Monday, 21 August 2017

A Verse for the Solar Eclipse

After a previous eclipse of the sun I wrote the following extra verse for Joseph Addison's well-known hymn about the sun, moon, stars and planets.

          However, like a human watch
          The heav'nly clock displays a botch.
          Sometimes the moon gets in the way,
          The sun no longer shines by day.
                  Does this proclaim a faulty God?
                  That really would be very odd.
          Rather give thanks. The obscure sun
          Shows the Creator's sense of fun.

Friday, 30 June 2017

30 Days Wild. The last ten days

Since June 21st I have not managed any trips to especially wild places. But there is no shortage of wild nature in the town if you look around. On one evening wild nature came to visit us, as a large mouse scampered across our second floor carpet. Since we are moving out in a few days it is hard to get too bothered. I was pleased, on the 25th, to see a dunnock (hedge sparrow they are sometimes called) on the path. They are such elegant small birds; this one was surprisingly trusting. I got within a couple of metres before it hopped into the undergrowth.

I went to the small garden of our new property to do a bit of weeding. A beautiful mayfly settled on my glasses. It was about a centimetre long and was one of the ones with two tail-streamers. There will be a small patch of wild-life garden, and I have already made a small log-pile. There will not be room for a compost heap, so I have put a cylinder of wire netting and filled it with leaves and such like as a habitat for those creatures who like such things. On Mothers' Day (March) at church we gave out little packages of wild flower seeds. I found a suitable strip for mine and they are now coming into flower.

Not far from where we live is Saughton Park. This is a remarkable example of what a local authority can do, given a dedicated team.

The park has expanses of grass for football. There is a play-park for little children and a thriving skateboard park. But bringing wild nature into the city is a big part of the venture. The strips of tree alongside the roads that border the park are thick and tangled. There are some larger clumps too, and glades. A lot of thought has obviously gone into setting these up.

Fortunately there is a map of the whole area, so you can easily see the extent and variety of the project.

The formal gardens are very splendid. I have only photographed one patch out of several. But there are also beds of wild flower annuals that were sown by local children.

You will see on the map that the site has one special bonus. It includes a stretch of the Water of Leith. It rained heavily here on Thursday, so the torrent is quite spectacular.

In fact the team are just starting work on a major development of the site so as to take the project further. I wonder what photos I shall be able to post next year.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

30 Days Wild: The next ten days

During the days June 11th to June 20th I was lucky to get two days out in seriously wild hills. I was lucky, too, that on neither day was it intolerably hot.

On Wednesday June 14th I drove to the Manor Valley, near Peebles, and climbed up onto the hills to the west. Almost at once my camera ran out of battery, but I did do a sketch on the top from which I made a painting a few days later.

I need to repaint it slightly lighter, but I think it gives the idea of the Border hills stretching away, range after range.

I started and finished in the Manor Valley, a most quiet and remote-feeling spot. If you have read "The Island of Sheep" by John Buchan you will recognise the Laver Valley. The Manor Valley was his model; though it does not have a laird's castle at its head. This photo, before my battery ran out, gives an idea of the place.

Looking down the Posso Glen, across the Manor Valley
I was especially pleased to see Cloudberry, and Dwarf Cornel.

The other mountain day was Carn Liath, above Blair Atholl, with a church walking group. There was a strong, buffeting wind and we had a great day. On this stretch of wild country there was a wonderful selection of flowering plants, and good lichens and mosses too.

Round leaved sundew

I'm afraid I'm not sure what this orchid is.

When I was a boy we only saw Butterwort on summer holidays, by which time only the star of leaves was left. Now I can see the deep blue flowers. I took many other flower photos, but I shall ration them for you.

Back in town there is no shortage of wild nature. It is a question of noticing it.

Elder tree

And of course we can keep reading about it.

Plantlife magazine
But I think the best thing I saw for 30 Days Wild was not wild at all, but a piece of stone-work. Drink in this photo.

Inscription in Writers' Court, Edinburgh

Saturday, 10 June 2017

30 Days Wild 2017. The first ten.

As luck would have it my wildest day during the last fortnight was on the last day of May, so it doesn't count. But Ben Lui deserves a photo.
May 31

Since then I have not had the chance to go out of town, but it has been good to notice how much wild nature is all round us.
June 1st

 Our nearest bit of wild nature is Edinburgh's river, the Water of Leith. It had shrunk during May with a prolonged spell of no rain.

But then we had torrential rain for a short time on Monday and heavy rain all day on Tuesday. What a difference.
June 6th
June 8th

Last year I was able to photograph my own wild garden on most days. Now we are in a 2nd floor tenement, temporarily. But in Edinburgh there is no problem finding where others have made patches of wild flowers. This is the Hermitage and Braid Hills Local Nature Reserve.
June 10th  
June 5th
Whereas this luxuriant burst of wild nature is on the slope between the Castle and Princes Street Gardens.

And finally, when you are enjoying the wild this month, don't forget that as well a looking down and around, also look up.
June 4th

Saturday, 27 May 2017

History all around us

This afternoon I went to post a letter. In five or ten minutes I was made aware of history on every side; and all on one block in an inner suburb of Edinburgh.

Nowadays all the tenements have electric door-bells, and a clever switch that can open the street door below. These tenements were built before electricity was harnessed for such uses; but our late Victorian ancestors were just as inventive. They just used mechanical devices.

The ground-floor door-opener has a slightly different design.

The architects did incorporate a last minimal acknowledgement of the heritage of Edinburgh's classical style.

George VI. I was born during his reign. I wonder whether this box was put up just before the war, during it, or shortly after.

The three decades before the First World War were marked by enormously rapid and radical social progress. That is when our local primary school was built.

In those days it was felt proper for Boys and Girls to have separate play-grounds.

Recent history isn't less interesting because it is recent. There were plenty of brownfield sites in the 1990s.

 Come to think of it, we didn't have recycling bins in George VI's time. Though I have been told there were pig-bins for waste food.

This bridge was part of a road improvement scheme in 1841.

The Edinburgh coat of arms is still kept painted.

The old bridge (1766) is still there.

In 1745, somewhere hereabouts, a small troop of Hanoverian cavalry hastily fled as the Jacobite army approached. I hope this photo is legible.

Back on the main road is a sign of changing times in 2017. I wonder if the forthcoming General Election will see a Conservative revival, or whether they will be consigned to what Trotsky called "the dustbin of history"?

This building is now a dental unit of some sort. The inscription, Denta servata fides, is the motto of the Royal Bank of Scotland. It is usually translated as  "Loyalty preserved enriches". (I had to look this up.)

Sunday, 15 January 2017

"Germany: Memories of a Nation" recommended

There is no attempt here to write a full review. The main point of this post is to recommend the book - “Germany: Memories of a Nation” by Neil MacGregor.

I suppose I have studied some German history every year since I was first introduced to Luther and to Charles V in 1965. Then there was the Thirty Years War and the Great Elector. At university I was lucky enough to have Vivian Fisher teach me about Charlemagne and Norman Stone introduce me to the Habsburg Empire, and to serious work on the Third Reich. As a teacher I gave more than three decades to eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century Germany. So I guess I was as well up in German History as you would expect a school teacher to be.

Then I heard Neil MacGregor on the radio talking about Germany chapter by chapter, and I knew I had to read the book. It took nearly two years before I got hold of it in the library, but at last I have finished it.

I found I did not want to read more than a chapter at a time, so that each one of the thirty made its impact. It might be sausages or art or war memorials or Bismarck or the Holy Roman Empire. The breadth, the humanity, the perception of the thinking is quite exceptional. This is one of the best history books I have read since I retired. I wish it had been written while I was teaching. I recommend it warmly.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A post about "Three Wise Men"

I am a sucker for Christmas. I love carols, trees, glitter, lights, German markets and Nativity sets. But I am also a history teacher, accustomed to look closely at primary sources and consider their meaning. Because I am a church choir person I must have heard St Matthew's version of the Christmas story a hundred times or more and it does seem to me that his story of wise men from the east has got so loaded with traditions and myths that it has become very difficult to hear as Matthew might have meant it. This was one source for my play.

Somewhere in Evelyn Waugh's wartime diaries he meditates upon the story of the wise men and reflects what a good parable it is for artists. The Magi misunderstand what is happening, they turn up late and they cause terrible trouble, but their gifts are accepted. This comment struck home with me. Waugh was a creative artist; I was a school teacher, and it seems to me that the story of the wise men was an even better parable for those who consider themselves highly educated and learned. That was another source for the play.

Even when dealing with serious subjects I usually take my advice from Desiderius Erasmus: “What is the matter with telling the truth with a smile”, so there are many witty scenes and jokes. Being a teacher myself I felt no compunction about making fun of the profession. But the story contains many dreadful things – the tyranny of Herod, the massacre of the Innocents, the refugee flight into Egypt. I have pulled no punches on these. The play was written in the late 1980's, and it was alarming to discover, while typing it out on a computer for publication, that the scenes involving tyrants and massacres and refugees might as well have been written today, not in 1989.

Various friends and colleagues said nice things about the play. One good judge particularly liked the rhythm of the dialogue, which was very flattering. There were one or two criticisms from folk who felt I was casting doubt on the historical accuracy of St Matthew's account. My answer to that is this: If the story, and all its details, was an event in history it is certainly interesting – but it was all a long time ago and we live 2,000 years later. If, however, it is partly a work of the imagination it can be as true today as it was when first written. Take “Pride and Prejudice” as an example of what I mean. That is a made-up story, and often very funny, but it contains eternal truths about love and snobbery and women's rights.

In the play St Matthew directs events. I tried to follow his version – about the importance of the prophets, for example – rather than intrude my own.

The original cast consisted of school pupils aged 11 to 13. Some readers may have thought, wrongly, that junior pupils would have had trouble with the sophisticated concepts and dialogue presented here. This was not at all the case. Writing “down” for children is a terrible error, too often committed. No pupil who wanted to be in the show was turned away, and the many substantial parts were done superbly. It does seem to me that it would work well with older actors. Read it and see what you think.

When I wrote the play the school was boys only, so it was easy to follow St Matthew and have only one female in the play. The boy who played Mary was first rate. I see no problem for any director who wished to give any of the parts to girls or women. Twenty years later, when the school was fully co-educational, I was lucky to direct “Henry V”. We had girls as French Ambassador, Governor of Harfleur, Boy, and M le Fer. Two girls shared the role of Chorus very well indeed. There are as many parts for females as for males in this play. The whole point about acting is that on stage you are not the same person as you are off.

I hope you enjoy reading it. If you do, you will have something extra to think about every time you hear the story of the wise men. Here is the link to it: