Tuesday, 29 June 2010

A Good Deed, a Solitary Lunch and a Jackaw in a Bath.......

'ARE YOU LOOKIN' AT ME?'

Hullo ma wee blog,

This morning I took a friend to hospital for a small operation which meant a full anaesthetic, so driving home tomorrow is out of the question. Also unfortunately, the hospital is more than 50 miles away, so - after early car washing duty - I picked up my friend and headed off for the hour and a half 's trip to bypass Edinburgh in rush hour and get to the hospital in good time. It was a beautiful sunny day here and we had a good chat about life, the universe and everything as we drove through East Lothian in the bright light of  a summer morning, passed into Midlothian to skirt the City Of Edinburgh and on towards Glasgow on the motorway for a few miles before turning off and heading to the hospital. On dropping off my nervous passenger and double checking pick up arrangements for tomorrow morning, I turned the car around and headed back homeward, although by a different route to avoid the motorway which always reminds me of work as I spent a lot of my working life on motorways trying to get to some place or other the length and breadth of the country.


By the time I arrived home I was looking forward to a cool drink and, on getting myself some fresh orange juice from the fridge, I sat out on the patio which was just beginning to benefit from the sun. I lazed a while then did a couple of odd jobs around the garden, tidying here and tweaking there. Lunch was a small smoked peppered mackerel and simple salad dressed quite sharply to cut through the oiliness of the fish and accompanied by a small dish of olives and some hummus drizzled with olive oil and a small ciabatta roll sliced into strips for dipping. All slowly savoured with a cold and very dry glass of cider. Just the job for a sunny afternoon in the garden.


As I sat there quietly enjoying my lunch and musing back and forth, I watched the argumentative local sparrows swoop down to gorge themselves noisily on the seeds and fat balls which I have about the place, joined sometimes by a pair of cooing collared doves or one or other of our cautious pair of resident blackies {blackbirds}, rooting about for fallen seed under the feeders hung on our apple trees until they were all complainingly ousted by the noisy arrival of half a dozen of our local gang of thugs - the Jackdaws - from their lofty homes on two of the tall trees a hundred yards away. They got a last second pre-landing shock when they victoriously swooped down to find that I was sitting nearby and quickly twisted awkwardly away to land on the roof of my garden shed and the branches of the tree behind it, glaring and CAW'ing loudly at me for disrupting their plans. Gradually though they became quieter as they got used to the idea that I wasn't going to be moved by their noisy complaining and they became bolder, first one then another coming down to grab on to the feeder hanging from the roof of the shed and to spear a tasty treat from the suet balls hanging inside the wire cage of the feeder.

 I continued to languorously nibble and to watch interestedly at the comings and goings as the garden slowly calmed down again and the jackdaws were cautiously joined by the birds they had ousted with their 'shock and awe' arrival. I became aware of a noise behind me where I always have an enameled ashet* of fresh water lying out for the birds. Not wanting to disturb whatever was going on, I - very slowly - over a period of maybe a quiet and careful minute - turned to see what was happening. I found myself watching from about four feet away as a jackdaw had a bath in the afternoon sun, dipping and shaking fluffed out feathers in the cool sparkling water I had refreshed just an hour before. The Jackdaw was engrossed in what seemed to me to be an almost ecstatic performance of getting the water down deep into those feathers. I could almost feel the relief it must have been bringing.

Now what?

As you would expect, after a moment the bird became aware that bath-time was being observed and not from very far away. As we sized each other up I was struck that those cold blue eyes seemed to be working out whether I was a big enough threat to warrant an alarm call and a quick getaway or if extending the apparent pleasure could be risked. Abruptly, the bird turned back to what it was doing and apart from an occasional halt to stare at me with a  "Do you mind? I'm trying to have a bath here!" kind of look, we continued like this for several minutes until the Jackdaw could bear no more of my rude attention and hopped away from the dish with its dark surround of spilt and splashed water, fluffing its feathers back into a semblance of order as it headed casually over to the apple tree in search of a few tumbled seeds. Finally able to move again, I turned back to the table and continued with my lunch in company with my hungry visitors.

*Ashet. A large, shallow, oval dish used for serving food; A term used in Scotland taken from French for plate, 'assiette'.

see you later.

Listening to Fyfe Dangerfield, 'Don't be shy'

Monday, 28 June 2010

Weekend




Hullo ma wee blog,

On Saturday I went to pick up The Lovely G from her office at 2.30 so we could spend the rest of the afternoon together. We went a few miles west of Edinburgh to a country mansion which has a number of art installations in the grounds. Although the skies had been clear and the weather hot when I left home, just a few miles away in Edinburgh and beyond the skies were grey and the temperature distinctly cooler. None the less we spent an enjoyable couple of hours walking through the woods and grounds of the country estate as we explored the large sculptures and other exhibits.













After our walk we came back to Dunbar and had a bar supper in the Volunteer Arms pub near the harbour. A nice straight forward and inexpensive supper. As usual G had the chicken while I had the fish - and a couple of our local beers - before I was driven home.

Sunday saw us take a drive further down into the Borders to Moffat, a couple of hours away. I had stayed there for a month when I had a project in the area a few years back and we'd wanted to visit for a while. Once again the weather started off bright and sunny at our end but ended up in close and clammy thunder weather when we arrived at our destination. In spite of this we had an enjoyable couple of hours an G loaded up with about 30 assorted birthday and other cards. Ho hum......


Moffat Ram


Star Hotel

The Star Hotel in Moffat, which dates from the late 1700’s, is famous for being the world’s narrowest hotel at only 20ft wide and 162ft long.  

see you later


listening to U2, 'Angel Of Harlem'

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Cheese - and Whine.



Hullo ma wee blog,

It's a bit daft really. I've got loads to do but done none of it today. I've spent the day mainly in the garden. Sure, I've justified it to myself by saying that I should make the most of the weather while its here and I have done some weeding and minor odds and sods around the garden but in reality most of the day has just been me goofing off, enjoying the sun and the fact that the grass - never a lawn - is looking good simply because its the shortest it's been for weeks, which hides a multitude of sins. In my delusional mode I call it 'organic' or 'natural' or even 'wildlife', but I'm fooling myself as its really none of those, even if it is teeming with well fed birds thanks to an intensive feeding program. I enjoy a garden but I'm not a gardener. So it's been me at the patio table, book and sunglasses to hand, the odd glass of dry white wine to help wash down some crusty bread, nicely juicy pears and a piece of lovely soft and slightly salty goats cheese barely drizzled with honey. My idea of a wee taste of the Languedoc in Scotland.



Bliss.

I've also caught up on a few blogs while the back of the house has been in shade this morning as I don't do squinting very well. I've read a bit as the sun has come round the house, forcing me to lay aside the laptop while I catch up on stuff I've been meaning to read but strangely for someone unemployed, who should have plenty of spare time on my hands, have not found time for.

While I've been doing that thoughts have been niggling away at me like unruly children, particularly about reading and books. A few bloggers I read have touched on the subject of bookish things over the internet lately, talking about the impact of the web on reading habits, the effect of on-line bookshops selling at knock down prices and the impact on 'real' bookshops and libraries. I've added the odd comment here or there, interested or curious, questioning or approving, all the time letting layers of content slowly build up a curmudgeonly niggling concern that, as with many other things, the world is changing and something that is important to me might be changing faster than I'm comfortable with and not in a direction I would choose.

It's particularly true of the technology around books, or more accurately reading, for what I see ahead is the potential disfigurement of reading as we know it. I wonder in twenty or thirty years if we will have books in any meaningful sense or will they be the domain of academia, dwindling numbers of bookshops, curiosity shops, reference libraries  and museums or the musty collections of crusty old men like me?  Will the availability of cheap books online actually reduce choice and the number of titles as these places promote the blockbuster and ignore the merely sublime. Will readers have lost contact with the reality of a book in the hand if books are simply story downloads to an i-pad reader or some other piece of technology which retail chains and publishing houses use as the opportunity to stop printing to reduce costs and maximise profits? How will we find those unexpected books if we cannot browse, can't pick them up and read the cover as we weigh the value of story and the weight of the authors effort if the book exists only online? With the increasing trend amongst kids towards talking books on i-pods for convenience, how will we create those characters to live in our minds and in our hearts if all we have is an actors interpretation being read to us? Will 'readers' question if the interpretation could be different or if the story is crippled by heavy handed abridging? Will books of the future simply be screenplays? Will we simply accept that Dracula or David Balfour or Jane Eyre have American voices attempting foreign accents?

Not that I can do anything about it of course. I can only be the curmudgeonly archetypal grumpy old man and note the change and comment.

When I was a child I loved libraries. Dad was a great reader and supporter of our local library and I too was bitten by the reading bug. As a teenager I was hit by asthma which meant I was often laid up. When that happened I read constantly, a stream of library books was supplied by Dad, not always to order but he would often pick up a wee gem for me. Like him, I became an avid and prodigious, if not altogether selective consumer of the written word. But I also became enthralled by books themselves; the hard-backed leather bound edition, the hard-backed paper sleeved novel, the cheapest paperback. I loved them all. I learned to love the feel of a book, the weight of it's mystery as it journeyed home with me in a bag strapped to my bike, or just hung from the handlebars, knees nudging the book as I pedalled; the smell of the pages as you cracked it open for the first time, old and musty perhaps if it had lain on the shelf for a long time or if it was elderly in itself; other scents, held by the pages, of the last reader, an old man who's fingers held the smell of pipe or cigarette tobacco or oil from machinery in their pores, a young woman who's delicate scent would perfume the pages for a short time. These things all spoke to me and evoked a feeling for the history of a book, almost as a living thing. I learned to love the heady smell that always seemed to be in a library. I loved the almost reverent hush of the place. The need to be quiet for once not an impossible task.

Over the years as I got older and more selective in subject matter, I began to covet books {shades of 'My Precious' ringing in my head now} that were special to me. I loved history books, books on art, religions, architecture. I loved the books of Stevenson and Scott, Ryder Haggard, Michener and so many others. I wanted to have space at home for more than an overstuffed bookcase. I wanted to have a library of my own. I succeeded when we bought this house.

 I've long enjoyed trawls of antiquarian bookshops and revelled in the atmosphere of ancient books, something which has become increasingly rarer as these places have gradually disappeared to be replaced with coffee shops, tanning studios and tattoo parlours. I've watched engrossed as an old bookseller, offered an old book, put it to his face and listened carefully as he softly rrrrrp'd the pages past his nose, caressed the pages lovingly and spoke in hushed tones about the quality of the paper, the way it had been made, the fact that although the paper was French the printing was English, the pages hand cut and rough edged. He waxed lyrical about the binding and the cover, it's absolute authenticity,the skill of the maker and about the healthy smell of its history and the lack of knocks and scrapes, folds and tears that showed it had been cared for through generations. Like being guided through a cathedral by a stone mason, he was a master of a craft that sadly seemed to be out of it's time.

I'm not exclusively interested in old books though. I've cheered myself with walks round the humongous racks of large chain bookstores and enjoyed the personal touch of informed, enthusiastic and well read staff in independent bookstores. I've gone looking for particular books and come out with treasures unexpectedly unearthed in my search through the shelves. I've collected the works of Rankine, Brookmyre and Banks and enjoyed Hiasson, Coelho and Cornwall.


I've often enjoyed a book at bedtime. Does it feel the same being read on an I-Pad? I've often dropped a book from the bedside table or from the corner of a chair. I've dropped one getting up from my seat on a plane or a train. The books have survived them all. I wonder an I-Pad would.?

Oh, and I've never had a book run out of battery power although a few have run out of steam.....

I now have a room I use as a library in my house. I spend a lot of time there enjoying the atmosphere and relaxing with a well read book or attracted by the brightness of a cover to something that suits my mood. Could I have the same fun scrolling through the list of titles on my reader?

I really hope I never find out.

see you later. I'm browsing the Edinburgh Book festival brochure wondering if I can afford to attend any more events this year.

Listening to;

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A wee drop of inspiration for Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.............


Hullo ma wee blog,

I found this in the house of many pleasures that is Jono's 'e-clecticism' Blog. I recommend it for a peek or two when you are in need of  diverson away from the trials and tribulations of daily life. I have no idea how he find some of these things.  I'm only glad that he does.

Today this made me think, smile and be positive. I hope it does the same for you.

see you later.

Listening to The Kinks 'Waterloo Sunset' {still} but only in my head.

Sleepless in a Haunting of 'Waterloo Sunset'



Hullo ma wee blog,

3.15am on Sunday morning and I'm being haunted and kept from sleep by this track pounding round and round in my skull. I know what's done it because it's a song heard on the radio today and one of those iconic tracks of a particular summer in my childhood. It was released by ' The Kinks' in 1967, when I was just 8, and it was a song that was always on the radio.

When going on holiday, we always at that time went to a small fishing village called Helmsdale in Caithness on the far north-east coast of Scotland and always with my Mums glamorous younger sister and her husband as Uncle Bob and Dad were great fishing buddies. If at all possible, Gordon or I would always try to engineer at least part of the trip in Uncle Bob and Aunt Agnes' car. They didn't have any kids and always had a newer and better car than we did and anyway, Aunt Agnes looked like the singer Lulu and was to young boys, always much cooler than our Mum. Best of all though, they listened to great music on the radio and that summer was the last before BBC Radio 1 came on line, so it was pirate radio - Radio Caroline - which was being forced off the air during that long ago summer holiday.

I hadn't heard this song for ages and memories came flooding back when it came on the radio this afternoon as the lovely G and I were out for an afternoon jaunt through the borders. We had stopped for coffee and cake at 'The Flat Cat Gallery' in Lauder and spent a pleasant hour savouring the coffee and the items on display, including a beautiful wee bronze of a pair of boxing hares, probably my most favourite animal of the British countryside, at an eye watering £249.00. Needless to say, it stayed on the shelf, but oh, how I drooled.......

The song came on just as we left Lauder for the return journey and I spent some time telling G about what happy memories it brought to me.

That of course was before it came to haunt me in my sleep and now I feel as though I have been hearing it non stop for days. Great song it undoubtedly may be, but if I could get my hand on Ray Davies right now........

I'd definitely ask him to turn the volume down and stop repeating just that one verse that's constantly running through my head, or give me a change of track. Come on Ray, how about 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion', or 'Lola' or 'Sunny Afternoon'?

Anything but bloomin' 'Waterloo Sunset'!!!

See you later.

I think you already know what I'm listening to...........

Friday, 18 June 2010

A short diversion........


TOOT - a road sign I like.

Hullo ma wee blog,

Just taking a quick break from working in the garden this afternoon. It's hot and I need a drink and a seat out of the sun for a moment. Us Scots aren't used to sun you see. As I've been scanning through some photo's uploaded recently I thought I'd lazily just post a few while I'm relaxing. A flavour of the village and locally.

Top - TOOT - a road sign locally urging motorists to toot their horn at a blind corner on a very narrow road - near Abbey ST Bathans  - I've never seen another like this anywhere.


A sparrow feeding on our old pear tree.




The village Kirk - the round tower dates from the 14thC.



The Kirk hall.




Old house in the village.

This is in a dilapidated state and I ache to have the money to buy and restore it the way it deserves.


Traprain Law {hill} From Dunbar clifftop walk.

Traprain is one of several volvanic plugs in the area - Bass rock, North Berwick Law, Edinburgh Castle Rock are all similar.


Public bench - Promenade, Spittal, Berwick Upon Tweed.

Must go.


see you later..........

Monday, 14 June 2010

Whiskers at Dawn........

From the bedroom window.

Hullo ma wee blog,

A paw lands softly on my thigh. I look down from the laptop where I sit blogging away insomnia and am met by two huge luminous green eyes engaged in unblinking human contemplation in return. She is beside my chair here at the kitchen table, illuminated by the glow of the lamp which is the only light in the room. She stands on back legs, holding herself erect with her right paw against the chair seat, leaving the other to deliver a gentle tap to the top of my thigh which is feather soft  yet by its very softness, reminds me that there are claws behind it which can be deployed against tender flesh if needed.  The eyes narrow and a pair of whiskered white cheeks move as they funnel a quiet, soft and manipulative miaow in my direction as she repeats the movement, emphasised by a slight deepening of those same green eyes, an act which only seems to increase their concerned impact.

Jess has arrived. I left her sleeping beside The Lovely G a couple of hours ago when my twisting and turning threatened to wake them.  {experience has taught me that waking either of them in the middle of the night isn't a plan to be described as good.}

I murmur 'good morning' as I reach down and scratch behind her ears. Her head tilts against my palm and fingers with approval, turning and twisting to achieve the desired effect as we exchange greetings, her and I together for a mutually pleasant moment or two before I leave her and turn back to coffee and computer. She sits back down beside me and as I begin to type I wonder if she will head to the utility room a few yards away where I have already filled her bowls with food and fresh clean water.


Engrossed in what I am doing I'm startled when she appears sitting beside my elbow, a place and position she has reached in one with an impressive and silent leap. Not bad for an old lady. She contemplates me anew and surveys the content of my efforts. She's not in the least impressed and purrs a few suggested improvements in my direction, nudging my arm to hint that perhaps I should get started on them right away. As I obey she rubs an approving cheek against my bicep with her eyes fixed on the screen to make sure of typo-free amendments before resting her head on my shoulder as I carry on typing and reviewing, typing and correcting, in my stilted two handed, four/sometimes five/rarely six - fingered typing style. Approval is purred directly into my ear.

Job done she is bored now and stands to step over my right forearm into the circle of me and computer, standing full, obliterating my view and turning, tail raised, to show me proudly how clean her bottom is.

"Aye, very nice Jess! Lovely! Thanks for that."

She turns and repeats the maneuver from the opposite direction as if  to show the effect is the same from any angle before folding herself into a curled position with her back against my chest, stretched out from left to right round the support of my arms. She proceeds to raise a front paw and begin her morning ablutions by fastidiously running her teeth through the fur of her forearm and licking the tug free area back down to run in the right direction. She stops and looks at me for a second, not understanding or caring that this is not the best place she could be doing this - in my humble opinion. "After all," she seems to say,  "what could be better than writing about a cat - and you only ever see what's right under your nose!"

I continue to write, half-heartedly now as I watch her, engrossed in contortions to reach each and every recalcitrant hair, impressed by her methodology and feline thoroughness as she clears tugs and straightens hair, moving on to the next only when catty approval is reached after close inspection. I find myself wondering if she would be equally impressed with my own shower technique.

Probably not.......

I reach for my coffee to find it's cold. Time has moved on and dawn is softly pushing a hint of pale amber through the window at the end of the kitchen. I'm suddenly tired and Jess is looking expectantly at me once again. Even before I move for the light switch she is up and moves to sit at the door to hall and stairs. Her eyes turn to me once more as she steps aside to let me pass. As I take the stairs to the bedroom she is two steps behind. Somehow I know how a sheep feels being herded expertly towards its pen by a collie dog.

I know my place.

By the time I have shed my clothes and climbed quietly into bed beside my Lovely G,  Jess is already there, curled in a ball and apparently just as deeply asleep as when I left them a few hours ago.

Bloomin' cat!


You WILL obey me........

See you later.

Listening to;

Sunday, 13 June 2010

In the footsteps of others.........

Cloth Hall, Ypres, Belgium.

Hullo ma wee blog,

I looked out of the car window from my seat in the rear as we drove across Belgium to Ypres and Paschendaele. For mile after mile the country all around was flat and open, gently undulating, the road occupying a consistent slightly raised position as it crossed a land which was fertile and full of farmland, a throwback to early history perhaps when roads had developed on the higher ground as the drainage was better and open view helped wary travellers see any approaching threat.

Gordon and his wife were in the front of the car, the lovely G and I in the back. The holiday had initially been planned as a boys get away, something we have done for a couple of years now, and originally intended to have been a battlefield tour following in the footsteps of our Grandfather who had served here in WWI, but our plans had changed to include our wives and we curtailed our plans to a broader itinerary. This trip was going to be our one chance to spend time in Belgium looking at Grandads history, although we also spent time looking at  a few WWII sites in the part of Holland where we were staying.

From my viewpoint in the rear I could look out windows either side and noticed that even from a minor elevation such as the roadway the view was extensive. Given the reason for our visit I was struck by the defensive advantage of even the slightest higher ground.  A difference of even 30 or 40 feet would have been highly significant. It very clearly brought home why this had been a machine gun dominated killing ground. I felt chilled in recognising this so casually as we passed through at 90 kilometres an hour, thinking of how it must have been obscenely obvious to those stuck out there all those years ago. The thought of climbing out of cover and walking across those flat expanses towards machine guns, barbed wire and infantry filled trenches just doesn't compute within my modern mind and sensibilities.

Our Grandfather had enlisted early in 1915 when aged to do so and after basic training had been sent to Gallipoli as part of the ill fated attempt to open up a second front in the Dardanelles as a means of breaking the deadlock in western Europe. A simple country lad he found himself in an alien landscape in Mediterranean heat in the same thick woolen uniform that the troops in France and Belgium had been given. It must have been awful. Two days after landing his regiment was sent into the line as part of the 52nd division, almost 11,000 men. Within 10 days five and a half thousand of them were dead or injured and the rest found themselves hopelessly outnumbered and pinned down in a relatively small area, backs to the sea, a situation that would remain for almost 9 months. Existence in those fetid, fly blown trenches, where dysentery quickly broke out due to the inability of men to maintain any semblance of personal hygiene or sanitation, exposed to constant fire as they were due to being completely overlooked by the enemy positions, was a hellish experience. Shot himself during one attack on enemy lines,  he recovered and was returned to the trenches until the troops were withdrawn in January 1916.

The remains of the two battalions were split, some to Palestine, the rest - including our Grandfather - were sent to the western front where he would spend the rest of the war in and around Ypres and Paschendaele, amongst other places. In total he spent 3 years in front line trenches and survived being shot a further twice, returning to the front line each time.


Gravestones, Paschendaele New British Cemetery

As we reached the outskirts of Paschendaele we stopped at the New British Cemetery, where newly excavated and identified soldiers are re-interred. It looked small and well tended as we parked, but it wasn't until you entered and looked at the information plaque that it became clear that there were three thousand British and Commonwealth graves in this small and carefully tended space




Items recovered during trench excavations.

The excavations which have taken place have also brought to light some of the everyday items used by soldiers, some heartbreakingly familiar even today as I immediately recognised the branding of a favourite marmalade that often sits on our breakfast table. Poignant signs of an attempt at normality in the middle of war where there was little chance of  a normality of any significance. 


Various styles of gas mask

After spending time at the museum in Paschendaele we moved on to the beautifully restored town of Ypres. It's one of those places which casts a spell over you and the lovely G and I agreed it's somewhere we would like to visit again, despite the constant reminders of the destruction of man and place that are all around. We spent the afternoon exploring the town and, while the girls left to do some shopping, Gordon and I headed into the enormous and powerful museum and exhibition which is contained in the Cloth Hall in the main square



Tyne Cot Cemetery

There are places where you can feel physically assaulted by the effect of history. I first came to understand that when The Lovely G and I visited Auschwitz concentration camp a few years ago. The reality of an immense and obscene wrong pressed heavily down on you and replaced curiosity and historical interest with a real sense of sadness, tragedy and deep foreboding of what 'civilised' man is capable of. I left that dreadful place mentally and physically exhausted with a heavy heart and a solid headache, glad to have been but not wanting to ever return.

I felt the same when we visited Tyne Cot cemetery, one of the largest in the battlefields. Unspoken need saw us peel away from each other and walk in solitary contemplation around what is literally a field of fallen. 12,000 graves and the names of 35,000 missing men inscribed on wall plaques confront you with a reality that's impossible to ignore. Boisterous teenagers brought to visit on school trips fell quiet after a few minutes and walked silently on. The path to and from the cemetery to the visitor center contains hidden speakers which softly list the fallen by name and age, an endless chain of reminder and remembrance. 

It was a place of sobering impact that left me thanking my lucky stars that my generation never went through anything like that. I think all politicians should be made to walk round somewhere like this every couple of years and consider what benefits any one of those men could have brought to humanity. How many doctors, inventors, thinkers, scientists or artists lie all around in a place like that. Perhaps then there would be less conflict in the world. {or perhaps conscription to front line forces of politicians sons and daughters would be needed to reinforce the effect}



Tablet at the entrance to Ypres Museum.

My thoughts then and since have often drifted back to think of our Grandfather who came home a changed man from that who had gone away nearly four years earlier. Caught injured and exposed in an artillery bombardment while a medical station he suffered from what's now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but was then called by the more graphic and in his case more accurate 'Shell Shock'. By what little margin did he avoid lying there in Tyne Cot or one of the hundreds of other cemeteries that mark the extent of battle. That thankfully he did allows me to write this today.

He returned to his job as a country postman but very soon began to suffer increasingly frequently from episodes of shaking and traumatic hallucination which confined him to a wheelchair by the time of the Second World War, and ultimately to being completely bedridden. By the time I came to know and love him as my grandpa he could barely speak and shook constantly, something as a child I accepted as being completely normal and just him.

He died in 1967 having lived with the effect of the horrors of those trenches for almost fifty more years.


To read more of him and my recollections of him go here

See you later.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Music! Maestro, please.............


      
Hullo ma wee blog,

It's  part of its strange and fantastic power that you can listen to a piece of music or look at a painting or sculpture and find yourself both moved emotionally and your thoughts veering off in a completely different direction from whatever you happened to be doing or thinking at the time. It happens to me a lot, usually with music as that's the art form I have contact with most. I can be taken to far away places or different times and find myself wondering what moved the composer to create those sounds, what experience or emotion, what need, what vision dictated such a response. I find it incredible that someones experience translated into music can communicate to me down the years, even down the ages and elicit something that is vivid, unique and deeply personal in return. A direct connection between composer and listener, sometimes separated by centuries.

Sometimes, of course, we know what the stimulus was - a visit to a place or some recorded upheaval in the composers personal life. Often we just don't, but the music connects with us just the same regardless. I was driving to Dunbar earlier to see a friend when a piece of music, a favourite classical piece, came on the radio. I've known Albinoni's Adagio in G minor since I was at school in my very early teens. The first time I heard it I was mesmerised by its drama and solemnity, by the slow yet relentlessly pacing beat that drives it constantly on, broken only in a couple of interludes by a solo instrument lifting away and above just for a moment before returning inexorably to the main theme once again. I've often wondered what the trigger for that piece was.

I thought it was beautifully and poetically used  in the Peter Weir film 'Gallipoli', a movie which effectively brought Mel Gibson to the fore. I can look back and see too that it in some way prompted my love for similar pieces, left me prepared to listen to music that before meant nothing to my childish likes and helped shape the musical taste, certainly for classical and instrumental music, that I have today. It came also to evoke memories of my Grandfather, once I had established the connection with Gallipoli through the film score, as he had served there in the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1915 and 1916.

Music is a fascinating means of association. All of us have music that reminds us of the finding or loss of lovers, of wedding days and other happy or sad occasions, some critical,  but some equally and bewilderingly unimportant points in our lives that are forever marked by one song or piece of music that when heard, always takes us back to that specific point in life and allows us to reflect or to remember those poignant moments. These associations become deeper and broader as reflection and life experience add layer after layer on top of original memories. These audio mementos are very precious to me as a natural hoarder of the physical version - the domino set my grandfather carried in WWI, grannies mantle clock that literally chimes with my childhood, great grannies wedding china and the like. Stuff which fills cupboards and drawers and comes to light infrequently. Things to be held in trust until the time is right to pass them on to another generation. At least that's what I sometimes tell myself, but whether the next generation will want them is debatable.

Musical memories, triggers, are all round me at home through our music collection. Some have been posted across the blog at various times, like audio stakes in the ground that mirror sentiment or feeling linked to particular blog posts for instance, or just a reassurance for me where maybe I've felt that a post needed something, even not directly related. I suppose too it's reflected in my sign off where I'll usually let you know what I'm listening to at the time. Each week there will be a trigger that send me thinking about something or other and as the years pass and experiences build up there are of course more and more triggers around to excite, reassure, reaffirm memories and feelings anew.

Hearing this piece again made me think of my Grandfather, especially so as my brother and I had recently walked some of his footsteps in Belgium, in Paschendaele and Ypres. Once again the imagery associated with the music came to me as images of war. No longer under a blazing sun in Turkey but in the mud and filth of the western front, in that seemingly endless flat ground perfectly made for mans worst creation.

Music is magic, of that there's no doubt. It's incredible how man can be so creative and so destructive and how both can be represented by the same thing.

see you later.

Listening to Albanoni, 'Adagio in G minor'

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Is it SOOOO hard to do?


Hullo ma wee blog,


Jings - this last week has flown by and I have hardly posted anything, which is a bit unusual for me. It's been nothing spectacular - a bit of gardening, a bit more of job hunting, a bit of writing and my usual bit of frustration with Job Centre Plus, although this time not over insurance form completion. As you may know I have an ongoing jousting match going on with this Government dept handling unemployment as they don't in my opinion have any role in helping you find suitable employment but instead are focused on getting you off the unemployment figures via any job - suitability unimportant - and in checking that you don't try to avoid finding a job as it's obviously your fault your unemployed in the first place/ you're a lazy toe-rag. {Sorry but I'm bitter and twisted on the subject}

At my last meeting with them the week before going to Holland I had let them know I was going to be out of the country on holiday and they had advised that as I wouldn't actually be actively looking for work they would have to close my claim down temporarily, but that I could restart it by calling up a helpline for a 'rapid reclaim' when I got back. On telling my advisor when I would be returning he said that I should call the given number first thing the next morning and ask for the claim to be reinstated and they would in turn arrange for me to come back to my local office to have this done.

"Er, but I'm here now and I've told you when I'm away and when I'm back so why can't we just arrange a meeting time - um - now?"

But I was told that the process described above had to be followed even though I said that the day after my return was a Saturday and surely no-one would be in the office then. I was assured that the office was indeed manned and that all I had to do was call.

So I did.

And after going through the usual frustrating and impersonal automated 'select from the following numbered options several times before we even think of putting you in touch with a human being'  kind of switchboard that never fails to make me feel at one with the whole human race, I found myself somewhat unsurprisingly and resignedly listening to a recorded message telling me that,

"This office is now closed. Normal office hours are between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. Please call during normal working hours."

But hey, I was still on my last couple of days of holiday so I wasn't going to let that spoil my day, so I just let it go and decided to call again on the Monday.

9.30 Monday morning I was back on the phone and back through all the numbered options until I again got to the right dept. This time I was now met by a new recorded message telling me,

"This office is closed for the Monday holiday and will re-open for business on Tuesday. Please call again during normal working hours"

I was, it is fair to say - a bit peeved. Why couldn't they have mentioned that in Fridays automated message. Is it so difficult to get communication right?  {and why did the local guy get it wrong in the first place}

I called again on Tuesday and finally got through to a very nice man called Bill who apologised and empathised and said he would pass my comments on. I thanked him and let him know that I wanted to restart my claim for unemployment benefit - in reality this is just national insurance credits as I don't get any unemployment payments. {Long story so lets not go there.} He told me he could do that and it would require a few questions that would take about 10 minutes to go through. I said that was OK and he proceeded to ask me a pile of questions and after several minutes he said,

"Now what the Job Center will do to help you back to work will be............."

I stepped in to remind him that I had been claiming for several months and had only been on a weeks holiday so he didn't need to go through the spiel but was told that he had to follow the process. He then went through four or five minutes of explaining what they would do, what they would expect me to do, how I should record it, how they would track it and all the other stuff that I knew - and he knew I knew -  before he finally came to a halt and we could end the call with me having an appointment at my favourite JC+ office the following day to have the claim officially restarted.

Phew.........at least that was it over, right?

Aye, right!

Next day at the duly appointed time I was waiting for my appointment when I was handed a clipboard and what looked like a thin booklet.

"Could you fill this in before we start the appointment please"

I was then left to complete a 17 - yes, that's right - a SEVENTEEN page form, all relating to an unemployment benefit that I knew I wouldn't be getting. {Actually the form was 24 pages long but 7 didn't apply to me.}

Once the form had been completed I was taken to an interview room and I sat down opposite someone I hadn't seen in the office before. He glanced briefly up at me as I took my seat and put the clipboard and pen down in front of him and returned to the computer screen he was looking at.

"Have you completed the form fully?" said without raising his head.

I didn't answer until the silence caused him to look at me, at which point he found me staring at him.

I smiled.

"Hello, my name is Alistair Robertson. Nice to meet you."

 I continued to stare at him until he blinked and responded with a 'hello' and his name in reply . He tapped the form with the middle finger of his right hand and repeated his initial question.

I said I believed so but maybe he should check it over. He picked it up and started to flick through some pages and then said he would need to get someone to look over it as it wasn't a form he was familiar with, and left the room, returning a moment later. He pulled up my records on the screen and said that he would go through my previous agreement - a kind of contract stating what you are expected to do in your job search each week as a minimum - which is negligible in reality - with me. I said that as he could see on the screen I had been in for an interview and had updated the contract with my advisor only 3 days before I had gone on a weeks holiday and that this was in reality only the first working day back after returning and so all the information there would be accurate and up to date. Despite this he insisted that we go through it all so that he could check each line and ask me to confirm that was what was agreed. At the end of each paragraph he made an amended  'as above' comment. The process took nearly 40 painstaking and painful minutes. He then printed off two copies even though I said I already had one and had me sign four or five different forms in duplicate - including one which confirmed I had been given a plastic wallet - even though I said I already one and didn't need another - containing contact numbers.

Once I had gone through all that I was free to go. I stayed long enough to ask a question about going on a short training course for a qualification I am considering and could I do that and keep claiming to ensure my insurance payments would be protected. I would still complete my mandatory job search/application quota etc,etc,etc. I was informed that he couldn't answer that but would check into it for me and let me know.

With that I was ushered out as he returned to the computer screen. As I walked across the office to the exit one of the admin ladies confirmed that my marathon form had been correctly filled in.

"You do know that you don't qualify for that benefit though, don't you?"

I smiled. "Yes. Thank you." and stepped out into the bright sunlight.

I exhaled and took a deep breath of clean fresh sea air.


"Ah, Alistair ma boy. Welcome back to reality!"

On Friday I had a voicemail message left to say that if I attended the two week short course I was proposing to help my job prospects my claim would have to stop until it was completed as it would be full time training. That would also void my insurance claims.

How bloody helpful.

See you later.

Listening to Semisonic 'Singing in my sleep'

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Bass Rock Gannets



Hullo ma wee blog,

Here's a nice film of the Bass Rock Gannets. I went back to the previous post and added a couple of links that I should have included - one on more info on the rock and one for the Scottish Seabird Centre's live feed web-cam in the gannet colony itself if you want to have a look.

see you later.

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