Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I've been wondering about what I would do if I had a place on the "Plinth" thing in London.

And I think I would try and make a soundscape of the county where I live. We have so much, the beach, the woods, the fields and the hills. They would sound lovely beaming out over Trafalgar Square.

It is largely arable land and the fields are all turning golden just now, despite the soggy conditions that we've been experiencing.

Here is a still of a field of barley, that I took a few days ago, and wee bit of video that I shot two days afterwards, that demonstrates the sound that a huge field of ripening barley makes, which is obviously absent in the photo, although I did try to get a sense of movement into the shot.

All we need now is Eva singing "Fields of Gold".

Monday, July 27, 2009

After the deluge

There are very few butterflies about this year, I think the endless heavy rain must be to blame, although a friend says that clouds of Painted Ladies have crossed the Channel, and that she remembers a host of them arriving here in the 1970s when there was a similar population explosion - so here's hoping.

I helped this friend to do some weeding in the "Big Garden" on Saturday, as we have a reception there on Friday to thank everyone who has helped with the restoration.
After that I'm stepping down, as family commitments are just too much at present.
This is a Peacock butterfly on a purple cone flower, not that expertly filmed, but it was a lovely sight.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My purple bicycle

I had my old beat up bike serviced before my holiday to Harris and I've been using it much more since. It has new tyres and new brakes blocks and all the gears now work.

I gave up using it a few years ago after I managed to go over the handlebars at a busy junction. It was all my own fault, as I was riding home from volunteering at The Big Garden with a small garden fork swinging from my handlebars. You can imagine the rest.

But we are now reunited and I'd forgotten how great it is to get the scent of the flowers in the hedgerows as you pass by. Just now it is the meadowsweet, thanks to all the rain we've been having. And the other evening I also had a fox literally jump over my front wheel and off into the woods, and I've also managed to take a couple of hares completely unawares.

This is an old 1960s song about a white bicycle that I used to love. I think speed and gear probably had different meanings in relation to this tune.

On youtube it is much loved by nostalgic former paper boys.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hendrik Nordbrandt

(a larch composite done by me)

On a wet Wednesday I am grateful to my girlfriends, who call me up out of the blue and make me laugh out loud. They are quite simply the best medicine around.

I'm also grateful to Swiss Lounge for posting this wonderful poem by Hendrik Nordbrandt on his blog. The translator is unknown.


The things that were here before you died
and the things that have come after:

To the former belong, first of all,
your clothes, the jewelry and the photographs
and the name of the woman you were named after
and who also died young...
But also a couple receipts, the arrangement
of a certain corner in the living room,
a shirt you ironed for me
and which I keep carefully
under my pile of shirts,
certain pieces of music, and the mangy
dog that still stands around
smiling stupidly, as though you were here.

To the latter belong my new fountain pen,
a well-known perfume
on the skin of a woman I hardly even know
and the new light bulbs I put in the bedroom lamp
by whose light I read about you
in every book I try to read.

The former remind me that you were,
the latter that you no longer are.

It is the near indistinguishableness
I find hardest to bear.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Opposite of Cabbage

I am really pleased to be hosting a further stage of Rob A Mackenzie's Decabbage Yourself Logo Tour , which this week wends its way back to Scotland.

I, like many people I'm sure, am just astounded at what Rob manages to pack into life. He is the living, breathing proof of the old adage, "if you want something done ask a busy person".

Rob was born and brought up in Glasgow. He received a law degree from Aberdeen University and then abandoned the possibility of significant personal wealth by switching to theology at Edinburgh University. He wrote over seven hundred songs and doubled on guitar and saxophone for cult art-rock bands Pure Television and Plastic Chicken. Despite airplay on Radio Scotland and a rash of gigs in tiny Glasgow pubs, he failed miserably to achieve rock stardom. He spent a year in Seoul, eight years in a Lanarkshire housing scheme, five years in Turin, and now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and daughter where he organises the Poetry at the Great Grog reading series by night and works as a Church of Scotland minister by day.

His pamphlet collection, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by HappenStance Press in 2005His poems, articles and criticism have featured in many literary publications over the last decade or so. He is an associate editor with Magma magazine. He blogs at Surroundings and at the Magma blog.

Rob's collection The Opposite of Cabbage is published by Salt Publishing (and available from Amazon on this embedded link)

"In this collection, opposites collide – reality and delusion, political activism and apathy, friend and enemy, life and death. These poems cut away at convention and simmer with unsettling, dramatic images. Ironic and humorous, complex and engaging, you can’t do without The Opposite of Cabbage."

One of my favourite poems in the book is My Dentist, Aneila, which to me reads like a mini multi-textured novel about the Scotland that we now all inhabit, a place were the old and the new truly rub up against each other, with surprising and often refreshing results for all concerned.

And so to my questions for Rob.

Scotland and Edinburgh feature heavily in your work, either as backdrop or the main character. You have also lived abroad for extended spells, so with the experience of both do you consider that your poetry to be at its most successful when drawing on home ground?

Not really. I wrote a series of poems about Scotland in (I think) 2007, about 15 months after returning home from 5 years in Italy. I felt keen to explore issues of Scottish identity, nationality and nationhood after living within a very different culture. I had asked myself many questions about Scottishness while living in Turin and these intensified when I came back. Quite a few of these poems made the cut for the book and I wrote others over 2008 as well.

However, I hope these poems have appeal to readers beyond Scotland. Their themes are prejudice, hedonism, roots, relationships with neighbours, core identity – themes which are important in virtually any part of the world. So while these poems are concerned with a specific time and place, they aren’t constrained by that. At least, that’s the general idea.

I’ve also written about other places, especially Italy, and several poems touch on the USA, a country I have never visited but which casts its shadow – in both positive and negative ways – over us all.

I am the daughter in law of a Church of Scotland Minister, and have seen the demands of the Ministry at first hand. Poet and Minister both have public faces, is there ever any tension in this for you?

Many people have asked similar questions during this Cyclone tour, but each questioner has asked it with a particular slant and your slant is very interesting.

There is a great tradition of poets who were also priests or ministers. Some of them have saved the certainties for their sermons and kept the questioning for their poems. Others have used poetry as a way of grasping at the sublime while leading tortured inner lives. But most poet-minister/priests have combined all of these – certainties, questions, spiritual quest and turmoil – in both sermons and poems.

I fall within that latter category, although not many of the more obviously religious poems made the cut for my book. They just didn’t feel good enough. However, the book is awash with religious references for any one who cares to spot them. I also don’t divide life into religious and non-religious spheres. For me, there is no clear dividing line. In the book, a poem about an Italian leader (‘Berlusconi and the National Grid’) can be as religious as a poem about a minister’s sermons (‘The Preacher’s Ear’), and the latter can be every bit as political.

Despite this, (and I perhaps now contradict myself), I tend to compartmentalise my life. I don’t read my poems to my congregation (for which they are no doubt extremely grateful) and my poems rarely, if ever, sermonize. However, there are many common elements between my poems and sermons as they both deal with matters that are important to me. Inevitably there is a great deal of crossover. The problem with my job is that it saps my creative energy and doesn’t allow me enough time to write poetry, but I guess people in a great many jobs would feel that.

One comment on the collection suggests that these poems are tougher and bleaker than your previous work. Is this a sentiment you agree with and were you conscious of this shift when putting the collection together?

I think it’s a fair comment, yes, and I did feel that was the case. In fact, I was delighted to get that comment. The toughness and the bleakness have to go together. If the collection were only bleak, then it would be thoroughly depressing, but I hope it’s not depressing at all. There is a great deal of black humour running through it. More than that, I tried to be honest in what I wrote, to stand up to the bleakness and, at times, to expose it behind whatever glitzy façade it puts on.

I try to avoid being needlessly portentous. I never want to give fake hope or shirk the vital questions because that’s the last thing anyone needs, but I do want to show glimpses of what it means to be fully alive and authentically human in circumstances that are often difficult, complex and even tragic. I’d like my poems to make people laugh and cry or do both at the same time.

Thanks for these answers Rob, I particularly enjoyed the one on the public face of being a Minister and poet, as you say it is one with a long and fascinating tradition.

All the best with the rest of the tour and continued success with the book!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Moon landings

I've enjoyed this week's series on the Moon by Jeanette Winterson on BBC Radio 4, to commemorate the moon landings of 1969.

After listening to the programmes I found a great archive of photographs on the NASA history site. Including this amazing composite, simply entitled "Buzz on the porch".
Be back soon...........

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mothers' Sons

(photo is mine - taken in Spain)

As the mother of an only son I must admit to having looked at the news of the last few days and wanted to weep.

And as my own son totters towards maturity I think I want to read a few books about mother and adult son relationships.

And I think might start with Colm Toibin's book of short stories on the subject, as I would like a male perspective on the relationship. Because I think I know what it feels like to do the mother part - however ineptly.

I recently sent a friend, who also has a boy on the cusp of adulthood, the Sharon Olds' poem
The Summer-Camp Bus Pulls Away from the Curb because these four lines really speak to me:

Whatever he needs, he has or doesn't
have by now.
Whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do.

It is not an easy time to be male. Why only the other day scientists in the UK claimed to have created human sperm.

What's your experience of raising boys to become men?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Nordic Poets

I've started to get interested in Scandinavian poetry. I think I've mentioned before that I have Danish and Swedish blood in me from both lines of my family.

Sadly neither language was passed on to me. My father was half Danish on his mother's side, with a Swedish grandmother, but my grandmother died when he was eleven, in the middle of WWII, and contact was lost with her family and my father simply gave up on both languages.

My mother had Danish blood on her mother's side too, but was raised by her father's maiden aunt, after a short-lived marriage between her much older father and very young mother, so again there was no handing on of the language. Indeed I only confirmed her Danish connection by tracing my mother's maternal line after her death, as it wasn't a topic that our family ever discussed.

But I thought it would be interesting to read some Danish poetry, even if it is just in translation, as I often think my tastes and sensibilities are not really all that Scottish.

And from the little bits of research that I've done I've decided that there couldn't be a better place to start than with Inger Christensen.

Here are two extracts of her work:

1) The Butterfly Valley, a series of 15 sonnets, with the final sonnet being made up of lines from the first fourteen and

2) a photograph of a section of The Alphabet on a wall in Copenhagen with an extract of the poem. "Christensen wrote this masterpiece 1981. She uses the alphabet (from a [“apricots”] to n [“nights”]) along with the Fibonacci mathematical sequence in which the next number is the sum of the two previous ones (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34…).

As Christensen has explained: “The numerical ratios exist in nature: the way a leek wraps around itself from the inside, and the head of a snowflower, are both based on this series.” Her system ends on the n, suggesting many possible meanings including “n’s” significance as any whole number."

I have just ordered The Alphabet in English and hope to obtain a copy in Danish too, so that I can look at both together.

But maybe I should just stick with this gem, The Danish Poet (winner of the 2007 OSCAR® for best short subject).

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sunday 5 July

We got to land on the Bass Rock on Friday and it was wonderful to be so close to thousands of gannets and to be able to observe their behaviour. Although the pong, the poo and being dive-bombed by herring gulls wasn't all that pleasant........

Here is a shot of incoming gannets. The boat skipper chummed the water with fish as we approached the rock, and soon the sky was full of birds. My camera does not buffer well in RAW format at speed, so this was taken in JPEG.

I'm looking forward to hosting Rob MacKenzie The Opposite of Cabbage tour later in the month. I've been following his travels when I can and hope I can do justice to the earlier stop offs.

In fact there is so much to look forward to this summer, the Scottish Poetry Library's School of Poets Courtyard Readings, as our contribution the Edinburgh Festival; The Beechgrove Garden TV programme coming to help me with a project in my own garden; and our 30th wedding anniversary - which I feel deserves a telegram from the Queen at the very least! Getting to 100 years old is a scoosh these days, but staying married for 30 years is bloody hard work!