Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Light nights

This was one of the sunsets while I was up north.It is in Collieston, and the sun is setting behind the tiny church, with the bell tower silhouetted against the sky.

Beth and I would eat dinner and then go for a walk till about 11pm. Barbara was more sensible, after days spent deadheading thousands of roses she put her feet up and drank wine.

What governs your writing

Rob is posing this question over on his blog. This is how he puts it.

"What poem, or lines from a poem, governs ('informs' might be a better word) what you write?

What I mean is – if you were asked to quote from a poem (or from a piece of prose) to express what writing poetry means to you, or what you wanted to achieve by writing, what lines would you choose?"

I'd choose these lines by Cavafy from Ithaca, which I've posted before.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithaca means.

I'd choose these words because post cancer I think I'm starting to grasp what life is all about, that it is finite and precious and more importantly that you are where you are, and much of that has to do with the choices you have made along the way. And I'm interested in writing about the notion of time, and about loss, and about being at ease in your own skin.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Jason/Clarity of Night's Competition

There's still time to enter, you must write something not exceeding 250 words inspired by the photograph he's displaying. Look here

I've put an entry in and this time I've tried writing a wee bit of fantasy, as my friend Debs is always trying to get me to have a go at it. The piece is based on rowan trees, as they were thought to have magical powers, and they have actually been used in water-divining.

I've always loved them as a tree, and the place I wrote the haiban about has some lovely ones, so I got to thinking about some ancient wooded world, where maybe they were sacred.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Yay, my shot got featured! (this isn't it, keeping it special ;))

Yes! My photograph made the Glasgow Herald special coastal supplement today and they gave it almost a full page. There's a great mix of things, and as to be expected some beautiful shots of the north and the west coast of Scotland. The exhibition goes to the National Trust HQ, then the Scottish Parliament, then dots all the way round the coast, including going over to Lewis, Orkney annd Shetland. Lovely to think of my photograph stopping off in some place I've not made it to myself.

Spent the morning summer (ha ha) pruning my friend Mary's espalier and fan fruit trees. Lots of finnicky tying in and putting in new stronger canes etc. My ribs held up well, so hopefully I'm on the mend.

Off to walk the dogs, my dog G has company today. Then I want to try and write something for Jason's competition, if I get the time.

BTW this isn't the shot, but I like the winter sun on the grass in this.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Ugh my back is still giving me problems. Well more precisely I've got a pain over my ribs on my bad side. Yesterday it was quite scary as it is easy to break/pop a rib after having had radiotherapy, as they become much more brittle, so I wasn't sure what the pain was. I put up with it all day until the evening when it was really getting me down and I went to bed. Anyway some rest and ibuprofen has reduced it to a niggle, so I suspect it is muscular and maybe coming from my back. I've done some gentle stretches, which I've been neglecting to do recently, and that has helped a little. I just hate having to slow down as it feels like such a waste of time.

But there was a silver lining to going to bed early as I read Wildwood by Roger Deakin, which the lovely Amazon delivered to my door yesterday on the strength of my gift voucher from the Shameless competition.

Anyway the book itself is a thing of beauty, it's in hardback and has a lovely, almost 1930s, tree motif on the cover and there is so much more of it than the abridged radio version.

I'm torn between rattling through it from start to finish or dipping in to bits I fancy, it's a bit like having a two layered box of chocolates.

I'm reading his piece on moths, and they are just such fantastic creatures, and the common English names for our native species are wonderful, in fact there must be a poem in them,eg -: willow beauty, the dingy footman, the clouded silver, the flame shoulder, the smoky angle shades, the dew moth, the privet hawk moth, the green carpet,the iron prominent, the uncertain (my personal favourite) and last but not least the anomalous (my second favourite).

You can tell I'm in love, and Deakin mentions a friend in the Dordogne finding moths all over her white-washed walls on a summer evening as though they were a collection of brooches. What a great picture that conjures up!

The Greek for moth is psyche, the same word as for the soul.

I found this site: ukmoths.org.uk

Look at this emperor moth, it's just stunning.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Finally sunshine

Although it's not meant to last, but last night I stayed out until sunset with the camera. Got eaten by midges, but got a few nice shots, especially this one of a local pond, last rays on the sun hitting the reeds.

The Herald supplement will be this Saturday, but they're not featuring every shot so mine may not make it. But I've learned there are 36 shots in the exhibition, from 900 entries, so I didn't do too badly. Dates and venues are to follow.

Also trying to write some things for our writers' group annual competition. Editing and editing, and still not sure if I'm getting there. You're only allowed one piece of prose and one poem, so a lot rides on what you decide to submit. Also got a reading at the Book Festival with the Poetry Pamphlet group. Trying to decide what to read, although a friend has offered to give me a one to one coaching session, so that should help. Have to do a bit of Peeling Onions, plus I want to do the new poem about the 5 years out photograph, and some other bits to lighten it up.

Off to grab some more sunshine/cut the grass while the going is good.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Wet, Wet ,WWWWWeeeeeeeetttttttttttttttttttttt

I want to be like Liza Minnelli/Sally Bowles in Cabaret and find a railway arch, run under it,wait for a train and then just scream very loudly at how sick I am of being wet!

I saw a weather forecast last night that said the system that was soaking the UK had clouds thirty thousand feet thick - no wonder I feel like I'm being smothered.

We're lucky in that we're not a risk of being flooded, although we did experience it years ago in our old house - we had to run in the night with what we could carry -which included our eighteen month old son who we plucked sound as a pound from his cot. It was terrifying and the morning after was even worse when we saw what the river and the drains had done to the house. We were out of our home for eight months while it was repaired, and looking after a building site, while working and living in temporary accommodation, with a young child is not recommended.

So my sympathies go out to everyone affected, from the news it looks like Severn upon Upton would be a more accurate name for that poor unfortunate town.

And the garden is just crazy, last year I toyed with replanting for drought as things that appreciated moderate rainfall toiled in the hot dry conditions, now they are bouncing with life, things like astilbes, and small flowered species fuchsias.

So it's hard to know what to grow, apart from rice maybe.

But I'm delighted to note my tiny wild orchid had flowered again, in amongst a pot of yellow loosestrife which is growing in the horse-trough. I can't identify it as there are about 60 species of wild orchid in Britain, and the differences between some are infinitesimal.

This is a photo of some giant hogweed caught in rising waters of the local river, shows just how tough it is to take that sort of pressure on its stem.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Catching up

Well my FIL has gone home. It is hard to see him go, I wish we lived nearer and could do more for him. Last night we went out for dinner, my husband, son, FIL and me and it was lovely to see the three generations together. My FIL was younger than my husband is now when I first met him. Sometimes it is almost like seeing the one man at three different stages in life.

My back is killing me, to the extent I got up last night and took a pain killer. I think I overdid the gardening, and I just hope it settles down soon as it in quite limiting. Just sciatica I think, but there's always that niggling fear when pain persists.

I've written a couple of poems from my trip, but they are still pretty rough. One is about dead-heading roses in the walled garden. It is the sort of job that lets your mind ramble all over the place.

Pat kindly named me as one of her " five dear bloggers whom, when you reflect upon them, you are filled with a sense of pride and joy...of knowing them and being blessed by them.”

I was really touched by this, and I've thought about whether I want to do it too, but to do it properly I'd have to do a lot more than five.

But I'll briefly say thank you to the following folks:

Colin Will for encouraging me in my writing. He is a rare person who does a lot of unsung work to make life interesting and enjoyable for others.

Pat herself, I like people who keep on trying new things, and Pat is one of them. She embraces change and new technology and uses it to enhance her life and to share her great past experiences with us.

F:lux, because she is striving for excellence in what she does, and she's also continually questioning what her medium, photography, is all about.

Barbara, because she is a warm open person, who manages to look after six children, work and write all with great art and skill.

Savannah, because the other day she admitted to being lonely in the wee small hours, and that takes a special kind of courage - especially when you make an effort to make the following day feel like a better one.

And lastly and not least my friend Joanne, who is teaching me how to leave this life and those you love with quiet dignity, thoughtfulness and courage.

This is a photograph I took of my friend up north's lovely collie.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Our Writers Group is featured on this podcast. I have a couple of poems on it, though I sound about 5 years old.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hi Honey, I'm home!

Well I had a wonderful few days. We packed so much in I feel I've been away forever.
And my two friends, who hadn't met each other before, got on really well, which is always nice to see.

I haven't laughed out loud to the point of crying for in quite a while, so that alone made the trip feel like a fantastic tonic. We had lots of running gags going on, not least Barbara putting a six pack of beer in the freezer and forgetting it until it was a frozen, fizzing, spitting bomb. And the old lady across the street kept watching us from her window with great suspicion, while appearing to smoke a massive spliff.

We worked hard and played hard and the garden open day on Sunday was blessed with perfect weather and big crowds. We ran the PGG, the Professional Gardeners Guild, plant sale and I got some great material for poems and stories just from all the customers we met - including a former boss of mine from way back. Just shows you what a small world it is. The head gardener gave us lots of goodies to bring home and I've just spent the morning planting some of them and planning where else to put the rest.

I took a lot of pictures, but as I shoot in RAW format I have a big editing job ahead of me.
So this is one picture of Culross, a place Beth and I visited on the way north.
It was the site of one of Scotland's first coal barons from the 16th century, this was his kitchen garden.

On the way home we visited Louis Grassic Gibbon museum on the Howe of the Mearns, and now I want to read Sunset Song again. Here are few lines of his that I jotted in my notebook:

"We talked the moon into morning"

"the next you'd waken with the peewits (lapwings) crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying into the heart of you and the smell of the earth in your face, almost you'd cry for that - the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies........"

Such fantastic language by a man dead at thirty three.

And then I came home to the wonderful surprise that I got placed in Shameless Lions Writing Circle Awards. I'm really thrilled, as I know there are a lot of first rate writers in the circle, and to be honest I feel a bit of fraud even trying to compete with you. So a big thank you to Shameless for all his hard work in organising it and to everyone who voted for me, you've no idea what a boost it is to my confidence.
And congrats to Kay at asithappens for her well deserved placings.

And now I'll proudly display my certificates, although I won't put them in the sidebar as I always mess up the html margins when I do!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Offski for a few days

Going up north to do a few days volunteeering with the National Trust for Scotland. Working in the grounds of a castle in Aberdeenshire. A gardening friend from Skye is meeting me up there, and a local friend is travelling with me. It should be fun as there's a plant sale on Sunday.

Packing my midge cream, sleeping bag, boots and socks, waterproofs and charging camera batteries etc. Never easy to travel light in Scotland when one weekend can present every possible weather combination. But it will still be light until around 11pm, so provided we're not too knackered after a day's gardening we may get some nice walks in.

Hope you all have a good few days - I'll catch up with you all next week.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Scottish humour in the face of terror

The Glasgow attack and the floods besetting the North of England are spawning some great gags/stories up here in the soggy north.

Two old ladies from Houston Renfrewshire, where the two suspects rented a house had this conversation,

"What's going on here?"

"They've discovered the two suicide bombers were living in Houston!"

"Surely not? After all this is a conservation area!"

Excellent ladies! And you'll have had your tea no doubt?

Meanwhile other wags have suggested that floods in Doncaster will finally allow the poor buggers who won speedboats years ago on Jim Bowen's Bullseye to finally put them to good use - looting!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Lay my head down

Absolutely love this Indigo Girls song

I like this part the best.

But some plan for the kingdom of heaven
And some take their chances and bet lucky seven
I don't know what to believe I just show up and breathe anymore.

It's funny how certain lines of songs stick, or speak to you. That's why I liked Ricky Gervais Desert Island Discs so much as he goes more for song lyrics rather than the tune. I've been trying to compile a list of lines from songs that I like, as it would be quite interesting to see if a theme\themes emerge(s). "Flakes" and "fragments" seem to catch my attention a lot, so perhaps fleeting things have always appealed to me.

Friday, July 06, 2007

one size fits all

Thanks for the comments on the draft poems. I'll work on them a wee bit more and hopefully use them for something, so I'll pull them from here. Thanks again.

The Apprentice meets the Queen

Yes, I got presented to the Queen today. Sorry no pictures, the only cameras allowed were the official press photographers. We may get one of the trust members with the Queen from the AP photographer in due course.

You only shake Her Majesty's hand if it is offered and then you do a wee bob and say, "How do you do Ma'am". The Queen is tiny, I'm 5' 4'', but she must now be all of 5ft.

One of my fellow trustees, M. who is Irish, captured the experience brilliantly when she said to me, "As my mother would say, "Now, doesn't she just look like herself?" "

And that absolutely nails how you feel/react to being in front of that iconic face. It was wet so she had a wee beige cape over her pink suit, the usual Mad Hatter's Tea Party hat and a big see-through umbrella which was edged in pink.

My son was acting as gate-keeper, he looks after the garden gates on the weekends, and he got to talk to all the security officers with their headsets and bulges under their jackets. He was letting the Queen and her party into the garden from the adjacent church of St Mary's.

Other news is that I entered a competition run by SCAPE,on coastal erosion,and while I didn't win my shot's been selected to be included in a nationwide tour of Scottish galleries, including being hung in the Scottish Parliament for a while, and possibly featured in a national newspaper supplement.

This is one I took for the competition, but it wasn't my final entry, which I'm now not allowed to reproduce until the exhibition is launched.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Wonderful, Alan Johnston is free

I heard this happen live on the World Service, while I coughed and spluttered last night. I'm so happy for his parents, family and friends. I hope he gets home to Argyll soon for a well deserved rest.

Full story here

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Cat Stevens

Everyone is playing him again. Ricky Gervais picked him on Desert Island Discs and he provides the theme tune to that newly returned Joanna Lumley programme.
I used to adore him, and I've been playing all my old vinyl as I rot on the sofa trying to shake off this cold/hacking cough/feeling of complete exhaustion. Hopfully I'll be a hard-headed woman again soon.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Wildwood, a wonderful book

Wildwood:A Journey Through Trees by the late, great Roger Deakin. This book was serialised by BBC Radio 4 two weeks ago, and was reviewed extensively this weekend.

Deakin's forays into woods in England and abroad are fabulously crafted. He is fascinated by all aspects of woodland wildlife, as well as the crafts and arts associated with woods and trees. I particularly like his flight of ideas, which soar off the page like an albatross on a updraft.

And my favourite journey in the book is his trip through Kazakhstan looking for the mother of all apples - a big knobbly fruit that supermarkets would loath.

If like me you spent your childhood up in the "crow's nest" of some giant chesnut tree then this is the book for you.

(His previous book Waterlog described how he swam around Britain's ponds and rivers.)

Sadly he doesn't get to pinewoods, but this is a shot of the sort of slanting light in woods that I love.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Glasgow Bombing

It feels surreal even typing that heading. Thankfully there has been no innocent loss of life, but there was certainly a loss of innocence here in Scotland yesterday.

It is very shocking to hear your own people describing a terrorist attack on a place friends and family used only days before and you yourself know very well.

Sad times indeed. And probably wholly counter-productive in terms of shortening our involvement elsewhere.