Monday, January 29, 2007

Celtic Connections

I had really hoped to get through to Glasgow to see some of this year's festival, but my son's accident put pay to my hopes as I didn't want to buy tickets that I couldn't use.

But I've been living it vicariously instead, as I watched the Karine Polwart concert on a BBC podcast, and yesterday's Glasgow Herald had a great CD which has tracks from Dick Gaughan, Eddi Reader, Kate Rusby, Idlewild and Mary Chapin Carpenter (MCC) on it. I must admit I'm really sad I didn't get to see MCC, I really love her song writing, but I'll have to console myself with her new album which is out in early March. Roseanne Cash is also playing at CC, and she's someone else I'd love to have seen. And then there's Seth Lakeman, BTW his EP, Seth Lakeman:Live on i-tunes is great value. I really love the White Hare track. Well the list is endless, but no point in being miserable about it, maybe next year........

(Oh and another great buy on i-tunes is the album Indoor Picnic Vol 2, it's a various artists thing, but it has lots of unusual stuff on it by people I've never heard of and again it's at a good price.)

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Rum tee tum: Oh No!

This is a post about the Archers,as I've just finished listening to the Sunday omnibus edition.

I was wondering why they don't give the programme a makeover using that annoying guy who does the Geordie voice-over on Big Brother, his accent's only slightly less believable than Ruth's.

The programme would then go like this:

8.04am, Rooth is in the dairy room, weeping over Clover. David is Noowhere!

12.07pm, Sid is making homophobic remarks in the Pump Room, to Mike and Ed.

13.03pm, Joolene is in the kitchen, where she's woorying aboot her Baked Alaskas

14.07pm, Brian is in the lambing shed, where he seems to be asleep, no doubt dreaming aboot Shivyawn.........

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

my pimped pic

Yay for Debs!!

My friend Debs has just been appointed to a new writer in residence job. I'm not sure how public it is so I won't say where, but she's really excited about it and it will be a perfect fit with her own novel writing. I'm so happy for her and it comes on the back of her husband getting a new, very high-powered directorship, so they're both celebrating. She is a very talented person, not only is she a great writer, David Gemmell was her mentor, she is also very good with IT and she's said that she might be able to help me put together a podcast of Peeling Onions.

Her new book, Swarmthief's Treason comes out this autumn.

Last night I got invited to dinner by the woman who asked me for the large format leek print. The renovations to her house are finished and the picture has been hung in the new kitchen/garden room, above the splendid new range and mantlepiece. I've inserted a quick snap above. I must admit I'm really pleased with this shot. The leeks are monster ones taken at the local horticulural show last year. They were the size of a kitchen table, and the leaves looked like beautiful seaweed. I cross processed the resulting shot. Somehow it seems appropriate that they now hang in a very swish new kitchen. I'm always terrified of commissions, but I love seeing the final results.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Jenni Murray

Good to hear Jenni Murray being interviewed down the phone on Woman's Hour today. She was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Christmas. She's had a mastectomy and has had her first chemo. Like me she seems to have a HER2 neg cancer, which is good as it means it's less aggressive, but it also means they can't treat it with new drug Herceptrin, but that has drawbacks anyway, in relation to heart toxicity etc. She's also has an estrogen positive cancer, which is another good thing as that means there will be a number of drug options to help inhibit that aspect of the cancer. Mine is "ER+" too, and I take Arimidex each day as an adjuvant therapy.

She seems to be blaming HRT for the onset of her cancer, and she may be right, breast cancer cases in the US fell by 7% following the news that HRT increases your risk of breast cancer.( I never took it myself, I was too young, being pre menopausal.)

She has been quite sick with the first chemo, and they need to tweak the anti-sickness meds etc, that often happens as they don't always get the doses right on the first one.

She seems in a hurry to get back to work. I have mixed feelings about that, it wasn't an option for me as I had to do such a lot of chemo, 12 cycles in all, interspersed with radio therapy. I know of some women in the States who worked right through treatment, largely from fear of losing their employment and therefore their medical insurance, but I think if you're in a fight for your life you need to give your body as much rest and TLC as possible so it can get on with fighting the cancer.

I also felt that my illness was telling me to have another look at my life. I had had some form of employment since I was 14, and had worked full time since I was 17, save for 9 month maternity leave, and since my prognosis wasn't good it seemed a good time to stop and try some things that I'd always wanted to do, while I was capab;e of doing them.

I still work, but it's on a voluntary basis and I can do a lot of it from home. I'm also very glad to have been around these last few years to see my son finish school. Indeed, after his accident, these last few weeks would have been a nightmare if I'd still been working, as I was often out the door at 6 in the morning to catch a train to Glasgow or wherever.

I think it's wonderful if you love your job, but if you don't then it's the ideal time to take stock of your life, as cancer teaches you that delayed gratification is not all it's cracked up to be!

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Small World

My lens has arrived, and I love it already. This is a shot at F4, the out of the box aperture setting, you have to change the aperture discs manually. But it is such fun, what with the funny bellows, and the quirky manual focusing. This was just hand held, as I was out with dogs. It would be fantastic with macro filter added and taken on a rock solid tripod.

My somebody

We all need a somebody. This is Robert Burn's yearning poem, it's a bit romantic, but then so am I. It's Burns' birthday, I hope your haggis, tatties and neeps slip down a treat. McSweens of Edinburgh make the best haggis without a shadow of doubt.

My heart is sair - I dare na tell,
My heart is sair for Somebody;
I could wake a winter night
For the sake o' Somebody.
O-hon! for Somebody!
O-hey! for Somebody!
I could range the world around,
For the sake o' Somebody.

Ye Powers that smile on virtuous love,
O, sweetly smile on Somebody!
Frae ilka danger keep him free,
And send me safe my Somebody!
O-hon! for Somebody!
O-hey! for Somebody!
I wad do-what wad I not?
For the sake o'somebody

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Write Here Right Now

I've signed up for this BBC Radio Scotland project. This is the gist of it:

"Starting on the 1st of February we will be sending out a daily email full of tips and advice from some of Scotland's best known writers. They'll be popping into your inbox, hopefully before you start writing each day, and they'll be packed full of practical, encouraging advice on everything you need to keep on track.

This year we've chosen a theme for WHRN - Love and Romance. Our advice will be tailored to help you writing a romance (though lots of the tips will be useful even if romance isn't your thing) and there will be plenty of pointers on plot, pacing, and motivation to help you on track writing 1000 words a day.

Those of you who took part in Write Here Right Now in 2006 will know what to expect- though there will be a few surprises for you too."

You can sign up for it even if you're live abroad, so some of my regular visitors may be interested in it, especially Pat. I've already written 30,000 words but I want to print it all off in hard copy, and then regroup and get going again. We've had chicklit, now it's time for boilerfiction ;)! My theory being that with a good bouquet garni you can make anything taste good.

If you want to sign up for the project see here


Yesterday I dragged the propagator out of the shed and cleaned it up and brought it inside - one major regret is that I didn't put mains power into my greenhouse - and I've planted some tomato and pepper seeds. The tomatoes are very mixed, everything from a tiny grape form to big beef steak ones. The peppers are a sweet variety that did really well last year, probably due to the hot summer. Peppers like a big root run so I finally pot them into tomato pots, which are really deep and they seem to do well. Ideally they should go into the greenhouse border, but there's never room.
I also sowed a few hardy perennials for the garden - not sure if the seed will be viable as it came from a seed exchange and has been kicking around for a while.but I'll see what happens. BTW if you love hardy perennials then join the Hardy Plants Society. Their end of year seed exchange is fantastic.

I also had my piano lesson last night, and the lay-off has not helped my playing. I'm really not cut out to be a musician, and progress is very slow, but I do think it helps to keep challenging the mind with new things. I'm just not sure my teacher would agree with me! (We do an exchange on the lesson, which is just once a fortnight, I help her in her garden, at the moment we're planting wall trained fruit trees, training them, tying them in and pruning them.)Last night her partner gave me a gift pack of basil seed, as she'd got two and one was more than enough. So later in the year I'll sow Greek, cinnamon, Thai and lemon basil. Can't wait to make fresh pesto!

And my lens is here, but I need to pick it up from the depot. I hope to get it tomorrow - I'm excited as it means it's here in time for snowdrop shots.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


That smug wifie on the programme that has replaced John Peel on a Saturday morning mentioned this, and said she couldn't find it on the net. I like a challenge, so I went looking. But please don't look if you're about to eat, or indeed if you are actually eating.

This crew are based in NY and they call themselves, surprisingly enough, the "Sprinkle Brigade".They go about pulling stunts with dog poo, which they then photograph/film.

I'm glad I found the website because it has dampened the odd yen I felt to grab my camera and go and buy a tub of sprinkles, I mean hundreds and thousands (a much better name IMHO).

Their website is here and they have video, blech!!!!

On Saturday there was quite a good discussion on the radio about cleaning up after dogs and how it all goes into plastic bags and then landfill, where it won't rot down due to the plastic. But I turned it off as my bacon sarnie was rapidly losing its appeal.

A disgusting subject I know, but a mere mention of sprinkles gets me interested every time - just don't tell my husband ;)!

Maybe Bush should add some sprinkles to his speech tonight, they might make it a little more palatable, and a few sprinkles on the next credit card bill would sugar- coat it a little.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Normality returns

Really loved seeing my son go off to school this morning. Not sure he shared my enthusiasm, but even so a good dose of normality is very welcome.

I'm listening to some excellent radio while putting the house to rights. Start the Week was really good this morning, they spoke about Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, and the new O'Toole film "Venus" (Venus Synopsis: Will follow a seasoned if unsuccessful thesps in their 70s who are forced to re-evaluate their lives after the introduction of an inquisitive young woman.) It was wonderful to listen to a discussion on issues affecting people over 50! They also did a piece on the Paris Review, an American literary magazine. It specialises in the literary interview. A friend in NY did a year's internship with them and really enjoyed her time there. She sent me one of their T-shirts. I must remember to wear it to my poetry class sometime!

Now I'm happily listening to Andy Murray doing reasonably well against Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open, although he's at a rocky point in the second set, having taken the first, after being a set point down. I just hope I'm not my usual kiss of death! He'll do well to live with Nadal over 4 or 5 sets.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bit Queasy

Like the rest of the nation I watched the Big Brother expulsion last night and it left me feeling a bit queasy. I think it was just the sheer weight of attention the whole thing is getting while the rest of the world goes on.

It got me wondering whether this thing just fascinate people because they can participate in the outcome? Is everything else just too complicated and removed from their sphere of influence for them to be bovvered any more?

Maybe we should reduce everything to a public text vote!


"Should interest rates go up a further quarter percent?" Text your answer to The Gov/Gordon of India at 11Down.

"Should lovely Mrs Joe Bloggs get Herceptrin to help her fight breast cancer?" Text Not Really NICE on 999.

"Should Tony Blair sling his hook sooner rather than later?" Text OftPM asap.(BTW the photo is from the G8 summit in Edinburgh)

On a sadder note one of the women who helped me do the show for the book is now in hospital having just been diagnosed with cancer. It seems they've found secondaries on her lung and she's undergoing tests to establish the primary site. I hope to speak to her on Monday and see what support I can offer. Her family all live a long way away.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Yucky Day

Wet, cold and miserable here. I spent the morning in the kitchen, made pumpkin soup, with a little chilli for heat, and minced lamb, with aubergine, onion, tomatoes and cumin for dinner.

Son is up and about, and his eye is looking good. Yesterday he had a low grade headache, and we worried that his eye pressure was up again, but his headache passed and he was fine. (Think he skipped breakfast, and that wouldn't have helped.) It's hard to get things back into balance again after suh a scare.

Nothing to photograph outside, so I brought in some of the skeletons of my Chinese lanterns to photograph on the table. This is one of the shots. Not entirely happy with it, tiny things matter in such close-up shots.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Christmas present to self

I decided to get my own Christmas present this year, and it's on its way. A Lensbaby 3G

It's a quirky wee lens with a sweet spot that throws everything surrounding it into a blur. It's not easy to use, all the focusing is manual, but I'm looking forward to getting some really different shots with it. I got the macro kit too,so it's a birthday cum Christmas present, and they are the best kind! It feels like a bright spot, something to look forward to.

I'm spring cleaning my hard drives, burning old files to CD and then deleting them. Doing a few folders each morning, and it feels very righteous.

I laughed today hearing the Helen Mirren has scooped Golden Globes for playing the Queen, apparently the Daily Mail has a cartoon of the Queen on the phone saying, "They're making a film about Helen Mirren and they want me to play her...."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Better Day

Just back from Outpatients with my son. His eye is looking good, the clots around the rim of his iris are disappearing, which means they're being reabsorbed and the eye is draining. And the pressure in that eye is now below his good one, so they've cut the steroid drops back, as he needs to be tapered off them, but not too quickly. His pupil is still fixed and dilated, but apparantely it is like a muscle and may take up to six months to recover from the blow it suffered during the accident, and if it doesn't he can wear an adapted contact which will give him a normal sized pupil - sometimes a dilated pupil can let too much light on the back of the eye, causing headaches.

He still has a stitch in the eye, but she's leaving that for a bit yet. So he can go back to school on Monday, provided he avoids being jostled in the corridors, and we go back to the hospital again in two weeks. I'm so grateful to the skill of the consultant, as a good outcome now will reduce the risk of complications later on.

His school work is obviously suffering, but I've spoke to his registration teacher, and she's gathering up notes for hiom from all his subject teachers and I've scoured the net and managed to find and downloaded the Spark Notes on the Heart of Darkness for him on i-tunes. He'll be able to listen to them on his i-pod rather than reading through masses of notes. Changed days since I did my Higher English!

And I must be on a wee bit of a roll as I got a placing in a short story competition on this blog
Mine is here, "Off the Grid".

On the photographic contest I may even get to spend a day with the professional wlidlife photographer who judged it. Not sure yet though as the blurb wasn't specific about the prizes in each category. I won the landscape.

Off now to walk the dog and get my haircut, and after that I may feel almost human again.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Cracks in the pavement

My son is doing better, and I'm therefore feeling slightly less superstitious about things. I remember discussing why I'd become quite so superstitious with the psychologist I worked with following my cancer diagnosis. She attributed it to understandably falling back on the darkest, and most primeval of human fears. But I think Scots just have a greater facility to be pessimistic,superstitious and miserable, as in sad, than most.

Just listen to Annie Lennox singing the Saddest Song I've Got from the album Bare. She's a woman who understands the cracks in pavement thing.

A friend bought me
Don Paterson's "The Book of Shadows" for Christmas, see even that's a very Scottish thing to do! And I've been dipping into it as I've sat in waiting rooms, and beside hospital beds this last week.

I really like this, "Late winter thaw. The poor Earth and its cheap green coat, its thin brown shirt and shivering heart...Ach! What a talent the Scots have. We could pity the universe!"

See what I mean? A cheerful nation wouldn't write something like that, and yet we'd all be all the poorer for it.

The picture is of Chief Vitalstatistix in Asterix the Gaul. He's my favourite cartoon character, because the only thing he's afraid of is the sky falling on his head. But then he's a Celt too............

PS here's a link to one of Paterson's award winning Landing Light poems

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Crazy few days

My son's eye problems took a turn for the worse in the early hours of Wednesday. He was readmitted to hospital and had to have emergency surgery to hoover out the debris left by the bleed, as it was more than the eye's own drainage system could cope with. He was in a lot of pain, and was very sick, due to high pressure that the blocked drainage was causing. It was very distressing for him, and for us, his parents, to watch.

Seeing him go off to theatre yesterday afternoon was the most gut-wrenching thing I've experienced. My son has always had the most beautiful blue eyes and
I kept thinking of the Plath line I posted from the poem Child, "Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing."

He's now resting in hospital, and feeling a lot better, but it's early days and I will not tempt the Gods of Irony further by saying more.

We've had a violent storm here over night which has ripped a few slates of our roof, so we have a bucket in situ up in the loft until it's safe for the slater to go up there.

Only good news is that my popular stock shot has also won a local landscape photography competition. They left a message on my machine, details of the presentation are to follow.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Got my boy home

He's still on complete bedrest, but at least he's at home. I'm putting a battery of drops into his eye throughout the day to keep te pressure down. With the injury he sustained there's a risk over the next few days of a further bleed, so fingers crossed please.

He can't see very well out of the eye, but that is largely due to the debris left behind by the bleed, which is gradually draining away. He has this weird tidemark across his eye, below which is the settled blood.He's very tired too, as he hardly slept in hospital.

We go back on Friday to see what's what.

So glad the sports centre manager took him straight to the Eye Pavilion, I think it must have helped. The medical care was good, but the building had a temporary run-down feel to it. Plus most of the nursing night shift were from an agency and their English wasn't great, one told me my son might get home "yesterday", she meant tomorrow. Plus the ward got closed as the bathrooms needed work, they were very basic and clapped out, so everyone was moved up two floors!

I had no complaints over my own treatment, but eye care seems to be a pretty poor relation to cancer care in terms of the actual buildings/estate.

This is yet another reminder, if we needed one, that life can change very quickly indeed.

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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Never rains etc

Sorry I'll be missing for a bit. My son had a sporting accident on Friday, took a soccer ball square in the eye, and this has caused a bleed inside the eyeball, so he's in hospital were they're treating him for raised eye pressure and trying to drain the bleed. Not sure what it all means yet, but needless to say my husband and I are pretty frantic.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

So you think January sucks?

Julia was very kind to me when I was first diagnosed with cancer, her initial treatment was similar to mine, and she helped take some of the fear of having a mastectomy away.

Sadly her cancer has now spread to her brain and she has a host of other complications.
But she keeps going, here's a typical post from her:

I hate all the fight shite cliches that are used about cancer, but this is quiet and dignified courage.


No don't run away I'm not going all lentil soup on you! But I've seen and heard the organisation Sustain on two occasions in the last few days and they are extremely impressive, and, God help us all, they actually talk a lot common sense.

The first time I caught their Ms Dalmeny on the C4 news speaking very well about how crazy it is to let our own farming go to the wall in a world that is trying to tackle climate change. She was of course making the vaild point about food miles. She added that we need to grow sustainable food, i.e. local, seasonal,and probably organic, not subsidised crops that nobody wants. It would also seem to make sense to grow food rather than just pay farmers to grow hedges and set aside fields.

The second item I heard was their piece on bottle water, and I'm as guilty as the next person of buying it now and again. Although we do drink tap water at home. Again in a world where we need to cut carbon emissions bottled water, however sustainable and however recycleable the bottles are, is probably a luxury we can't afford. (Here's the food miles on several brands:"For example, eponymous Fiji water from 10,000 miles (16,000 km) away, Naya water from Quebec, Canada (3,000 miles/5,000km) and Elmas water from Turkey (1,500 miles/2,500km). All samples bought in London supermarkets in 2006." Source, ha ha, Sustain press release.)

Sadly Scottish tennis pro Andy Murray has just signed a million pound sponsorship deal with Highland Spring. I wonder if the ethical argument was put to him, mind you a tennis pro must have the carbon foot print of a mammoth, so I doubt he'd care.

Here's their press release on the water issue.

I find Sustain refreshingly good. Their arguements are well researched, sensible and very well presented.
Their aims are here.

Only our buying power is going to change things in this globalised world. If you won't buy it they can't flog it! And yes I know food politics is huge, I've been involved in enough projects on eating well on a low income to know that, but we have to start somewhere. Eg in this we town Tescos is situated literally round the corner from me (built is a former orchard I hasten to add, they kept the walls and grubbed up the trees for a car park)but if you were to use their home delivery service your order will come from a bigger Tesocs 15 miles away. How do I know this? Cos my "time-poor" neighbour uses the service, that's how. It would be really great if someone made a video diary of how far say a brussel sprout has travelled to get on our plate, or even better a Kenyan runner bean. There was a case recently of prawns being caught off Scotland, and then being shipped to Thailand for cleaning and processing, and then being sent back to the UK for consumption.Presumably because labour is so much cheaper there. The article is here.The world is truly bonkers!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Stock shot

Don't know why this should be, but this shot is rapidly becoming my most successful micro stock picture ever. I think it may be because it allows designers lots of options to place copy in the foreground, while keeping the detail of the trees round the frame.

I took it on a really foggy day up in the hills. I got really low, which my back let me know about and used the tripod almost at road level. It was actually rather spooky up there, and the drive home was a white knuckle ride due to sheep playing chicken in the mist!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Balderdash and Piffle

"Hit BBC2 series Balderdash & Piffle returns this spring with Victoria Coren back at the helm and a new set of intriguing word mysteries from the Oxford English Dictionary, which aims to be the definitive record of the English language."

This programme seeks to establish when, where and how certain phrases entered the English langauge.

A full list of the phrases they're investigating this series can be found

I love British English, it's just so adaptable and humorous. This morning on the radio they said the last series had proved that "Ploughman's Lunch" isn't some Ye Olde English
phrase - no it was invented by the then Milk Marketing Board at a meeting in the 1970s to flog more cheese! Now that's marketing genuis.

This year's list includes the "dog's bollocks" which I think is a fantastic phrase for saying something/one is great, much earthier than the prissy "cat's whiskers"

And we have another reason to be proud today, a 14 year old Brit is about to complete a solo crossing of the Atlantic. Apparantely his Dad has sailed 1 mile behind him all the way across - if he's anything like my son that will be to ensure he actually gets up in the morning! More info here:

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Roses in December

In the last few days some of my Buff Beauty roses have stuck their ivory heads above the parapet of winter. They've paid for it. It is really worrying to see so many plants dissipating their energies in this weird new world.

Roses In December

A run of mild days and frost free nights
has tempted premature buds to appear

on bare, high-wire briars. But tonight
the mercury’s set to plummet,

and by morning they’ll be no more
than bruised and bitter tissue-paper crones.

Winter's moving with the times, becoming volatile and fickle,
with an appetite for random acts of cruelty.

Plath:Collected Poems

My husband bought me this for Christmas. It's the most complete collection of her poems ever assembled.

I already have the Ariel Restored Edition, and I've found it devastating to read and to see how she was honing herself into this arrow that is set to leave all behind her, including her children.

One of my many plans is to scan all the drafts into the pc and then line them side by side to visually see the development of the poem. (But I may just stick them up on the wall instead.)

The Collected Poems book goes from the late 1950s right through to her death, and interestingly also includes a set of early poems in a section called "Juvenilia" from her time at university in the States. The growth she made in her short life is just astounding.

This may sound crass but I really wish there had been modern anti-depressants available back then and perhaps more recognition of the symptoms of post natal depression, as it might just have saved her life.

The poems are wonderful, though at times I feel a bit like a voyeur. But it's not all doom and gloom, Balloons is funny and sad all at the same time, and Child is so touching:

"Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new"

I'm also struck by her fantastic ability to capture nature,and I especially like the bee poems. We have a hive in the "big garden" and I've been guilty of taking the lid off and photographing the organised chaos inside - without smoke or special clothing I might add. She exactly captures everything about a hive and bees, especially the sound.

Here's an interview she did in 1962, the year before she died
where she mentions liking the woman who taught her about bees more than most poets. She said she liked people with practical skills. I do too, my biggest hero as a child was the man who taught me to tie fishing flies, he had hands like hams and the patience of a saint.

Anyway lots to savour.

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