Monday, 27 August 2012

Photographs of Sunday

Chicken sitting the neighbours hens and a sunny day at the harbour.


Listening to:

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/a word to husbands


A Word to Husbands

To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

Ogden Nash
Photo by Alistair.

{With apologies to Linda and Matthew}

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Home on Autopilot.

I stand outside where I’m working and savour the coffee in the cool of the evening, letting its heat and dense flavour work out the kinks that have grown unnoticed over the last few hours. It’s been a hard shift and this is the first chance I’ve had to stop even for just a drink in several hours. The garden is cool and tranquil in the late evening light and I linger there away from the house which has absorbed so much heat from the day.  I notice a cloud of tiny black flies gathered under the eaves at the nearest corner just under the roof, perhaps drawn by some warmth escaping into the night or reflected by the pale stone of the building. They twist and turn in the last of the sunlight until suddenly three swallows come tearing round the side of the house banked steeply on their wingtips and cut through the swarm. The moment is imprinted in my mind like a slow motion high definition movie and I see the birds’ creamy bellies flash crimson as the last rays of the dying sun hit them perfectly. One of those incredible memories you might carry a lifetime.

An hour later, within moments of leaving work, the car crosses the battlefield of Prestonpans, where the screaming charge of Charlie's Jacobite Highlanders routed the Government redcoats in 1745.  The tune of ‘Hey Johnnie Cope’ comes to mind; the famous song written soon after which commemorates their victory and lampoons the English General as being the first soldier ever to bring his king news of his own defeat, so quickly did he run for Dunbar and a ship to safety in England. A few moments later I follow his route as I swing the car onto the A1, the famous Great North Road; the easiest, most direct of the ancient routes from London to Edinburgh and which echoes many of the trails of long forgotten combatants in one direction or the other across the centuries. It will take me to Dunbar and beyond through a landscape littered with the echoes of its history.

The car accelerates and a steady thrum builds between tyres and road while I turn up the volume on the classical music station I’m listening to. Sometimes, especially on nights like this, classical music is the only thing for me and there’s a Debussy piece oozing from the speakers as I lose myself in music and in pondering potential strategies to help a client facing huge challenges from his autism. The car cruises on at a steady pace without any conscious thought from me as the road rises from the coast. There will never be more than a few miles between the road and sea for the thirty-odd minute journey while I cut across the county to home.

 Debussy gives way to Chopin and to a wonderful choral piece which therapeutically massages the day away. Outside, the old county town of Haddington and its neighbour, the huge, rocky plug of Traprain Law - hilltop capital of the Celtic Votadini tribe in the first centuries AD – pass unseen but somehow silently acknowledged in the gathering darkness. Speed increases as the car swoops down Dunpender hill and barrels across the high bridge spanning the Tyne and a mile further on the lights of nearby East Linton catch my eye– linn is an old Scots word for waterfall so this is ‘the village of the falls’ – and I realise for the first time that I’ve been on autopilot for more than a dozen miles. I’ve no recollection of the road since turning onto the A1 almost twenty minutes ago. Its incredible how you can drive this way – doing something so familiar that one part of the brain takes control to manage perfectly while another part wanders free. I wonder just how safe it is, or am I just kidding myself, fortunate that a deer or badger hasn’t jumped out from the gloom around me. Yet I don’t feel tired. I feel alert and engaged apart from this ‘absence’ of miles. If anything my thinking while on the road has revived me and I’m sure I’ve been safe. But just in case I decide it’s time to pay attention and get on with the last ten or fifteen miles to home.

The road to Dunbar and beyond is a level ten minutes of fairly straight dual carriageway interrupted only by a couple of roundabouts. From there the road rises on the sleeve of the hill from where another Scots army descended long ago to fight an English one, this time with devastating results for the Scots. By the time I’ve mused this I know I’ve passed the ‘battle-stane’ memorial which commemorates the event and am passing the site of the oldest house found in Scotland so far, a roundhouse constructed eight thousand years ago. I carry on past little villages tucked away unseen in the dark folds of The Lammermoor Hills; places whose names echo their Celtic, Pictish, Saxon, Viking, Northumbrian, English or Scots heritage, and hint at just how crucial this easily traversed little coastal plain has been to human existence for millennia. How much turmoil in the turning of centuries?

I speed on past Torness, the nuclear power station, incongruously and garishly lit in the midst of all this history, the car rushing to get out of its light like a nocturnal animal. The road is empty as far as the headlights can reach and I’m alone for the next two miles by the water. Another minute and I’m crossing a bridge high over a tumbling stream in a deep but narrow ravine and feel the four earlier bridges still nearby in the dark. The road tilts gently up toward a brightly lit roundabout and here I swing right into the dark again and take the hairpin as the road turns back on itself before the short climb to the brow of the hill, past the graveyard and on down to our ancient village originally named for a long dead Viking where at last I turn into the drive and put such thoughts from my head. The car bounces on a pothole at the start of the drive and suddenly I’m back in the now. Debussy is again pouring from the radio and I realise I'm completely exhausted.

Despite that it seems my autopilot has got me safely home again.

Thank goodness.

See you later.

Listening to:

Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/ As soon as Fred

Dedicated to blogger pal Eolist Petite and her grandson with thanks for the perfect photo.

As soon as Fred gets out of bed,
his underwear goes on his head.
His mother laughs, "Don't put it there,
a head's no place for underwear!"
But near his ears, above his brains,
is where Fred's underwear remains.

At night when Fred goes back to bed,
he deftly plucks it off his head.
His mother switches off the light
and softly croons, "Good night! Good night!"
And then, for reasons no one knows,
Fred's underwear goes on his toes.

Jack Prelutsky
Photo by Eolist Petite

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Festival Photos 2012

Well, it's here at last! My favourite time of year in Edinburgh - festival time!

I had the chance to spend a couple of hours in town the other morning so I took along my camera to see what was going on. These are some of the photos. I never got the chance to spend much time there and the sky was very overcast which blew out any detail in it so not much of the wider views' I focussed mainly on the performers who were giving out flyers and trying desperately to attract attention for their shows in the main tourist area of The Royal Mile.

Leaflet anyone?

Enjoying the show

Press photographer in the way.

I see you - get my best side will you.....

See you later:

Listening to;

The Glorious Twelfth.

Don't worry - I'm not thinking of killing any poor avians. I happened on one of those 'On This Day In History' pages which mentioned the battle of Dupplin Moor: a medieval punch-up twixt us and our dear neighbours. I seemed to remember writing about it at one time but couldn't think where.

Found it eventually. It's only the most popular post in the last three years.

So - as I feel a bit lazy today - here it is again:

                          The story of 'Black Agnes of Dunbar'.

Dunbar Castle today.

Agnes, Countess of Dunbar is well known here in East Lothian for her role in defending Dunbar Castle against an English army in 1338. There's not much left of the castle now but what there is seems to rise fully formed from the red stone of the local area like it's part of the rock itself. In any case what little still remains around the harbour today isn't Agnes' castle of 1338. That earlier stronghold was later 'casttit doune' on order of the king to prevent it falling into enemy hands.

The Celtic Votadini or Gododdin, are thought to have been the first to defend this site, the Brythonic name Dyn Barr, (the fort of the point) is still in use. By the 7th century Dunbar Castle was a central defensive position of the Kings of Bernicia, an Anglian kingdom that took over from the British Kingdom of Bryneich. During the Early Middle Ages, Dunbar Castle was held by an Ealdorman owing homage to either the Kings at Bamburgh Castle, or latterly the Kings of York. In 678 Saint Wilfrid was imprisoned at Dunbar, following his expulsion from his see of York by Ecgfrith of Northumbria. Later, Dunbar was said to have been burnt by Kenneth MacAlpin, King of the Scots. Certainly he is on record in possession of the castle in 879.

Let me describe some background to set the scene that propelled Agnes to her destiny.

By 1338 Scotland was in a chaotic state. Robert The Bruce had been dead almost ten years and his presence no longer blinded its enemies and shadowed the land with confidence, optimism and determination. He'd lived long enough to sign the treaty which recognized him as king of a free country and send it south for an English king's signature and hollow promise of peace in perpetuity. It was carried by a hundred knights on safe-conduct pass to Edward in York, a place they had recently passed through equally safely without such protection. The treaty was ratified by the English Parliament at Northampton but seen by the aristocracy for the capitulation it really was. As part of the peace process, David, The Bruce's five year old son was married to Edward's child sister, Joan, aged seven. Edward too renounced all claim upon Scotland and recognised 'His most dear friend and ally, Lord Robert, by grace of God, King of Scots.' All documents relating to Scotland removed over the previous decades were also to be returned, although it would be 600 years and many sovereigns later before it happened.

{Intriguingly there appears no mention of the Stone of Destiny even though it's hard to believe given its historic importance to Scotlands kings. It would take even longer for that relic to be returned.}

Stone of Destiny under the coronation
throne, Westminster Abbey.

Peace, such as it was, was superficial. It didn't stop cross border raiding by either side. Power in Scotland was in the hands of a Regent - Mar, the young kings cousin - also heir to the throne should the boy-king die. South of the border the exiled King John Balliol's son Edward was receiving tacit royal support and encouragement in his aim of restoration to what he saw as his birthright. He was supported too by those Lords and sons of Lords who had lost lands, titles and influence when Bruce came to power. This eager group, known as 'The Disinherited', were an ideal audience in which to foment rebellion and trouble north of the border to keep the situation unstable and pressure on the troublesome Scots.

The Disinherited and their English allies sailed on 31 July 1332 from several Yorkshire ports to Kinghorn in Fife to get round the terms of the Treaty of Northampton that forbade English forces to cross the River Tweed which at that time marked the border. Moving inland they were met by a Scots force at Dupplin Moor, near Perth. The battle that ensued lasted from dawn until noon and by that time English bowmen, in an early indication of the power and potential of the longbow, had destroyed most of the Scots army, including Regent Mar. . In that gleeful medieval way, it was said that Scots bodies piled up the height of a spear on the field. Victorious Balliol was crowned King at Scone six weeks later, surrounded by the disinherited and many who had previously supported Bruce. He offered the English Edward homage as liege lord and lands in the south which effectively brought England to Edinburgh's doorstep, asking for David's marriage to be set aside so he could marry the young Joan in his place and establish his own dynasty. By December though he was forced to flee half-dressed into the night on an unsaddled horse, back across the border to Carlisle, when a force under Randolph and Douglas, loyal to the boy-king of Scots caught him unprepared at his camp in Annan. King Edward was furious and now openly showed his support for Balliol, claiming the Scots had broken the Treaty of Northampton through their cross border raiding and by raising an English army to invade Scotland once more. Archibald Douglas, younger brother of crusading James, who had thrown Bruce's casketed heart ahead of him before charging to his death among the Saracens en route to bury that same item in the Holy Land, was made new Regent of Scotland until David reached his maturity.

In 1333 Edward came North at the head of an army to take Berwick once again and met the Scots army at Halidon hill, two or three miles north of the town. The Scots had seemingly learned little or nothing from the defeat of Dupplin Moor and now no longer faced the inexperienced boy king who years before had wept in frustration as another Scots army, against overwhelming odds, outwitted him and melted away in the night to live and fight another day. He was now the warrior tactician who, just a few short years in the future, would destroy French chivalric power to win at Crecy, and his army reflected his new understanding of firepower, heavy as it was with men practiced from childhood in the spine crushing discipline of the longbow and the cloth yard arrow, fletched with goose and tipped with steel. The old Scots tactic of the spear tipped 'schiltrom' formation densely packed with men finally proved itself out of time and tragically inadequate.This time Edward had picked an ideal position and there would be no mistakes allowing the enemy to escape. As the Scots ranks attacked in their lumbering hedgehog formations that windy morning they began to slip on the grassy slope even before clouds of arrows were driving into them. It was said that the onslaught of the bowmen was so fierce that the Scots turned their heads as if walking into sleet. When finally they broke and ran, death rode close behind, armour clad with steel mace or sword at the ready. The notion of confidence, of invulnerability, which had been Bruce's hard won legacy was gone.

It had lived less than a lifetime.

Schiltrom fighting

For Edward, it was the kind of victory that his long legged Grandfather would have been proud of. It was vindication of his tactics and bloody rehearsal for victories yet to come. For the Scots it was utter disaster. Those Barons quick enough to find a fast horse and flee the field, quickly sent the boy king and his queen to France and the protection of its king before heading for the hills or throwing themselves at the dubious mercy of Edward and Balliol. Scotland lost 5 Earls, 70 Barons, 500 knights and countless thousands of spearmen. The English lost virtually no-one. Records show their losses at 14, a dozen of them archers. With the loss of its army, Scots resistance returned to the old ways of guerrilla tactics, isolated strongholds and lightning raids from the wilderness. For the next twelve years there would be no peace, but a virtual civil war as Regent after Regent resisted the usurper Balliol in the name of King David.

It was this world that Black Agnes inhabited.

Agnes Randolph, Countess of Dunbar, was the daughter of the Earl Of Moray, one of Bruce's most loyal supporters, who had fought beside his king at the Bannock-Burn and other places. Her husband, Patrick, Earl of Dunbar and March { the border lands were called 'Marches'} was also of royal blood and a supporter of David II. The vulnerable and volatile border lands needed a trustworthy hand and a strong sword arm. The Dunbar's epitomise a loyal and trustworthy pedigree of support for David in the trying times of his exile. In 1338 Earl Patrick was absent from his lands fighting for the cause in the north. Agnes was left in control of the stronghold of Dunbar castle with a skeleton force and her retinue of servants. In those days this was no unusual thing but it is more noticeable for the fact that she was left during such dangerous times. This may be an indication that it was felt Dunbar was the safest place or that there was no-one capable enough, or trustworthy enough, to be left in her stead. History would show that it was indeed fortunate that Lady Agnes and no other was in charge at the time. She's come down the years known as Black Agnes, perhaps from the jet-black of her hair or from the combination with her olive coloured skin. Both were noted. Both are possible, but we don't know for sure. What we do know is that in January of 1338 Lord Montague, Earl of Salisbury, an experienced soldier, arrived at Dunbar with an English army and instructions to take the castle. He was in high spirits and felt sure that he would be a match for the Lady Agnes. In that belief he would find himself sadly mistaken.

Asked to surrender the castle, Agnes declined, reputedly stating,

"Of Scotland's King I haud my house, He pays me meat and fee, And I will keep my gude auld house, while my house will keep me."

Pleasantries over, the siege began in earnest with an extended bombardment by catapults. During three weeks of almost continuous assault, Agnes showed her contempt for Salisbury's efforts by walking the battlements between salvos, her retinue of ladies in waiting dressed in all their finery, all ostentatiously dusting off the damage done by the English missiles with handkerchiefs of white linen to indicate that it was no more than a minor inconvenience. It's easy to imagine Lord Salisbury's reaction. No matter when he attacked, Agnes was prepared, her small force ready to act. This was recorded later in ballad form as if from his own mouth,

"She makes a stir in tower and trench,
That brawling, boisterous, Scottish wench;
Came I early, came I late.
I found Agnes at the gate."

Agnes was an early master of one-upmanship. Faced with her captured brother being brought to the castle by the English, a rope around his neck, she answered their threat to hang him before her eyes by telling them to do so as she would then inherit his lands and titles. {Her brother was not hanged but taken away to custody in England.} On one occasion she narrowly missed capturing Salisbury himself, leading an attempt to gain entry to the castle - having bribed the gatekeeper - who in turn advised Lady Agnes. Instead she sprang the trap too soon and shut the portcullis down on an attendant instead, but sent caustic word to Salisbury later that evening that 'she had hoped to dine with him and was sorry to have missed him.' Salisbury responded by sending for a huge siege engine called 'The Sow', a battering ram with a wooden roof. He attacked the castle entrance only for Agnes to destroy it before any damage had been done by dropping, from the ramparts, a huge rock previously fired into the castle by English catapults. It went through the roof of 'The Sow' killing many of the men who were operating it. In yet another episode she had Salisbury targeted by a bowman at range and only narrowly missed him, striking and killing the man at his side.

Even the English quipped admiringly, "Black Agnes' love-shafts go straight to the heart!".

Salisbury continued to besiege Dunbar for five months by which time things were desperate and starvation was near. Hope came when a small force from the castle on Bass Rock managed to get supplies through the naval blockade by disguising themselves as fishermen returning to port. With typical crushing mockery Agnes sent Salisbury a fresh baked loaf of bread and a bottle of fine wine. By this time Edward's attention was elsewere and he was beginning to cast his eye at France. This new focus caused him to relocate forces in support , leaving Balliol to manage Scotland as best he could. By June 10th Salisbury was ordered to lift the siege and left in disgrace. His nemisis would go down in Scots history as Black Agnes of Dunbar.

Even hundreds of years later Agnes is recognised by many in Scotland as a true heroine and an inspirational leader. Her name and values were used several centuries later to rally support and inspiration in the name of the womens suffrage movement in the early years of the twentieth century.

She was voted in the top 100 in the millenium list of influential Scots.
Sketch of Suffragette Banner

see you later.

Listening to.

The Sunday Posts 2012 /Her reply

Her Reply

IF all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy Love.

But Time drives flocks from field to fold;
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold;
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward Winter reckoning yields:
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Soon break, soon wither--soon forgotten,
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy-buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,--
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy Love.

But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy Love.

Sir Walter Raleigh

Photo by Alistair.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012/ night mail

This is the Night Mail crossing the border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
The shop at the corner and the girl next door.
Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb:
The gradient's against her, but she's on time.

Past cotton-grass and moorland boulder
Shovelling white steam over her shoulder,
Snorting noisily as she passes
Silent miles of wind-bent grasses
Birds turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bushes at her blank-faced coaches.
Sheep-dogs cannot turn her course;
They slumber on with paws across.
In the farm she passes no one wakes,
But a jug in the bedroom gently shakes.

Dawn freshens. Her climb is done.
Down towards Glasgow she descends
Towards the steam tugs yelping down the glade of cranes,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the furnaces
Set on the dark plain like gigantic chessmen.
All Scotland waits for her:
In the dark glens, beside the pale-green sea lochs
Men long for news.

Letters of thanks, letters from banks,
Letters of joy from the girl and the boy,
Receipted bills and invitations
To inspect new stock or visit relations,
And applications for situations
And timid lovers' declarations
And gossip, gossip from all the nations,
News circumstantial, news financial,
Letters with holiday snaps to enlarge in,
Letters with faces scrawled in the margin,

Letters from uncles, cousins, and aunts,
Letters to Scotland from the South of France,
Letters of condolence to Highlands and Lowlands
Notes from overseas to Hebrides
Written on paper of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The chatty, the catty, the boring, adoring,
The cold and official and the heart's outpouring,
Clever, stupid, short and long,
The typed and the printed and the spelt all wrong.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or of friendly tea beside the band at Cranston's or Crawford's:
Asleep in working Glasgow, asleep in well-set Edinburgh,
Asleep in granite Aberdeen,
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for letters,
And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

WH Auden

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Scientifically - a musing

As I drive along behind a top of the range mercedes, I watch the driver throw rubbish out of his window for the third time in ten minutes and muse that according to science, the world is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. 

Silently, I add morons to that list.......

........and wish out loud for Bond-style machine guns mounted in the front of the car..........

see you later.

listening to:

Thursday, 2 August 2012

A Man's got to do what a man's got to chew.

It was late afternoon when my Lovely G smiled at me and said, "Tonight I think we’ll have fishcakes, boiled potatoes and peas for dinner."

I smiled in response to her voice and replied, "That’ll be nice" and returned to whatever I was doing at the time. A couple of hours later I was in the library engrossed in some photography magazine that I had recently purchased and was working my way through some of the free hints and tips CD that had been included when I realised that time was marching on and our normal time to sit down to an evening meal was rapidly approaching. Feeling a bit thirsty I walked across the hall and into the kitchen to get myself a drink. As I poured the water from the tap something registered in my subconscious and I found myself turning and looking around the kitchen.


No quiet hum came from our electric fan oven to indicate that something was cooking inside. Nothing on top of the gas hob either and across the room the dining table clearly hadn't been laid for dinner.

"Strange," I thought, 

I walked back along the hall to the lounge where the lovely G was sitting tapping away on her laptop. I stuck my head around the door and she turned to look at me as I asked,

"Are you making dinner?"

She looked quizzically back at me." No, why?"

"It's just that you’d decided what we were going to have and I assumed that you were going to make it. I didn't realise it was an instruction rather than an intent and so I've not done anything. I thought you were going to make it tonight for a change."

She looked at me with one of those pitying looks that women seem to be so good at around men, like they're dealing with dogs or small children who don't have the ability to reason yet, while I mumbled some mixture of confusion, disbelief and frustration back at her before heading off to the kitchen.

As I did I distinctly heard her say she'd be through to help in a moment.

A few moments later and everything was underway. With such a simple meal it's a matter of a moment or two before the fishcakes are in the oven, new potatoes, which don't even need peeling, are bubbling in a pot and I have some peas ready in the steamer. I'd just laid the table when I turned around to find my lovely G had arrived. She snuggled into me and gave me a cuddle with her head on my chest and made some of those contented noises that women do. The ones that are designed specifically to make men feel they are the providers of comfort; of safety; the masters of their universe. It's all rubbish of course but it works most of the time. Not tonight though.

"So exactly what part of dinner were you going to be helping me with - apart from eating it that is?."

Without raising her head {and with absolutely no trace of irony} she squeezed me for a second and purred,

"I'll do the dishes!"

I thought of the two plates, knives and forks, two glasses, one pot and steamer that were all going to go straight in the dishwasher and sighed resignedly. 

"Aye, thanks for that love!"

Sometimes a man's got to do what a man's got to chew.

See you later.

Listening to

A very un-pc joke

Maybe it should be called a 'Barka'

Listening to:

The Sunday Posts 2017/Mince and Tatties.

Mince and Tatties I dinna like hail tatties Pit on my plate o mince For when I tak my denner I eat them baith at yince. Sae mash ...