier in the day by a local gardener.

I have been working this year with a group of mothers at the Molindinar Family Centre. The Centre is situated in Blackhill in the East End of Glasgow. Wikipedia describe Blackhill as "developed as a council housing estate in the 1930s. Most of the new development was designated Rehousing, the lowest grade of council housing intended for those cleared from Glasgow's 19th century slums". In the last decade the estate has been rejuvenated and the Molendinar Centre is one of the many success stories of that rejuvenation.

The Centre has a three large nurseries and a parents room. In the past year they have successfully worked for, and been awarded with their Eco Flag. I have been working with the parents to grow vegetables and herbs and the nurseries have been growing flowers. Tyres and boxes have been painted by the parents and a couple of weeks ago we planted them up.

When I arrived last week I found the lot had been vandalised. I was told that some youths had rampaged the outside area and thought it would be fun to destroy this hard work. The children and the mothers had cried when they saw the damage.

The Evening Times reported the incident on Monday. When I arrived yesterday the scene had transformed. Flowers bloomed from every corner of the Centre. Local residents had turned out in force to donate money and flowers to repair the damage.

This is an example of how the actions of a few callous youths can be overturned by the kindness of the community. I have no doubt that community will win in the end.

It has been a privilege for me to work in Blackhill and I am looking forward to working with them again in the future.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Glittering Prizes

The Proof - Monty Halls' Wilderness on the left, the MOD on the right

A visit to Applecross last week was a welcome break. We found a few changes since last there. The pub, always busy, is over stretched with the increase in traffic since the BBC invasion. What hasn't changed is the MOD's proximity to Monty Halls wilderness paradise and the stunning scenery.

We will go back in November for the unedited local weather, a decent seat in the pub and a chance to chat with the locals once they emerge from their summer hideout.

Food Miles

At the beginning of this year I claimed I would reduce my food miles and I now realise that I haven’t reported any of the things I have been doing.

I am lucky to live in Scotland. Here I have almost all I need within our borders. And Europe is so close that I can almost get away with buying the rest from there.

Here is a list of all the things I have changed this year;

All flour from Aberfeldy Mills
All honey from Dalmiur
All eggs local
All cows milk local
All meat local
All fish Scottish (our local butcher sells fish purchased weekly from Pittenweem)

I now buy only Scottish cheddar, soft cheese I make myself but I have still to get into the practice of doing this weekly. Parmesan from Italy.

I try to only buy Scottish fruit and vegetable, preferably from the farmers market. The big exceptions are bananas and lemons, I can’t do without bananas, but I qualify this by buying only Fair Trade – the lemons I’m still working on.

My garden is now beginning to bear produce so I am buying less and less as summer progresses. All my herbs are home grown.

The wine we drink is either home made or French.

One acquisition to the garden is Champion the Bean. The Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow are currently running an exhibition called This Land is your Land. Part of that project is to give plants away to anyone happy to look after them. I took Champion. They also gave me two chilli plants which I called Cayenne and Abel. The bean was unhappy in its pot but is now thriving in a whisky barrel in the company of an Italian bean and a butternut squash.

Champion the Bean on the right of the barrel. The plastic tub is the beer trap I put out to give the slugs a happy time and keep then off the beans.

Glittering Prizes

Congratulation to James Kelman on winning the Scottish Book of the Year for Kieron Smith,boy. I finished the book last night and can confirm it as a worthy winner.

This novel uses a unique voice to chart the life of a small boy through the ages of five to twelve in post war Glasgow. I heard James Kelman discuss the book a couple of months ago where he stated that this is a book for women to discover how fraught with danger a little boy's life is. The story is touching, heroic and funny. It has been described as Kelman's best book yet.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Capercaillie and Cateran

It isn't every weekend that you share a stage with an international supergroup and then follow in the footsteps of marauding clans and cattle thieves. Not to mention the realisations that I am becoming addicted to Britain's Got Talent.

The weekend began at the Fintry Music Festival. The traditional music group I am a member of, Get Reel, was asked a while ago if we could support Capercaille. Unlikely you would think but a fact. Under the able instruction of our tutors Mike (Malinky) Vass and Barry (Spad)Reid we learned three sets to perform. This was our fifteen minute happening.

Karen Matheson passed through our rehearsal area back stage a couple of times and gave us smiles and hellos. I think she probably felt sorry for us as we screeched and droned.
At 8.00pm on Friday night we walked out into the stage in front of the packed hall of Fintry Sports Club and played our wee hearts out. The audience clapped along and gave us a massive applause. The Capercaille show was pretty fine too.

I have heard the bookings are now flooding in.

The Cateran Trail

I found a flyer in a magazine about a new walking trail in Perth and Angus. The circular trail starts and finishes in Blairgowrie. It follows the paths that the Caterans used and takes about five days to complete. Colin and I only had a couple of days so we opted for short sections.

The first section was from Bridge of Cally to Blairgowrie. The track takes a high route over the Cochrage Muir and give the walker wide landscapes of clean ploughed fields and up close and personal access to the many nestling birds in the area. At one point we were surrounded by lapwing mothers flapping over their youngsters, while the fledgling flustered round ground nests wondering what all the fuss was about.

We completed the section in a couple of hours and caught a taxi back to the Bridge of Cally Hotel where we enjoyed a well prepared and presented meal.

The Dalhenzean Lodge B&B, just up the road, was clean, comfortable and gave us the biggest cooked breakfast I have eaten in years. It was just the job to see us off on our next trip.

This time we opted for a variation on the Cateran trail so we could enjoy a circular route. This route took us past Loch Beanie where a fledgling oystercatcher was chirping and birlin in circles like one of those wind up toys you see in Chinese markets, the only difference was this little bird never ran out of spin.

Part of the walk took us on road but it didn't spoil the enjoyment too much. The thousands of lambs we encountered brought back to mind that age old puzzle - Why do such cute lambs turn into ugly sheep? It isn't right somehow.

One lamb made friends with us, I was tempted to stick him in my rucksack but in the end sent him back to his mother.

One lamb trying to make his escape

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Welcome Babey Boy

Yesterday was a big day in my life. A wee babey boy was born at 8.30 in the morning. He is my first grandchild and I am bursting with pride. I was over in Fife yesterday visiting a very tired Mum and Dad and a very contented little boy. I wont say any more otherwise I will turn into a cliche sprouting idiot.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Poor Neglected Blog

The Clutha Vaults - The only place to be seen on a Friday night in Glasgow.

I can't believe it is almost a month since I last created a post. I have been delivering four new courses into the community and the preparation and teaching time have elbowed everything else into the background.

The courses, Excel, Kitchen Gardening X 2 and Creative Writing, are all going well. I am finished with the Excel and one Kitchen Gardening this week and hope this will free up some time to push me out into my own garden and reintroduce myself to my novel.

But it hasn't all been work. Colin won a weekend for two at the Jury's Glasgow Hotel and we thought we would combine it with the Bob Dylan concert.

We came into town on Friday night and had dinner at an old style Glasgow restaurant. It was at one time the place to be seen. We had eaten there before, on Valentine's night, but like all Valentine meals, we were disappointed. This time would be different, I was sure.

But it wasn't. I was served over cooked scallops to start. They were no match for the succulent fresh beasts dished up at the Applecross Inn. There they are so fresh you pass them on the way in still sloshing about in the fisherman's bucket.

The main course of swordfish wasn't too bad, but it wasn't that great either. The most startling thing about the restaurant was the clientele. They all looked like gangsters; old guys trying to impress young straightner-straight-haired women. It was a bizarre experience.

We needed brought back to earth, so we went for a drink in The Scotia Bar, an old Glasgow institution. A live Blues band was belting out many decibels, but a couple of old guys in the corner told me The Clutha Vaults, across the road, was better. And it was. Another live band was playing, this time seventies and eighties rock. Before I knew what was happening I was up on the floor dancing with four women from Pollock. They don't make pubs like that anymore.

After that Saturday night at the SECC could have been a let down, but Sir Bob came up with a show. He played a mixture of old and new material and his band were excellent. I hate Bob Dylan's new staccato singing style, but it was an honour to see what was billed as The Poet Laureate of Rock.

Congratulations to Carol Anne Duffy on becoming the new Poet Laureate. Let's hope she will continue with the excellent work Andrew Motion began with the Poetry Archive.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Chill out time

Eilean Shona - Scotland in miniature

Colin and I have just come back from a week’s holiday on Eilean Shona, a wee island off the west coast of Scotland. The ferry (small rubber dingy) picked us off the mainland at 5.00pm on Saturday, we were walked to our cottage and left to enjoy the peace. We had enough food, drink and books for a week.
Eilean Shona is a sort of mini Scotland. It has some reasonable hills to climb, a diverse international forest, lochs, fine walking, history, wildlife and a fabulous white sandy beach.

The Perfect Red Cottage

The island has a number of holiday cottages. We were staying in Red Cottage which was up a hill on the edge of a forest. There was so much storm damaged dead wood lying around we were encouraged to have a camp fire, which we delighted in doing most evenings.

Afternoon tea at the cottage

Being a mad recycler I was keen to keep the rubbish we produced and left behind to a minimum. The new estate managers, Rose and Ali, had told me that they hoped to create a vegetable garden. I asked if they had a compost heap for my vegetable scrapes, not yet but they had something better. Three pigs who were employed as environmental rotivators, churning up the vegetable patch and grateful for anything you threw at them.

The Three Composters

We failed to see the promised wildlife of pine martin, otter and sea eagle, but we did manage to see deer and grey seals and plenty birds. And we brought some wildlife back with us; the walk to the beach had us wading through some pretty long heather. As a result of this heather bashing both Colin and I have been plucking tics out of our skin ever since. I thought April would have been too early for Scotland’s nasties, but apparently not.

The sun sparkled beach - was it really April? Yes, that's why I still wore my hillwalking boots on the sand

WWF Earth Hour

Just because I was on holiday did not mean I forgot a very important appointment. At 8.30pm on Saturday the 28th of March, Colin and I sat in our wee Red Cottage and watched our wood burning stove glow while we turn off the lights for an hour.

Earth hour - check out how the rest of the country spent the hour

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A funny turn up

Bursting to get out

This is the last week of my two Survive the Credit Crunch courses. I am pleased with the results. In the early weeks, the women I lectured were sceptical and often disagreed with my prattles about budgeting and saving money, but as the weeks progressed I witnessed a shift. Despite their doubts many took on board much of what was being discussed. Hardened cynics who insisted they could never save money, would always take taxis and couldn't live without their tumble dryer, were proud to announce that the bus wasn't so bad and if the weather was good, the washing could dry on the line while they walked to where they needed to be.

Many of the women were already pretty shrewd when it came to household budgets. I learned loads from them and am pleased that I have now been given the opportunity to continue working with one group to take Surviving the Credit Crunch a step further by introducing them to growing their own vegetables. Their enthusiasm for this subject is inspiring. I can't wait to start in April.

Forced into daylight

Talking of Gardening

The March weather has been relatively dry and sunny and has been tempting me into the garden. I have been resisting the urge to plant my potatoes. Many years ago a wise old gentleman gardener, sadly now deceased, told me never to plant potatoes before Good Friday. Taking his advice was always a good bet and I have quite a few wins in the Grand National to prove that.

One thing I did do early on was pop a pot on top of my rhubarb. The result was my first ever forced rhubarb. I stewed the first crop with a lump of fresh ginger and served it with Greek yogurt. Yum.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Monty Halls’ Great big illusion-delusion

Sand Beach on the Applecross Peninsula - like Monty Halls, Colin left the MOD submarine base out of the picture.(photo Colin Baird)

It is no secret that one of my favourite places in the world is Applecross in the North West of Scotland. Colin and I had a house there for four years and know the area well. Imagine our delight on finding a programme made there. We watched it with interest last week and again this week. However after the first week my enjoyment was derived not only from the scenery and seeing old pals but also trying to spot how many distortions the BBC can cram into the show.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the show, Monty Hall has moved to a derelict shed on a deserted beach in the wilderness of Applecross, with the desire to live like a crofter. He was able to entice the local population into helping make the shed habitable, this included a guy who was impossible to get hold of when we were there. What the programme fails to point out is that the beach, Sand, is the busiest beach on the Applecross Peninsula and the ‘remote shed’ is only about 200 metres from a MOD submarine base. Like some alien movie the existence of this base has been evaporated and erased from the world of Monty Halls. Those are the most obvious fibs, there are loads of others. I will never believe another thing on the telly again. The programme is worth watch despite Monty Halls believing real life crofters have solar panels to power their iPods and seems to be incapable of catching mackerel with a full kit of high tech fishing gear. Maybe the friendly locals omitted to mention to him that if he drove his landrover four miles down the road to Toscaig Pier and stood with a rod for a couple of hour he would catch loads of mackerel.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Books for a Better World

Being a writer I have to be careful not to annoy anyone who might help sell my book once it is published. Being a reader I can not help being frustrated by the way a certain online bookseller does its business.

Last year I heard that publishers were being manipulated by this bookseller in the same way large supermarkets treat our farmers. Margins were being squeezed so tight the profit was turning from black to red. One publisher stood their ground and refused to reduce their rates. The consequence was the seller removed the BUY NEW button from their site, denying the publisher the sale.

I was enraged and vowed to use my library more and only buy books from the High Street.

Last week I was looking for a book called The Hidden History of Glasgow's Women by the eminent Elspeth King. I tried the Mitchell Library first but they only had a copy in a secured shelf. I would have to locker my bag and sit in a secure room to read it. No good. They could order it for me, but I might have to wait a while.

Being of an impatient nature I tried both the large High Street bookstores. Despite the shelves heaving with 3 for 2 offers of American and UK easy Lit I found no joy when looking for this influential piece of Glasgow history.

I had no option but to turn to my old pals the second hand online seller ABE Books. This reliable portal site puts the shopper in touch with many seller across the country.

But each time I use this option I am faced with a dilemma. The poor old publisher and author still miss out on the sale but the recycling aspect of it appeals. This time the seller I found gave me added bonuses.

Bonus One. They were based in Dunfermline, my home town. Income for the Fifers!

Bonus Two. They are called Better World Books, an organisation that helps literacy across the world and saves books from landfill sites.

Bonus Three. I found two books I was looking for at a low price and they arrived on my doorstep within two working days of being ordered.

The result.

A Better World 3 - Greed 0

Monday, 9 February 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

The paid work

It has been a while since I last posted a blog but I have a genuine excuse. Before Christmas I punted a couple of ideas round some learning establishments in Glasgow. I had outlines for two courses I thought would be perfect to deliver into the community; A Guide to Successful Living and How to Survive the Credit Crunch. I figured I would have a couple of months’ breathing space to develop the course before anyone organised themselves and booked me. Wrong! A college in North Glasgow booked me to deliver the Credit Crunch course to three separate groups of women. I am now into the fourth week of a ten week course and am just beginning pull the last pieces of the development work together.

The course looks at budgets, debt, money saving tips, smart shopping and even some microwave cooking. It has been a fantastic learning experience for me and I have turned into a fanatic light switcher-offer and standby plug puller.

The novel

If all this teaching isn’t enough to keep me away from my blog I am delighted to report that I still find at least one half day a week to work on my second novel. It can be frustrating to commit to paid work (the course) and to find it is the perfect catalyst for shifting writers block and leaving you yearning to complete the non paid work (the novel). I now miss my main character Ellie when I don’t spend quality time with her in the week. I am halfway through the first draft of the story and want to finish that by July.

The seeds, the seeds

It is seed time again. My carbon footprint project is also ongoing and even though I haven’t spent a huge amount of time on it I do live the ethos daily. One of my main objectives is to step up the food production in the garden. I planted the first of my seeds yesterday and will gradually increase that as the spring arrives.

A new trial for me is using the inside tubes of toilet rolls to make seed pods. I have been collecting them for ages and I am relieved to get them out the way and in use.

You can see the snow in the barrels outside. I hope my November planted garlic will be OK.

Monday, 12 January 2009

A Well Kept Secret

Gartocharn Farmers Market

I heard a rumour that the small village of Gartoharm held a farmers market every Friday. I had passed through the village many times on Fridays and caught no sign of life, but last week I was determined to seek out and find. I drove over at 9.30am. No homemade signs hammered into the verge alerting passers by to this fabled event, nothing. The car in front signalled right and tuned off the main road so I followed. Some police cones lined the pavement, things were looking hopeful. I spotted two elderly men leaving the Village Hall car park carrying shopping bags, but the Village Hall door was open; something was going down in there.

'Where is the farmers market? I shouted out the car at a passing women. She pointed down the road to where droves of people now headed, where did they come from? 'It's just along that lane, follow the crowd.

Result! I parked and headed along a tree lined avenue reminiscent of the boulevards of France. White farm buildings dominated the skyline almost hiding the stunning backdrop of Loch Lomond. Rows of fresh local and imported fruit and vegetables burst from trestle tables. It was indeed just like the French market I stumble upon whenever I visit Paris (but without the fish and cheese). I jostled with the crowds, tripped over pushchairs and rummaged for the best of the fine selection. I loaded my bag with as much as I could carry and went into a shed to pay. Inside the shed there was more to choose from, including at least eight varieties of potatoes.

The other customers greeted each other like old friend and I suspected that the market is not advertised because the locals prefer it that way. Well I am a local too (almost) and I felt privileged to be able to shop here.

I envied the wee woman who trundled her trolley bag back up the avenue. Next week I would be sure to be better prepared.

I didn't have my camera with me on Friday - the craft market is held in the same hall as my Pilate's class

But what was happening in the hall? A weekly craft market, thats what. I enjoyed the luxury of sauntering round the hall, taking a 25p shot at the tombola and not winning, then paying £1.40 for a mug of (not bad) coffee and an indulgent chocolate brownie. I sat and enjoyed the view from the hall window and reflected on life in the country. It is a bit like being thrown into the set of the Archers and realising that it is an enjoyable experience. I can't wait until next week.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Goodbye 2008 - Hello 2009


This Christmas, with the economic recession foremost in all our minds, I decided consumable home made goods would be a good bet as presents. I was a bit worried about the reaction but was amazed that everyone loved the idea and the gifts. The gifts ranged from small goodie bags to large hampers. I filled these with a selection of home made country wines, sloe gin, rowanberry liqueur, ginger wine, chutney, marmalade, pecan and maple tablet, rum and raisin fudge, brandy truffles, shortbread and cake. The best thing about these hampers is that everything in them can be recycled!

Glen Affric - Above the clouds

My year of firsts finished with a visit to a new Hostel just outside Drumnadrochit where I celebrated the arrival of 2009 with friends. The Loch Ness Hostel at Bearnock was luxurious compared to some of the places I have visited in the past. Warm, clean and accessible to the many nearby hills is just what is needed for a winter break.

I have not made a definitive list of first but know that I have surpassed the fifty mark. The highlights for me was my fabulous birthday treat to the Three Chimneys in Skye, the Connect Festival and reading out my poetry in public. It was a memorable way to celebrate my fiftieth birthday year and I know that I will continue to celebrate each new experience in 2009.

A spooky Glen Affric below the clouds


For me every New Year starts with bags of enthusiasm for my over ambitious plans. This year is going to be particularly special for me because I am due to become a grandmother for the first time in May. I also have loads of projects planned.

Here are a few;


I plan to finish my second novel, working title THE OOTLINS. I have been nibbling away at this story for the past year and although I know what needs to be written I find it hard to motivate myself whilst searching for a publisher for my first novel Torque. No more procrastination. The book will be finished this year.

Community Courses

I have recently been developing two courses to deliver into the community. The one that is attracting most interest is Surviving the Credit Crunch for Families. This can be tailored to any group. I use my past life experience of surviving the Miners Strike in 1984 but I also use day to day home crafts and all round canny practices.

The second course is the Guide to Successful Living which covers all aspects of health, wealth and happiness.

To find out more about these courses visit the website at

Carbon Footprint

My personal project for 2009 is to reduce my carbon footprint. Last year I made a good start on this but I think that with all this financial gloom around just now the time is ripe to push further to reduce the air miles on food and live on local produce.

I had a first stab at this yesterday.


As threatened last year I bought a cheese making kit. This first batch of cheese was produced from one litre of locally produced milk. It took ages but it is good fun.