Friday, 9 November 2018

My Workspace in the Forest Cafe

I'm continuing to enjoy my week as Poet Laureate of the Forest Cafe Free Shop. Yesterday I spent some time in the cafe making a dinosaur themed collage to illustrate a poem and worked on a story about two rabbits who explore the free shop.

I had planned to read some poetry and a short story at the Open Mic last night and as the MC didn't turn up then I found myself taking on that role as well. We had some guitar music and singing from a guy called Ben and some beautiful haiku from Robert Alcock, who sells tiny pamphlets of his haiku but doesn't seem to have a web presence.

I was back in the cafe for a while today. I've managed to claim one of the tables nearest to the Free Shop as my own 

Today I spent more time on the rabbit story and also planned the creative writing workshop that will happen in the Cafe at 3pm on Sunday. I'm hoping people will come along and be inspired by items from the shop or by the shop itself. Anyone who attends the workshop will be invited to read (if they want!) at the poetry reading and presentation about the project in the cafe at 4pm on Monday.

You can read more about this project here, here and here.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Inspiration from the Forest Free Shop

I've got a very busy day today but did manage to spend some time in the Forest Cafe, where I am currently (for one week only) the 'Poet Laureate of the Free Shop'. You can read more about this project here and my blog post from my first day in post is here.

The free shop is full of weird and wonderful things. There are plenty of clothes, books and toys but also real oddities, it's a really inspiring place whether you're looking for a dress to borrow for a special occasion or materials for your next art project.

Here are some of the things from the shop that particularly inspire me

The book is a YA novel translated into Italian which looks like a relatively easy read! The jewellery is a broken necklace that I will make into something else and an odd earring that I will dismantle and use as a pendant. The dinosaurs I'm using as templates to make paper dinosaurs for collages and have inspired my first poem for the residency, which I will be reading at the end of project event at 4pm on Monday 12 November. I'm also running a writing workshop at 3pm on Sunday 11 November.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

First Day at the Forest

I had a great day today on the first day of my week as the Poet Laureate of the Forest Cafe Free Shop!

The Forest Cafe is an essential part of alternative Edinburgh and tends to be full of students and artists. It has a great menu, including brilliant vegan burritos and a wide range of teas

The free shop is an eclectic selection of clothing, music, films, books, toys, electric cables, art supplies and all kinds of things that you can browse and take away.

The cafe is decorated with art works including this lovely mobile

Over the next week I'll be spending a lot of time in the cafe, drinking tea (and eating burritos!), searching through the free shop for inspiration, chatting to other artists and writing poetry and making collages. I've also donated a couple of items to the Free Shop and managed to sneak some poetry into this one

The writing workshop will be at 3pm Sunday 11 November (the Facebook event is here) and the poetry reading will be at 4pm Monday 12 November (the Facebook event is here). Feel free to come along to either of those events if you can and if you're around Tollcross any time that week feel free to pop in and see if I'm around!

Monday, 5 November 2018

Watch out for Wildlife on Bonfire Night!

A big pile of logs, leaves and twigs is the base for a great bonfire, but it's  also a perfect hiding place for hedgehogs, toads, frogs and all sorts of other garden inhabitants who are looking for a cosy, frost free place to spend the winter.

Here are some ideas from the charity Frog Life to make help make your bonfire more wildlife-friendly:

  • Start by piling your bonfire materials in a separate place to where you’ll make the actual bonfire, and move them just before you light the fire. 
  • If you find any animals, move them carefully to a similar habitat in another part of the garden.
  • Just before lighting, have a final check through the bonfire with a torch and then light the fire from one side only so any living things left inside can find a way out and escape.
  • Try to burn only clean, untreated wood on your bonfire, with no nasty varnish, paint or plastics so you don’t release toxic chemicals in the smoke.
And here is advice from the Audobon Society about how to make your firework display more wildlife friendly: 

Choose noise-free ground fireworks. Loud explosions will frighten your pets and the local wildlife. 
Keep pets inside, even if you have noise free fireworks, someone else locally is sure to have bangers.
Check your surroundings before dark to make sure there are no birds' nests or other animal dwellings near your launch site.
Go to a public firework display rather than holding your own. The public disaplay is likely to be larger and have better safety controls. Also having fewer neighbourhood fireworks limits the potential wildlife damage.
Petition for the future. Ask your city or town to switch to eco-friendly fireworks products when they are available and/or more affordable. (There are such things as eco-friendly fireworks, but I can find little out about them other than what is on this page of the Audobon Society).

So, have fun this fireworks night but remember to look after your pets and local wildlife.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Let's Celebrate and Protect Edinburgh's Trees!

Edinburgh is a beautiful city with many lovely greenspaces, many of which are renowned for the beautiful trees. Here are some recent tree photos from Colinton and Craiglockart Dells along the Water of Leith:

and here are some recent photos from Corstophine Hill

Trees make places more beautiful and offer homes for wildlife. We should value and protect our urban trees. Now as far as I know the trees in the Dells and on Corstorphine HIll are valued and protected and won't be felled unless they're diseased or badly damaged and usually in those cases the fallen trunks are allowed to lie offering further habitats for insects that feed on dead wood.

However not all of our trees are officially looked after. I wrote in this post about how the National Galleries of Scotland have destroyed 52 trees in East Princes Street Gardens. The aim is to create an accessible pathway for people with disabilities and push chairs to access the lower galleries in their venue on the Mound, which is a laudable objective but one that surely could have been achieved without such wanton destruction of a lovely part of our city centre. The trees will apparently be replaced with around 20 new semi mature trees next spring. The anger against the galleries and the council has increased since it has become obvious that the Christmas market is benefitting directly from the open space left by the destruction of the trees. Edinburgh Christmas Market have blocked me (and probably many others) on Twitter simply because I've tweeted about the trees being cut down! Before they blocked me I hadn't recently tweeted about the Christmas Market.

The beautiful trees at Meadowbank have long been threatened with the chop, since the council in it's wisdom decided that the world class Meadowbank Sports Stadium needed to be replaced by a smaller (and therefore not workd class) stadium with the rest of the landd being sold off for development and the trees being destroyed, including rare Wheatley elms which have a natural resistance to Dutch Elm Disease. There's a meeting at 7pm this Mondayin the Safari Lounge, 21 Cadzow Place to discuss how these trees can be saved. You can find out more on the event Facebook page.

Another tree campaign is the Woodland Trust's campaign against the High Speed Rail road that will damage or destroy 19 ancient woodlands in the UK. HS2 have put together a decent looking environmental statement in which they say they will plant new areas of woodland, but the sad thing is that ancient woodland is irreplaceable and any newly planted woodland, valuable though it may be in itself, will not, by definition and by the ecological structure of the woodland, become ancient for hundreds of years. 

Friday, 2 November 2018

Trash Fashion - a short story

There were two things that Ella hated with a passion: trash and fashion. Both showed a lack of imagination. No-one thought about whether they could reuse something they just threw it away. No-one thought about their clothes. They all just bought whatever they saw in the windows of the High Street stores. Wore it for one season and then threw it into the trash.

Ella was a graphic designer, a frustrated artist. As she doodled ideas for yet another corporate client, she daydreamed about a more imaginative and useful future for herself. Perhaps trash and fashion could provide the key?

So she started to collect fabric from the trash: unwanted clothes; torn clothes; old curtains; fabric samples; faded cushion covers and worn-out towels. Not just fabric either but jewellery; accessories, anything sparkly, even bits of plastic that caught her eye.

Then she began to make clothes from the trash. Mixing and matching curtains and ribbons; chains and towels; beads and plastic scraps. Her friends loved her designs and told everyone about them. The local boutique put in a huge order. Ella needed to take on assistants. The local media caught on. There was demand for a show which in turn lead to stardom in the fashion world.

Ella was elated! Until she looked around and saw that everyone was wearing her designs. For one season and then throwing them in the trash.

(previously published in Issue 2 of Easily Inspired Magazine (which sadly no longer seems to exist))

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Everland by Rebecca Hunt

This is a novel set in that most mysterious place, Antarctica. In 1912 a team of three men Dinners, Miller-Bass and Napps are sent from the base on the Antarctic mainland to explore the uncharted island of Everland. One hundred years later Brix, Jess and Decker recreate the same expedition.

The second expedition reflects the first in many ways - each team has one member who is significantly weaker than the others and both expeditions come across many problems with the weather, injury and constant interpersonal strife.  At times there seemed like too many forced co-incidences between the two stories to be honest.

I felt the cahracters weren't particularly interesting but the writing is otherwise excellent and the sense of tension in both stories is really ratched up as the novel moves forward. I also loved the descriptions of the landscape and the wildlife:

"In the fifty days it took for a hatchling to grow into a self sufficient Adelie penguin] a chick needed to bulk up by around a hundred grams every twenty four hours....... The rapid transformation from tiny scrap to sleek adult was ungainly and the chicks had reached the ungainly adolescent stage. Their flippers were too big for them and dragged on the ground like long sleeves." 

This is an engrossing adventure story, and a cautionary tale for anyone wanting to go to Antarctica!

Everland by Rebecca Hunt, published by Penguin (2014).

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Poet Laureate of the Forest Cafe Free Shop

The Forest Cafe is a long standing part of Edinburgh's alternative community. In it's first incarnation it was housed in a tenement in Forest Road and had a wonderful back room cafe which hosted the Golden Hour (a monthly evening of poetry, stories, music and cartoons were I once gave a poetry reading).

The Forest Cafe now is at Tollcross (you can see photos of this cafe in this blog post about the Quiet Forest Visual Poetry exhibition I was part of). The cafe serves a selection of vegetarian and vegan foods and hosts events and a free shop.

I'm delighted that I've been chosen as the first 'Poet Laureate of the Forest Cafe Free Shop' a week long role which will see me holding a writing workshop and a reading where I will talk about the free shop, read short stories and poetry and people who've been along to the workshop will also read poetry. I will also be in the cafe for large parts of the week, writing poetry, helping out in the cafe and organising the free shop (and possibly sneaking poetry into some of the items in the free shop!).

My poet laureateship will last from Tuesday 6 November to Monday 12 November. The writing workshop will be at 3pm Sunday 11 November (the Facebook event is here) and the poetry reading will be at 4pm Monday 12 November (the Facebook event is here). Feel free to come along to either of those events if you can and if you're around Tollcross any time that week feel free to pop in and see if I'm around!

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Bats in the Dells

This morning I joined Charlotte of Water of Leith Conservation Trust and Caroline of City of Edinburgh Council to walk along part of the river and survey the bat boxes which are positioned on several of the trees along the walkway. Caroline is licensed to handle bats, they're protected species so should not be disturbed at all without a licence.

First we had to find the bat boxes, some of which were more hidden away than others. Caroline then climbed into the trees to examine the boxes and clean them out

Several bat boxes contained lots of bat poo indicating that the box has been used recently, two contained birds nests and one contained a dead adult blue tit. It was only when we got to the final box though that we found bats, six pipistrelle bats to be exact. Caroline brought one of them down to show us - isn't it adorable!

She then gave it a quick health check, checking that it didn't have mites and then put it back into the box.

Although bats are slowing down at this time of year and will soon be hibernating, October is their mating season, the males will soon abandon the females who won't give birth until June (you can read more about the life cycle of bats here on the Bat Conservation Trust website).

I've been on several bat walks in Edinburgh, including a couple along the Water of Leith before but this is the first time in a very long time that I've actually been this close to one of these lovely animals.

For Nature Notes

Monday, 29 October 2018

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Autumnal Sunshine at Cammo

It's very cold today but otherwise beautiful weather, blue skies and sunshine, and no wind. We had a lovely walk through the fields at Cammo (some of which are sadly soon to disappear under houses)

There were plenty of birds in the fields and hedges including yellowhammer and tree sparrow and these stock doves

We then walked round Cammo Country Park which was remarkably free of mud, it's usually the muddiest place in Edinburgh but this year has been worryingly free of rain. The autumn colours are wonderful

 Plenty of birds here too including good numbers of redwings and fieldfares, I was slightly worried beforehand that we would be too early to see many of these two species of winter visiting thrushes, but I was delighted to be proven wrong. It was difficult to get photos as they were all flying around so much but here's one of the redwings

Lovely also to see this goldcrest 

 Lots of lovely Shadows for Shadow Shot Sunday

(see more shadows on my Shapeshifting Green Blog here).

Friday, 26 October 2018

The Cultural Inheritance of my Hypothetical Granddaughter

Yellow butterflies drink salt from your tears,
drain your colours to monochrome.

Silence white margins your words
to endless winter.

Stillness so deep you can hear clouds
transmute to diamonds.

Check your shoes for black scorpions –
belief in Armageddon is self-fulfilling.

An end to all colour.

Previously published in The Journal and first posted on this blog in 2008. 

I just posted a poem and accompanying collage over on my Shapeshifting Green blog - you can see it here.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Hoppy Rabbit and Hare Thursday!

It's National Mammal Week! This event is organised by the Mammal Society to celebrate mammals and raise awareness of the issues they face in Great Britain. You can find out more here.

As many people reading this blog will know, we used to have a pet rabbit (Anya) so I am particularly happy to see that today has been chosen by the Mammal Society as Rabbit and Hare Thursday.

Although rabbits are a very common sight in Scotland they are not native, they were introduced here by the Romans (though stories vary about exactly when and how they were introduced). They have become naturalised and are an important prey species for many mammals and birds of prey. They seem to be less common at the moment than they were a few years ago, we certainly don't see as many rabbits in and around Edinburgh as we used to.

The brown hare was introduced to the country at about the same time as the rabbit. This means that only the mountain hare is native to the British Isles. This is a beautiful animal but is culled regularly because it conflicts with grouse moor management, this is totally unacceptable and unneccessary. Read more about the appalling mountain hare cull here.

And here's a photo of Anya, resting on her favourite rug - she was a very beautiful rabbit!


Monday, 22 October 2018

How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog by Chad Orzel

 How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog

I won this book a couple of years ago as part of my prize in the Edinburgh Science Festival haiku competition. It's one of those books that I had mixed feelings about, mostly because I'm not really a dog person. So I only just a few weeks ago picked it up to read.

I should have read it sooner! This book is brilliant! Orzel (who is a professor of Physics) discusses Einstein's theory of relativity with Emmy his dog, who is curious about the world and interested in learning more about relativity especially if it can help her to catch more bunnies. Emmy acts as the interested pupil, asking questions that the reader may well have about the topic (though from an unmistakeably canine point of view). The dialogue has been used as a useful vehicle for exploring ideas from ancient Greece onwards and Galileo is a scientist who famously used dialogues to present some of his ideas.

One of the chapter headings in this engaging book about Einstein's Theories of Relativity sums up the author's approach 'Time Slows When You're Chasing Bunnies: Relatavistic Time Dilation'.

The humourous sections featuring Emmy (and a cast of other dogs, a self centred cat called Nero and  a host of probably very tired bunnies) act as introductions to each chapter which is then backed up with more in depth, rigorously scientific discussions of each aspect of relativity including black holes, spacetime and the expansion of space. The dog's point of view is cleverly woven into the more serious sections too, but in a way that helps the reader to see the science from a different and informative perspective.

The only thing missing from this book is an author photo of Orzel with Emmy.

How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog by Chad Orzel published by Basic Books (2012)

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Ravens and autumn leaves on Arthurs Seat

We had a lovely walk round Arthurs Seat today. The view from the road down to Duddingston is lovely with the autumn colours

Just around here we saw a couple of ravens, though Crafty Green Boyfriend could only get one of them on film

Dunsapie Loch was quite choppy today

 but there were lots of Canada geese there, with many of the birds washing and chasing each other

The trees on the road back into town are lovely just now

We also saw a couple of wooly bear caterpillars, which will become tiger moths next year

Friday, 19 October 2018

Of beautiful sunrises, crimes against trees and prize winning haiku

This was the sunrise this morning! A beautiful start to the day.

But my mood was quickly shattered by finding out that the National Galleries of Scotland have destroyed 52 trees in East Princes Street Gardens. They have removed the trees to create an accessible pathway for people with disabilities and push chairs to access the lower galleries in their venue on the Mound, which is a laudable objective but one that surely could have been achieved without such wanton destruction of a lovely part of our city centre. The trees will apparently be replaced with around 20 new semi mature trees next spring, why not with 52 new semi mature trees?

This is just symptomatic of a city that is currently riding roughshod over the opinions and feelings of its residents. We get regular consultations on our thoughts on planning applications and what we want to see in Edinburgh in the future (see the current consulations here) but the council seem to ignore what everyone says. The festivals are expanding to take over the whole of the city centre (including West Princes Street Gardens) and there's something like one Air BnB for every 54 people in the city, driving up the prices of flats and houses and forcing people to move out of the city centre.

So who knows what Edinburgh will look like in the future? Hopefully there will be plenty of trees left.

Anyway, trees inspire poetry and I'm delighted to have a winning haiku in the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Haiku Contest. There's a lot of lovely haiku there!

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Parallel Realities

Glass is never clear
here in the desperate dust
that scratches and clogs.
Plains stretch forever with distance.
A lone horseman plods
where his ancestors roared
to the mountains,
light glinting on the metal
of their weapons,
shadows beneath them.

A photojournalist stares
through her grimy lens,
dreaming shadows into being,
blinded by light
glaring through glass.
She cannot see the mountains
so the lone horseman plods
forever into nothing.
All that is clear
is she does not belong here
and can never convey
this reality.

Previously published in Curlew magazine and featured in my pamphlet Unthinkable Skies.
First posted on this blog in July 2008 for Read Write Poem

Monday, 15 October 2018

A perfect day for forest bathing

Forest bathing, a direct translation from the Japanese Shinrin Yoku (森林浴), simply means as far as I can work out, spending time in the forest and that was what I did today on this beautiful sunny autumn day. 

The colours in the Dells along the Water of Leith are stunning and really set off beautifully with the bright sunshine and blue skies. 

and as in most years, little leaf islands are starting to form in the millstream that runs parallel to the river for a hundred metres or so taking water directly from the weir to the old Redhall Mill.

For Nature Notes.