Monday, 30 August 2010

Procrastination and the next blog button

Hullo ma wee blog,

I had stuff I really should have been doing of course. I had a dozen things in a mental list; two loads of washing, empty the dishwasher, vacuuming and dusting, stuff for the recycling center, old clothes for the charity shop, half a dozen gardening jobs, the library needing a good sort out, some job adverts to follow up on, that piece to write for my course. I mean it's not as though I had to go looking for something to do, but here I was sitting at the laptop just mucking around basically. I'd already checked through any postings from blogs I follow, made a comment here and there, checked my own blog for comments and had a look at where people had come from to look at the blog. I could hear my little voice telling me to just take half an hour, to have another coffee and chill for a bit longer. Breakfast had been finished about twenty minutes ago and the dishes were sitting on the draining board by the sink waiting to be dealt with. It was early, not even eight a.m. The whole day was ahead. What difference would half an hour make, right?  It's not as though I have a schedule to keep. Just another boring, redundant day to kill waiting for the next boring, redundant day to get here.

{Lovely positive chap the inner me sometimes}

From my blogger dashboard I hit the view blog button and started to re-read the last post that I had published.


I hit the next blog button. I've done this before and been sent to random sites, some of which I have ended up following. Sometimes it's been funny or plain bizarre. Through this button I once sampled the delights of 'Pants-Boy' who lives in New York and enjoys a lifestyle of photographing himself in his underpants and blogging about how excited the sensation of various underkeg garmenty material gets him - especially while at work at his office.    I didn't stay long.

Today the first blog I reach is dedicated to advising you how to survive under martial law when it comes to America, which apparently it's bound to do anytime soon. This chaps advice is limited to lots of canned food and bottled water, an extraordinary amount of guns and ammunition, the bible and an unchristianly violent zero tolerance policy aimed at anyone who approaches your dugout/womenfolk/animals/children/bible/food supply/ammunition/toilet paper {No - it was just me that added the last one there} He did have a nicely creative Rambo-esque take on booby traps though.

Next I am taken to the blog of 'His Handmaiden' who seems to be a pretty fifteen year old with an equally unhealthy penchant for guns, shooting and doing His work. She wants to be married to The Lord and live in paradise producing prodigious amounts of bible toting children to further His word - soon.

Um, no thanks........

I press again and arrive at the site of yet another right wing fundamentalist uber-christian with a penchant for living in the woods and killing almost anything that moves through the air or across the ground. This one goes into technical descriptions of how to dig latrines in some detail. It's clearly a subject thoroughly researched and close to his heart.  Obviously it's not just bears that sh*t in the woods then!

The next half dozen blogs are very Christian family orientated blogs who seem almost exclusively dedicated to posting scripture and evangelising about how to live a good life. Homeschooling, strict parental discipline and scrap-booking feature strongly in these blogs too. The next half dozen are ministers and pastors doing pretty much the same with quite a bit less scrap-booking. All the blogs are based in the USA, as perhaps this is where blogger has the biggest presence.

I don't have a bias against religion, honestly. While not a practicing Christian it's how I was brought up and they are fundamentally the values I carry. I believe everyone has the right to follow the religion they choose without interference so long as that religion is not aggressive or bigoted against other religions or lifestyles. My faith, such as it is, is quiet, private and deeply personal. I can't help feeling uncomfortable with people who define themselves first and foremost and especially solely by their religious belief. I feel it's often used as a rod to beat people with, a pedestal used to stand sanctimoniously above others who are not the same. It's a shield, a barrier, a defence against the approach of  the dangerous anyone who may challenge those views - a 'get thee behind me Satan' attitude to deter anyone of a different perspective, which in my opinion and experience doesn't preclude people from either being good or a valued part of society. If anything I have found my life enriched by those of very different perspectives as much as anything else. But maybe that discomfort is just me.

 My prejudice. My insecurity. My Achilles heel.

But this isn't what I had hoped to find as a short diversion from my day.

Bloomin heck...

I decide to try another tack, go into my blogger profile and click on 'writing' which should in theory bring up people who share that interest with me. The pages shows that the list is 4 million people long. Phew! That should be better surely.

I click on the profile of a woman who lists her interests as reading, writing, family and travel with a bit of cooking thrown in for good measure. The blog name is simple, quirky and interesting too. I hit the blog name to go there and find that the first post is a ramble on scripture and giving her life to The Lord.

Aw Naw!

Wait. Maybe I was just unlucky. Try another. I look down the list a few pages and this time pick on the profile of a guy from Britain who's interests are reading writing and the outdoors. Entering his blog I find that all he seems to post about is computer programming.

I try again. Another bloke from the UK who's profile fairly closely matches my own interests.

A blog about finance, insurance and share dealing.

Another. This one ends up as the blog of a forty year old woman who spends all day war-gaming on line and goes into characters, game strategy and scores.
I give up.

Where's that washing machine again!

I think I'll stuff my little voice in there and press 'ON'.

See you later.

listening to The Soundtrack from the film 'The Pianist'

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Breakfast and A Nice Wiff.....

Hullo ma wee blog,

Sunday breakfast. Coffee, croissants, unsalted butter, jam.

The lovely G is struggling with the jam lid and after much straining hands it to me to try and open. I try for a bit and exasperated go to the cupboard and get out another jar.

She then says "Mmmm, you should try this. It's got a lovely wiff!"

To which I reply, "No thanks, I already have one...."


One thousand brownie points to me.

I thankyouverymuch.............

see you later.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

I wish I'd Looked After My Knees.........

Hullo blog,

When I was small I ran everywhere. Like many children, walking was too slow, too boring, too often connected to adult conversation and a mothers controlling apron strings to be comfortable, especially on our traditional Sunday afternoon family walks. To run was to be free, to feel the rush of wind on my face, cool rain on skin or long grass swish against bare legs and to feel connected to the hard road or soft earth as I hurtled over it. The dash to get to the next excitement and away from my parents loving but restrictive presence was as exhilarating as the breath that gave me strength to run on faster and further until called to heel.

As I got older I continued to run. I had special routes; favoured paths in the village, over roads, through fields and woods, along river banks, hillsides and rough ground across the whole local area. I knew each one like the back of my hand. After a while I had times to be matched on each route. Granny Robertson's house was four minutes {uphill}, Granny Hughes's the same {downhill, uphill, flat} in the other direction.  The shops four minutes there {downhill} and almost 6 minutes back. {or lots more depending on what had to be carried} School was 3 minutes {downhill- school holidays only - about 15 dawdling, pal laden minutes during school time} Return from school was infinitely variable due to football unless one of the Grannies had to look after me when all records had to be broken. {Old folk just worry and complain}

Steep paths or wild descents would be tackled with lung bursting ferocity until a pounding heart or trembling legs demanded that I reduce my pace to a gentle trot or just throw myself on the ground until ready to run on. Nettle stings or scratches and scars from brambles on short trousered legs would be ignored until later when they could be savoured like badges of honour along with the smell of muddy or grass stained knees. The smell of grass or mud on your knees was a sensory review of the day served from legs tucked up under your chin as you sat with pals dissecting tactics or performance in the last game played on the patch of spare ground at the end of the street before you went home to be made to scrub it all off. Even clean knees smell differently if licked and sniffed - you should try it {You're thinking about it right now, aren't you?}

At least they used to. It's been quite a while.....

I don't actually recall when I stopped running. I just know that I did. Probably getting into long trousers had something to do with it as they were less durable and could take a lot less punishment than knees. {They seemed to be a lot more valued by parents somehow as well}  Probably going to high school had something to do with it too as adolescent kudos became more important. I do remember numerous teachers yelling at me in first year as I belted through the school,

"YOU BOY! DO NOT RUN IN THE......." insert corridor/stairs/school/dinner hall/music dept/whatever

By the time I was in second year I guess that I had pretty much stopped running. Not that that's all a bad thing. It does have some advantages;  less time spent gasping for air before speaking;  a more understandable speaking voice; less damage to trousers, especially knees, and other assorted items of clothing and footwear; time to notice things {girls}; time to reflect on things {girls} and plan ahead {ok,ok! I know you get me on this part now!}

 I did try running as a sport while I was at school, {"Of course I can run! I'm a kid. That's what I do."} but I soon found out that most guys could run faster or longer than I could anyway, so I passed on the opportunity. Also I had found music and stuff {girls} and after all, running was so last year!  Then I was struck down by childhood asthma and my days of running pretty much anywhere came to an abrupt stop.

Then years later, when my first marriage went AWOL and I was in emotional crisis, I found that I couldn't face having to live in what I thought of at that time as our house on my own. I changed it around as much as I could, defined it as my space, decorated, used my ability to control housework, ironing and gardening to the N'th degree to avoid the reality - as I saw it - that something huge was missing. I was bereft, in debt, had no spare cash and had far too much time on my hands which gave me waaay more time than was healthy to try and figure out what had gone wrong. I was hurting in so many ways and couldn't see how to get around it until one night the thought came to me that I should just run away from it all. So with that in mind I opened the front door and ran until I was completely knackered - a grand distance of about 500 yards!

After that I began to go out at night instead of sitting looking at four walls and feeling sorry for myself. I began to run. Slowly at first - going for the theory distance equals more time away from the house and the reality of my situation - I soon increased the time and speed I had to run for before exhaustion kicked in, especially when I realised that as my legs, lungs and everything else began to ache that I could focus in on that and make the stuff at the forefront of my mind disappear altogether, for a while at least. Of course after some time doing just that I was so much fitter, so I had to run much further and at increasing speeds to get the desired effect. Just a sprint until I was exhausted wasn't any use as I would just have to go back home to what I was trying to get away from. I found the perfect balance in my running so that I could go out and spend an extended period of time at the optimum pain threshold - it feels weird writing it like this but that's how I felt at the time - ultimately for several hours at a time. {one particularly bad night lasted for about 28 miles I calculated later by following my route in my dilapidated old car} One night my lovely G, who I only knew vaguely at that time, passed me in her Dads car while I was running a few miles from home and was shocked to pass me hours later many miles away and still pounding on at what she described to me as 'terrific' speed considering the distance I must have covered. I did this 'bad running' as I called it for about a year before I got things under control and reined it back. By that time I was beginning to have problems with my feet and legs from constant road running with no proper footgear to reduce the impact on my joints. By the time I was thirty, a couple of years later, I was sitting in a doctors consulting room after exploratory surgery being told that I had nice knees for a sixty year old and that perhaps I should give up running and move to swimming - something I couldn't face due to psoriasis - unless I wanted to have knee replacements in later life.

I stopped running eventually but sometimes I miss it and wish that I had taken up biking or something instead, but I didn't. Instead I threw myself into work until I found a new and wonderful relationship and flung myself into that as well. Roll time forward twenty years and so far one knee operation later and another knee that's now giving me gip.......

Well, one of my favourite song-smiths and poets, Leonard Cohen, wrote a song called 'The Tower of Song' that includes the line, 'I ache in the places where I used to play'.

I know that feeling only too well.

Oh! I wish I'd looked after my knees......

See you later.

Listening to Leonard Cohen, 'Tower Of Song'

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Edinburgh Days/Camera Daze........

A Scots 'close' is a narrow alley between tenement houses.
They run off the Royal Mile like ribs off a spine.
In old Scots a close might also be called an entry, wynd, court, vennal, gate or gait.

Hullo ma wee blog,

I recently posted some reflections on being in Edinburgh during the festival and said that I would have to take my camera in with me for a bit of a hoof about the sights of our wee toon in full tourist mode. Although the weather today wasn't the best to show off the town in, being a bit dull and overcast with only occasional glimpses of blue skies, I decided to give it a go as who knows what next week may bring. Although I didn't get round everywhere that I had hoped I took a fair few photo's and it should give some idea of what the place looks like just now. Hopefully I'll get a chance to catch the Grassmarket and Cowgate areas some time next week.

The population of Edinburgh doubles in August as visitors flock in to see not just a festival but the festivals, a there is the International Festival of the Arts, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival of music, theatre and comedy, The Edinburgh Book Festival and the Film Festival. The atmosphere is incredible with 2300 shows available through 3 weeks, 7 days a week just in the Fringe alone.


Writing workshop tomorrow which I'm looking forward to.

see you later.

Friday, 20 August 2010

As 'The Few' Get Fewer.............

Hullo Blog,

The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain was yesterday marked by a reading of one of Sir Winston Churchill's most famous speeches and a fly-past. Actor Robert Hardy read extracts from Churchill's "so much owed by so many to so few" speech, precisely 70 years after the address in Parliament. The reading outside the Churchill War Rooms was followed by a Spitfire and Hurricane fly-past over Whitehall. To hear him and see the flypast go here.

The RAF defeat of the Luftwaffe as an offensive force was a key turning point in World War II and there have been a number of commemorations this year as the remaining few are generally now in their 90's. You can see a joint flypast with a Lancaster and Spitfire in commemoration here and a lovely look at the qualities of the Spitfire as an aircraft in this short trip by BBC correspondent Evan Davies in a restored Spit by clicking here.

see you later,

listening to Supertramp 'Take The Long Way Home'

Edinburgh Book Festival 2010 - Ian Rankin

Hullo blog,

 As this gig is an immediate sell out on release of tickets I'm glad that my level two membership of the book festival let's me buy before general release as for me the Ian Rankin event at the festival is a must see every year.  It's not just that he's revered by the Edinburgh Book Festival going public and indeed by Edinburgh itself who claim this working class Fifer as one of their own, or that I've read every one of his world famous Inspector Rebus novels, that I share the characters love of pre-1978 rock music, malt whisky, or even that I love that Rebus inhabits a highly familiar Edinburgh landscape even if he has made it one of the world's murder capitals and therefore, fictionally at least, not particularly safe for us mere mortals. It's not either because I'm particularly captured by crime novels other than in a convenient easy read kind of way, at least most of the time, although I really love the need for a tight and hopefully innovative yet realistic plot in a genre which is so densely populated that it's easy to feel like you've read it all before. I suppose it's that somehow he's managed to take a well drawn character, an incredible, and incredibly small, city and a tightly weaved plot and gel them all together again and again without any of it becoming either too glamorous, too seedy, too predictable and, clearly judging by the success, above all to keep it real.

It's reality that shines out of Ian Rankin. It would be easy to brush by him in the street or in the pub for he is like most of us most of the time - pretty anonymous - and that seems to be how he likes it. He lives in Edinburgh and clearly loves the place. You can bump into him, like I have, in Rebus' favourite den, 'the Ox' or the Oxford Bar, simply because this is one of the places where he has drunk for years and he's comfortable enough in his skin to be recognised or not and not be put off by either. Rankin and Rebus both drink there for the same reason. The beer's good and they are comfortable there, they always have been. It's real in every very ordinary sense of the word

Last night there was no new book for a reading so there was an extended conversation with the chair for the event, fellow Scots crime novelist, Lin Anderson, followed by the usual question and answer session. Much of the conversation naturally turned around Rebus, even though Rankin retired him a few years ago {the novels worked in real time and Rebus like all detectives had to retire at 60} and has published two books - still set in Edinburgh - since. People want to know how Rebus is coping with retirement {drinking more and working part-time on the cold case team at police headquarters, Fettes}. Are there any plans for a book based on his female sidekick Siobhan? {it's something I've considered, so perhaps at some time} or his arch nemesis Cafferty? {ditto} And what about the main character of his last book 'The Complaints', Malcolm Fox, teetotal policeman of  the internal complaints dept. Will this become a series {Very likely. Both Fox and Breck, the other, more dubious police character feel like they have more mileage in them. Fox will definitely be featuring again and I think his character will develop more now I have got to know him a bit better. He may have a few more faults in his character to come out.}. Would Fox and Rebus ever come together in a novel? {It would be interesting to have them working in the same building on cases that converge. It's fascinating how Rebus might react, worrying if any of the skeletons in his cupboard might surface and how Fox would react under those circumstances too}.

Ian spoke about 'Open Doors', the tale of an Edinburgh art heist. This first novel after Rebus was his most successful ever. {If I'd known that was going to happen I might have pensioned Rebus off earlier! }.  He pointed out that it was only after it had been published and recognised as a success that he realised this was the first book he had written where no-one had been murdered. It's been picked up to be worked on for TV, as has 'The Complaints'. Interestingly Rankin has retained some rights in these transactions and hinted that he would have some, if limited, say in the adaptions for screen play and even in the casting of characters, something that never happened with the translation of the Rebus novels to TV. He admitted that although he has copies of the TV Rebus at home, he has never watched any of them, even now after the apparent demise of the character. The reason for this, he said, was that he didn't want another persons interpretation of Rebus to get into his head. Questioned about who was best cast as Rebus he did say that one of his friends commented on the difference between John Hannah and Ken Stott playing the part was that at least Stott looked like he would punch you in the face.

The fact that Rebus the series still lies unwatched in the Rankin household would seem to say that Ian really is unsure that Rebus has finally left the stage. I wonder if he is haunted by his spectre across the bar-room in 'The Ox' too..........

Interview over Ian picks up his i-pad; a small sheet of paper covered in tiny script detailing what he is doing every day this week. He smiles at the audience, the grin of a cheeky schoolboy.

" The screen size is great, it's lightweight and the battery lasts for ever!!! "

{I've paraphrased Ian's responses to questions}

Ian's wki bio is here, his website here and an interview with him here

Listening to Mogwai 'Friend of the Night'

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Edinburgh Book Festival 2010- Christopher Brookmyre

Hullo blog,

Last night my brother-in-law Leonard, AKA Leen,  stepped into his ill girlfriends shoes {nice heels by the way, Leen}  to come with me to The Book Festival event with Christopher Brookmyre, another of my all time favourite Scots authors and raconteurs. It's been a great festival so far and tonight held firm promise of this continuing as Chris has never failed to impress on any of the dozen times I've heard him speak at this kind of event in the past. Chris is a very different proposition compared to authors like Ian Banks or Ian Rankin being a scathing satirist with very firm anti-authoritarian/establishment and anti organised religion views. His books are breathtakingly sharp, bloody and irreverent in the extreme. They've been labelled  'Tartan Noir',  are certainly not for the faint hearted or easily offended, yet are both excruciatingly funny and uncomfortably insightful when looking into the abyss of those corrupted by power, greed or even the modern facade of  newspaper feted 'celebrity'. A Brookmyre book is strewn with  bodies, gore and expletives in a way that is often visceral, certainly creative and often indulgent yet at the same time can be weirdly restrained and considered, even occasionally innocent. A skewering, literal or figurative, from this mans pen leaves no-one in any doubt that there has been indeed a skewering of humongous, even biblical, proportions. His books are laugh-out-loud bundles of absurdity, yet are carefully, skilfully crafted, populated with character traits familiar from anyone's life and jammed full of twists and turns in a clever plot-driven pastiche of reality that's just close enough to the real thing to make you sure that much of what's going on between the pages could probably happen out here right now without too much help from anyone else given just a few changes in circumstances.

If murder, mayhem and witty one liners are your thing and you've not bumped into Christopher Brookmyre's work before, then consider giving him a shot at the title.......

The night started off with a few stories from Chris about writing, being an author and public speaking, all in his typical robust , tongue in cheek 'call a spade an effing shovel' style, which oddly detracts not a jot from his wit, intellect or vocabulary.  His latest work is Pandaemonium, which he then went on to give us a reading from. It's a bit of a departure from his previous works {this is his 13th book} in the crime genre, with its theme of debunking religion, God and the Devil.

 It's a book in which vengeful demons meet grief stricken, horny, angst ridden Scots teenagers on retreat in a remote location and huge quantities of blood get shed in the process - or is it the guise - of dispatching characters and giving demons a good kicking. I mean let's be honest,  in any fight between vengeful demons and your average teenager, demons are punching well above their weight!  But, under all the usual gleeful gore and cheerfully strewn viscera lies Brookmyre's optimistically beating big heart and cheekily irreverent brain cell pounding away with its apparently genetic determination to give the bleeding heart lefties a good poke while the right equally gets the usual swift and deservedly accurate kick in the pants.

On describing it as a Gothic horror novel at pre-publishing event, he was challenged about what made it 'Gothic'. His response was  "Because it's got Goths in". You have to love a guy like that.

With his trademark typically vivid plotting, detailed characterisations and vigorous but considered debate over the nature of, in this case, heaven and hell, all coupled with ample profanity, sex, and copious amounts of cheerful slaughter, teenagers will probably devour Pandaemonium in the same way hordes of us did with Stephen King when we were weans too.

Chris also gave us a world exclusive peek into his next offering, which is still work in progress, via a short reading from "Where The Bodies Are Buried".

I could tell you what it's about, but I'd have to........ well, I'm sure you catch my drift.

A fairly lively Q+A session brought the evenings proceedings to its natural end and a horde of eager groupies followed Chris to the book signing tent as Leen and I headed to the bar in the nearby Spiegeltent for a beer and a chat about the evenings event, books, authors, life, the universe and everything, before I dropped him at Waverley station for his train back across to Fife.

I bet he was glad to get those heels off when he got home................

It was everything I'd hoped for and now I'm looking forward to Ian Rankin on Thursday.

For more on Chris, his wiki page is here, website here and an interview with him here.

See you later.

Listening to Semisonic, 'Secret Smile'

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Edinburgh Book Festival 2010- Ian Banks

Hullo Blog,

Tonight it was back to Edinburgh and the book festival for one of my favourite authors, who also happens to be one of my favourite raconteurs; Ian Banks AKA Ian M Banks. Ian's a novelist in both mainstream fiction and sci-fi, where he uses the Ian M Banks moniker. Unusually for the book festival, tonight there was no reading from an existing book or a work in progress, merely an extended interview and extended Q+A session.  The evenings event was sponsored by Highland Park malt whisky so free samples were on offer as you came in the door, but as I was driving - and had already had a beer with our dinner beforehand - I declined, or more accurately - postponed - as I have a small one beside me while I'm writing this.

Ian was on fine form. In fact he was so animated and so different from his laconic self at previous events that I think he had perhaps tried a few samples of his own before the off. {who can blame him - sip - it's lovely stuff and he is an aficionado of malt whisky, having written a book on the stuff!}  The interview, more of a monologue with a few interruptions in reality, was highly entertaining as Ian gave free rein to his wit and experience in response to the questions and showed clearly how his imagination allows him to both create and handle multiple threads and yet retain the ability to tie them all neatly together before bringing the subject to a close. I've long admired his socialist principles, something that I like to think that to a large extent we share, and the way he holds these close in his writing - he put an embargo on his books being sold in Israel in protest at the recent forced boarding of an aid ship bound for Palestine and famously also cut up his British passport and posted it to Tony Blair in protest at the invasion of Iraq. He was challenged on this latest protest by a member of the audience and responded by explaining that while he had a great admiration for Israel in general and Jewish culture in particular, that he did not feel that he could stand by while they mistreated their neighbours in such a callous way and that of all cultures it was a shame that the Jewish people, who had suffered so badly at the hands of others, would allow themselves to treat other human beings in the same way.

Politics was a large part of the nights discussion, and he freely admitted that as he gets older he is becoming an increasingly angry and a typically curmudgeonly,grumpy old man. {See any more similarities between us here anyone?} He was particularly scathing on Capitalism, the bonus culture and the way the new government is proposing to deal with the recession;

" Take the National Health Service, it's there to care for people, to make their lives better, to make a difference. Now look at how government is acting. According to them public ownership equals bad - old fashioned, inefficient, ineffective, a drain on public resources. It has to be made to work better and the only way to do this is by privatisation. This means that it has to work harder, to deliver more with less resources and it has to deliver a profit to its shareholders, be managed outwith public control by people who have a clear conflict of interest between public good and private profit. According to politicians this is the best way forward possible. Control of this edifice is simply not possible by people who simply want to operate solely for the benefit of the general public, who have no purpose other than meeting a social need or making a better, more caring society.

Now, ask that same politician why he or she went into politics and they will tell you without exception that they want to make a difference to peoples lives, they want to make things better, build a better society, give something back to society, etc etc etc.............

To me, something doesn't add up here........... if we apply the same principles to them as they are to others, shouldn't we be privatising politics? But suggest that to any one of them and what do you think the answer would be? " *

All in all a highly entertaining and thought provoking evening.

Another good one!

Thanks Mr Banks............

You can read his wikipedia bio here or an interview here

*Quote Paraphrased

see you later.

Listening to Grace Jones, 'Private Life' {long version}

Monday, 16 August 2010

Edinburgh Book Festival 2010 - Michel Faber

Hullo ma wee blog,

Yesterday afternoon The Lovely G and I went to the first of this years book festival treats. For the last several years as part of my birthday present she has bought me a membership to the book festival, allowing me to pre book events with my favourite authors, usually in the format of a reading by the author, then an interview and finally a question and answer session with the audience, all of which takes about an hour. As an avid bookworm it's a time I look forward to eagerly for months beforehand, impatiently waiting for the event brochure to land.

Yesterday was a bit different as I booked for us to kick off the festival with Michel Faber, one of The Lovely G's favourite authors, although not someone I know well, having just finished reading a collection of short stories in preparation for the event. I did find his work intriguing though so was looking forward to hearing the man himself. I found his stories very well written, humane and thought provoking. He seems to write in various styles with equal effort which I found I really liked in his short story collection.

At the event he read one of his short stories and was then interviewed by another author, a lady I had never heard of and for some reason I can't remember her name for the life of me, before doing another short reading from a novel he is currently working on. I found him shy, engaging, self deprecating and a complex and highly intellectual character.  We both felt that although he appeared open he was very careful about how much of himself he gave away to the audience. He is clearly a very private person and lives quite in seclusion in the Scottish highlands. He admitted to not having a TV or even to reading any other authors unless he has been asked to provide a review - he has a column in  newspaper -The Guardian I think - or if he has been given one as a gift by a friend or if a friend makes a recommendation. It was an enjoyable hour and an interesting insight into someone I am definitely going to read more of.

You can read an interview with him here, or his bio here on wikipedia.

Tonight the book festival continues with an event I am taking my brother-in-law to, Ian Banks, a favourite of both of us. Over the years it's become a bit of a tradition that we go and see him together, ave a meal and a few beers. A rare boys night out.

See you later...

Listening to Phil Collins,  'Invisible Touch'

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Reluctant Gardener........

Hullo ma wee blog,

Yesterday, with uncharacteristically perfect timing, I spent out in the garden. {Uncharacteristically perfect timing because it rained during the night last night and looks like it might do the same today} The garden has been a tad neglected of late what with the effects of flu and my intermittent - and usually limited - desire coinciding with the occasional rain shower which gave me the chance to opt out with reduced - minimal even - impact on my somewhat underdeveloped sense of guilt. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy, appreciate, envy even, a lovely garden, but as I have said often enough times before, I am not a gardener. My garden is almost lovely though, more through the creativity of the previous house owners than any effort or talent on my part I'm afraid to say. It has a natural charm and because of the fruit trees it looks productive on first glance and that hides a multitude of minor sins. If pressed, I would describe the look as 'shabby chic', although if pressed further I would probably - definitely - have to admit to more shabby than chic.

We have garden on three sides of the house. Each side has fruit trees; our bountiful pears in front, plums to the side and apple trees to the rear. That makes it sound like a huge garden, but in reality its not, even if it is larger than most gardens these days. Before we bought the house it was unoccupied for a year and during that time the previous owners, who had moved abroad, arranged a limited maintenance. Once our offer had been accepted however, that maintenance immediately stopped and by the time the deal had finally been concluded and we moved in several months had gone past. I had approached the owners lawyer asking for access to the property to maintain the gardens in the mean time as it was very obvious that it was quickly becoming overgrown, but this wasn't allowed, so unfortunately by the time we had moved in, the garden was quite a state. As my job kept me away from home on a regular basis for most of the week, although I made the garden presentable, it had always been just maintained rather than properly managed and as a less than confident gardener, that led to the garden I have today.

My garden has a natural feel to it. I have always instinctively shied away from the garden preference of my parents, who's garden style could best be described as ' parks and cemeteries', with every perfect blade of  grass carefully manicured to within an inch of its life, each planting in a clinical border delineated by straight lines and 90 degree corners and each plant looking like it had been sculpted by hand to fit exactly in place. Just thinking about it as I write reminds me of how much a chore gardening was when having to help, cutting the grass or worst of all, weeding those damned borders, knowing that at some time Mum would be passing a critical eye over the standard of work that had been done. Eventually I would rebel and she would decide that it was all pointless as she often went back over the jobs I had been doing herself anyway. I hope she forgives me writing her to appear as a tyrant as she really wasn't except in this area, and oddly only for a few years. Shame they had to correspond with my formative teenage gardening years though! {Never thought about that before but it explains a lot somehow!}

So yesterday I carefully mowed the lawns front side and rear. Lawns carefully and thoroughly sown with wild flowers, or as you would know them, dandelion, clover, chickweed and the occasional but perfectly positioned thistle. Actually, on the lower side lawn - Yes, I have a lower side lawn area, how posh is that - ha! - I have what looks like red headed dandelions growing which really do look lovely when they come to flower. I edged the grass with creative insouciance then I weeded the small borders at the front of the house before spending some hours on my knees weeding the drive and the lower parking area -  Not as posh as it sounds that one! - which had sprung large but easily pulled weeds in the perfect growing conditions of the last few weeks. Actually that was a rotten job though as I kept impaling myself on dried windblown holly leaves from that part of the hedge nearby. The hedge and I have a somewhat problematic relationship too. You may remember that last year I almost lopped off three of my fingers trying to beat it into submission ending up in a bloody drive to the doctors trying not to pass out en route. {It was dangerous but necessary I thought at the time. I remember looking down and thinking I hadn't seen so much blood in one place before. When I ran my and under the tap and saw the state of my fingers I nearly passed out on the spot before wrapping them in a towel and grabbing my car keys. A full year on and I still don't have feeling back in two fingers so that may be permanent} This year the hedge is definitely the most unruly part of the garden. {I'm sure the neighbours must hate me for it} I justify it to myself that there have been loads of nests in there and I didn't want to disturb them but in reality it's a bit daunting at about 60ft long and 8ft high. The lovely G has suggested that we get someone in to chop it down to a more manageable size and I didn't disagree with her.

Now, as I look out the patio door to the garden, the dull day has gone and it's calling me to come and spend a bit of time enjoying the birds and the fruits of my labour yesterday. I think I'll sit out a while, potter around and be smug in my little bit of heaven.

Shame it won't stay that way for long............

see you later.

Listening to Fyfe Dangerfield,  'Live Wire'

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A Festival Begins..........

Hullo ma wee blog,

I left home at two to pick up my Lovely G after her course had finished at half past three. I left early as I had an errand to run returning a faulty cake stand that a been a birthday gift for her a couple of weeks ago. The trip to Edinburgh was sunshine and sea on one side and grey and driech on the Lammermuir hills on the other, a typical Scottish summers day in these parts. Loud music is my preferred accompaniment when I'm in the car on my own and today was no exception, it being the turn of  The Flaming Lips to keep entertainment at a suitable level.

I love the drive to Edinburgh, I love this small city with its grand claims and aspirations looking to the world stage yet determined to keep a firm grip on its parochial underwear at the same time, with its selling of Tartan Scotland and its everyday ' but we still have to live here too' approach of modern bars and restaurants, even if they do fall prey to the oft misguided summer belief that its possible to live the continental street cafe/bistro life out in the open exposed to the cold wind and sudden showers of our normal weather in these Northern climes.

My drive took me into town via Holyrood Park, with Arthur's Seat on one side and Holyrood Palace on the other, and out of the park and into the Old Town via Dynamic Earth and the edge of Parliament building, passing the glass front of  'The Hootsman' newspaper and on up to the Cowgate and the remnant of The Flodden Wall, along past the old city mortuary, haunt of Rankine's Detective Inspector Rebus. Streets were filled with tourists dragging cases and loaded down with holdalls and rucksacks, with the beautiful, or merely over eager, young artists keen to start leafleting their shows, to lessen the blow of empty venues and missed opportunity, mingling energetically with the local inhabitants. Bill posters had been busy decorating the city with their wares and the whole place vibrated with energy for the festival starting. Menu's have been checked, rooms have been rented, prices have been hiked, the festival is in town and for three weeks anything is possible, and everything has a price.

As I entered the start of the Grassmarket, that spot below The Castle where cattle were sold and Old Town ne'er do well's had their necks stretched in olden days, I turned right up Victoria Street, but not before noticing that the Grassmarket's bars and restaurants had spilled out of their walls and were jostling for advantage on the cobbled street - tables, chairs and parasols proclaiming summer was here and here was the place to be. I parked the car on double yellow lines just where someone had kindly coned off a space with 'no loading' carefully signed and nipped into the shop to return the cake stand, getting back to the car in less than 30 seconds to find two traffic wardens eyeing up the car as a likely target. I know, naughty of me - but you try finding a parking space in the Old Town when you need one! I left the wardens glaring after me as I cheated them of their prey as I headed away from Old Town, crossed the Royal Mile and  headed downhill to Princes Street, the New Town and the Lovely G's office in George St. I love Edinburgh at this time of year and vowed to myself to come back with my camera and make a day of recording some of the sights. I promise you a blog on that very soon. I smiled as I thought of the tickets for the book festival lying in the house and the 10 different authors events that I have planned over the next three weeks, especially my favourite raconteurs, Ian Rankin, Ian Banks and Christopher Brookmyre.

The front of Waverley station was crammed with new tourists vying for taxi rights and early birds jamming themselves onto open deck tour buses to take the Old Town Tour, the New Town Tour or the Two Town Tour on a vintage tour bus - fine on a day like Friday but often a soggy treat for the unprepared. Eager tour reps settled customers and began to blare their oh-so-well-rehearsed blurb through tanoys at the poor unfortunates and the sound of their voices merged into the wail of the ever present piper in full Highland dress on the corner facing the station, the Scott Monument an appropriate background and photo opportunity combined. Oh! those Japanese do love a photo opportunity!

The traffic was halted by a man crossing the street on a red light, hand in pocket and deep in conversation on his mobile phone. An irritated driver blowing his horn at him  receiving a glare and a shrug of the shoulders in return, the man continuing both his conversation and his stroll across the breadth of the thoroughfare at an even slower, more considered pace in protest that a mere motorist would dare to do such a thing. I smiled at Edinburgh life in the Festival sun and imagined paint-balling the errant pedestrian with bright yellow paint. Don't ask, I have no idea why that came to mind. It just did and it made me smile.

Soon the Lovely G opened the passenger door an slid in beside me. We kissed and I turned the car to head for an impromptu trip to the cinema as the first drops of rain began to hit the windscreen.

What can I say? There's a film festival too you know............

See you later.

Litening to The Flaming Lips  'Do you Realise?'

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Some more about the holiday

Beringen, Kanton Schaffhausen
Hullo ma wee blog,

Although I posted a few snaps from our recent holiday to Switzerland I had intended to do it a bit more justice, but unfortunately man flu got in the way. Now I feel that it finally really is on the way out perhaps this is the time.

I suppose I should really call it a trip rather than a full blown holiday as it was only for 5 days including travel. We have a holiday to France coming soon and the reason for the Swiss trip was to attend a family get together celebrating Uncle Richard's birthday, nephew Fabian's return from his 1 year student exchange to Washington and to see cousin Veronika { called Vroni } who had brought her two sons from New Zealand to visit their Grandparents on an extended holiday. It was just too good a chance to let slip. As it does these days, money had to be a major consideration and we were happy that we wouldn't be doing anything other than just spending those few precious days with family. To make the most of our budget we checked - that's the royal 'we' of course as it was the Lovely G - what was the most cost effective way to get there and found that it was flying to Geneva, a four hour train journey away from the nearest town to the Lovely G's Aunt and Uncle's house  in Beringen. Normally the thought of a flight followed by a four hour train journey would be enough to make your heart sink, but when it's a place like Switzerland and knowing the highly efficient rail system like we do, a four hour train journey is simply a sightseeing tour from a moving platform. This, and the fact that it would cost only 30% of the price to fly to Zurich meant there was barely a decision to make, even adding the cost of the train we would save a packet.

Our Room top left above the tree.

Our Room.

We arrived at the farmhouse in Beringen near Schaffhausen by 5pm and had the evening with Margot, Richard and Vroni and the two boys; Luke 5 and Shaun 10. Although we had spent a holiday at Beringen with them a few years before, the boys barely remembered us and were a bit reserved for the first while as they watched and listened to the adults chatting and reminiscing, before they began to come out of their shells and I was tentatively asked to come and check out what they'd been doing when playing around the house. As with small boys the world over, a new male adult showing interest and attention in their world is quickly accepted. Throw in a bit of rough and tumble, and by the time we came back into the farmhouse I had firmly claimed my place as the best thing since Methuselah was a boy himself.

Shaun's 'Michael Jackson' nose

Kiwi Luke

Julia - I'm gonna get you!

The house, built by Richard's Grandfather, is arranged over several floors and typically has a barn attached. Each floor has a connecting doorway into the barn's various levels, even one direct from Richard and Margot's bedroom, convenient for early starts in years past. The ground floor of the barn is huge and divided up into several areas for different uses; garage, grain store, wood store and part left empty, although for the celebrations due the following day it had been laid out with trestle tables and benches, the tabletops and the barn beams all decorated with fresh ivy, moss and flowers cut earlier in the day in the forest, vinyards and fields which surround the village. Vroni and the boys were living in the ground floor Granny flat, Richard and Margot have their room on the first floor which is the main living area of the old house - kitchen, lounge, study, toilet, bathroom and bedroom. The Lovely G and I were on the second floor where there are two rooms built into the beams and eaves of the house. This, up the rickety wooden stairs is where we have slept for the last twenty years of visits and, having left so many bits and pieces to be used on next trips, it feels very much like home as well as helping us to travel very light for this short trip. Beside our room is an even more rickety staircase leading to the small attic at the very top of the house which hasn't been used for years. Unlike in Britain the houses are together in the village, making what we in Scotland would call a 'ferm toun' from our distant past. The tradition seems to have lasted much longer here. Oddly too the farm fields are split up and divided across the valley with a farm owning fields dotted here and there. Unusually to me too when I saw them first all those years ago, the fields are very small and unless there is livestock, completely unfenced.

Every house has a unique smell but it would be very difficult for me to describe adequately what this house, and particularly 'our' part of it up on the second floor smells like. It's a heady mix of old wooden beams, old barn and hay, mixed with drying flowers and faint smells of seemingly constantly baking bread from the kitchen below. Add to that the sound of water constantly running into the old trough below our bedroom window and perhaps you can feel the magical pull a place like this can have on you. As in summer the mosquito protected windows are almost always open, you have to add in too the sounds of small village life; church clock marking the hours and half hours across the day and night, tractors, the joiners workshop at the end of the road a couple of hundred metres away, the railway crossing with it's gently distinctive 'bong, bong, bong' alarm when the barricade is down, buses and trucks on the distant road and the sound of Swiss German floating up from the street below as children play or neighbours chat in the quiet of the evening. It's a house that the Lovely G has known all of her life - she first came here when she was just 6 months old - and during that time it's changed very little.

On Sunday, about 11.00am we all went to a local restaurant in a nearby village, were we were met by Richard and Margot's two sons and their families as well as other relatives from the wider family. We had a brunch meal before coming back to the barn where we pretty much spent the rest of the day with family at the tables laid out there, talking, drinking and stuffing ourselves on absolutely gorgeous home made cakes, pastries and desserts, all washed down with copious amounts of wine made right there in the village and dark intense coffee. The heat was intense and we were glad for the shade of the barn and the huge sliding doors that allowed any breeze to help keep us cool as the kids tore around outside on bikes and skateboards until eventually deciding that a quick change and a dip in the trough was called for by the youngest ones. They decided very quickly that the water must be coming straight from the glaciers - it was so cold. It was funny to see Shaun quietly infatuated by his older cousin and how he blushed when she spoke to him or when they played together. She was totally unaware and upset him greatly by proudly telling her Aunt G that she had 'a boyfriend'. It would appear that he is an older man - being nearly 12! Get used to it buddy - they're all heart breakers!!!

One of the riverboats.

On  Monday we spent the day with Vroni and the boys - in Schaffhausen and then on to Stein am Rhein. It was another boiling hot day and we were all having a great time together. Just a well as it was a bit of a catastrophe as far as travel planning went anyway. As we arrived at the train platform to take the train to Stein Am Rhein - the plan was to train up and catch a river boat back down - a lovely journey downstream of about an hour, especially on a hot day like that one - there was a train waiting which I made to get on, only to be told that it was the wrong one.  I was surprised as it was the right time and the right platform and confident in Swiss efficiency I didn't even look. Vroni went to check the timetable notice and just as the train pulled out, announced that it was the right one and that we had missed it! We used the half our until the next one to go to the kiosk and buy coffee and gipfel, a type of croissant. So, delayed by half an hour we arrived  in S.A. Rhein, a lovely town on the banks of the Rhine with a square of painted buildings and a great castle on the hill overlooking the town. After a look around and a leisurely lunch in a restaurant overlooking the riverbank. We then headed over to the boarding point for our trip back downriver to home. After a short wait, which I used to take photos of the river and some of the sights around, boarding tarted and I rushed over to join the gang as they boarded. The crew skillfully prepared the boat and cast off, engines surging against the current as we headed off upriver. Yes, that's right, upriver - in other words, in completely the wrong direction! We had successfully boarded the wrong boat. Luckily the first stop was a short ten minute hop upstream and we were able to disembark and walk to the train station to get a train back down to Stein. As we had a short wait we used the time in having coffee and some ice cream which was much appreciated by us boys. By the time we arrive back in Stein, we had a couple of hours to wait on the next boat down to Schaffhausen, or we could stay on the train and be back in half an hour. We decided determinedly that we would get the boat as it would be the highlight of the day, and we worked out that we could wait a couple of hours and still be back at the farm in time for dinner.

Painted house, Stein Am Rhine.

So we waited, window shopping, drinking soft drinks and just enjoying a laugh about how silly we had been and how grateful we were that it would all end up as planned after all. Two hours passed in fairly quick time and soon we were joining the line in preparation for the boat arriving. Just then the tannoy crackled into life and an announcement came that due to 'technical problems' the next - and last - sailing of the day was cancelled.

How it should have been.........

A panic check of the train timetable showed that we could just make the next train back to Schaffhausen and so we hoofed it back across town to the train station as quick as we could. We made the train with minutes to spare and headed home, hot, bothered and luckily, still able to see the funny side. After dinner it was nice to be able to take my book and a beer to the little spot which is my sanctuary when on holiday here - at least until the boys found me and 'forced' me to play darts and table football with them for an hour or so before bed. It was great to spend time with the boys. It's incredible how 'in the moment' children can be, how totally focused on the matter at hand and how easily they give you the chance to do the same, if only for a short while. We were lucky too that the boys were such fantastic fun and an absolute joy to spend time with. In many ways they made the holiday.

Just needs a beer and a book - oh, and me!

cheers guys!

Johannas Berries.

See you later

Listening to Phil Collins,  'Take me Home'

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

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