Friday 30 April 2010

Cherry trees

The cherry trees in the garden of the building opposite our flat are temperamental. A couple of years ago they bloosomed twice in one season. This year they stubbornly refused to bloom, even when most of the other cherry trees in Edinburgh had started their belated blooming, most of Spring being late this year.

I went down to Bristol for a few days, saying goodbye to the bare branched cherry trees. But what happened while I was away?

home again -
our cherry trees finally
in blossom.

Rich blossoms pink against the creamy walls of the old school building.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Organic in Bristol

I had a very enjoyable trip to Bristol. The train trip is 6 hours but passes through beautiful areas of southern Scotland, the English Lake District and Gloucestershire, an excellent route for birdwatching - I saw lapwings, oystercatchers, Canada geese, kestrels and buzzards among others. I think it is very positive that Soil Association expects us to use the train to travel between Edinburgh and Bristol, every other organisation I've worked for that has an office in Bristol has expected me to fly and I've needed to put in a good argument to be allowed on the train.

On Tuesday evening I met a friend for supper and we went to Bordeaux Quay - the UK’s first eco restaurant to achieve a gold rating under the Food For Life Catering Mark, This scheme, developed by the Soil Association, guarantees customers get a sustainable meal, with standards governing things such as food additives, animal welfare and the seasonality of the produce. For more information visit: The food at Bordeaux Quay is also very tasty, we had a lovely creamy onion tart with salad and potatoes and I had an amazingly delicious lemon meringue trifle.

I stayed at The Greenhouse, which is a lovely friendly B&B that serves organic breakfasts and has a very affectionate West Highland terrier called Archie.

I also had very productive meetings with my colleagues!

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Off for a Few Days

I'm going down to Bristol for a couple of days to meet people in the Soil Association headquarters, to have a meal with a friend and to stay at my favourite B&B in Bristol. I'm very glad that Soil Association have a commitment to travelling by train, for once I've not had to fight to take the train down! Have a nice few days and I'll be back soon!

Monday 26 April 2010

Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

This is a magnificent novel, a surreal but sometimes brutally realistic wander through the live of a convict colony on an island off Van Dieman's Land (now Tasmania). William Buelow Gould, a convict is ordered to paint a book of fish and in the process learns to love fish and to wonder very much about the relationships between humans and the environment and between the native peoples of the island and their brutal colonisers, not to mention the convicts. It's a book with much food for thought and much heart rending and disturbing description of torture and other such. These two extracts below I thought were worth quoting here:

I would prefer to ..... watch the thrush smashing the snails against a rock in the midst of a litter of other similarly shattered shells until it can free the meal inside. Much better than an illustrated inventory of thrush types, defined by claw similarities, by beak differences. Much better to hear the plaintive toot-toot of the nightingale when it is alarmed and see its young chicks freeze stock still in response than analyse a collection of stuffed birds in a glass case by radius of head and distance of extended wing tip.

when I finished the painting and looked at that poor leatherjacket which now lay dead on the table I began to wonder whether, as each fish died, the world was reduced in the amount of love that you might know for such a creature. Whether there was that much less wonder and beauty in consequence, what, in the end, would be left?

It began to worry me, you see, this destruction of fish, this attrition of love that we were blindly bringing about, & I imagined a world of the future as a barren samenessin which everyone had gorged so much fish that no more remained, & where Science knew absolutely every species & phylum & genus, but no-one knew love because it had disappeared with the fish.

Saturday 24 April 2010

More Pot Pourri bags

I've been making a lot of pot pourri bags for April is Stash Busting Month. I've got a lot of sheer fabric in my stash and its ideal for making pot pourri bags using pot pourri bought from second hand shops. Here are another two bags. I'll be taking a few of these to the Forest Free Fair tomorrow, which takes place at the Forest Cafe in Forest Road, Edinburgh. I'll also be reading some poetry on the themes of recycling, alchemy and sky burial and doing a brief talk on altered and repurposed books. So if you're in Edinburgh, why not pop along, there will also be plenty of other free things to pick up and I believe free food too!

Friday 23 April 2010

The Future of Food

As part of my job for the Soil Association yesterday I attended the Scottish Food and Drink Federation's Conference on the Future of Food. It was a very interesting conference, covering a wide ranging discussion of the possible futures for our food, with speakers from industry, academia, the Soil Association (not me though, thankfully!) the National Farmers' Union and the Scottish Government.

I was struck by how committed everyone was to environmental issues, though admittedly industry delegates tended to have blind spots about the specific environmental impacts of their own technologies. Techniques such as companion cropping (planting species with natural insecticidal properties next to crops) and minimum tillage were mentioned by more than one speaker. All speakers stressed the importance of reducing food waste (in some supply chains up to 50% of food can be wasted through a combination of spoiling, processing loss and rotting in the fridge) and the importance to local sourcing of as much of our food as possible. So it looks as though environmental concerns are becoming more mainstream in food as they are in politics.

There were a lot of issues to think about and the details will be saved for work but it was a very stimulating day. It's also nice to be in a position to be working for an organisation where I can combine my environmental commitment with my (long ago!) academic science background without having to be a scientist, because I was a really bad scientist as a student.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Earth Day

It's Earth Day tomorrow. Earth Day began in the USA in 1970 but has spread across the world since then. The Earth Day Network is the co-ordinating body and works to inspire civil engagement and mobilise communities, to inspire holistic thinking around the environment, to implement groundbreaking environmental education programmes and to help bring clean water and sanitation to people still without these services. To find out how to get involved, visit their Get Active pages.

If you're a crafter one of the ways you can help the earth is by upcycling waste materials into useful or attractive objects. Makezine and CRAFT have teamed up to run the Save My Oceans Upcycle Craft competition for crafts made from upcycled plastics. You can read about it and join in here.

Crafters are also joining together in April is Stashbusting Month where we are commiting to using only materials in our stashes. Of course for a lot of people their stashes include a lot of material that they originally bought new, but even then it does cut down significantly on buying new materials that then just sit around for ages. Everything in my stash is second hand, or reclaimed from old clothes / jewellery / magazines etc.

Angela Recada has posted about Earth Day and Stuff, you can read her post here.
Michelle at Rambling Woods has also posted about Earth Day here. also has some resources on Earth Day, which they asked me to share with readers of this blog, you can find them here.

How are you going to mark Earth Day?

Monday 19 April 2010

irridescent multiverse

That old deja-vu feeling
-yes seen this before-
as dimensions uncurl
like the irridescence hiding in the black
of a magpie's wing.

Parallel universes unfurl
sudden ghostly images of other worlds
then fold back on themselves
secret and unseen

Sunday 18 April 2010

Dirty Oil - the film

This is an eye opening and sobering film about the development of tar sands for oil extraction in Alberta, Canada.

Many US citizens are probably not aware that this is a major source of fuel for the USA. Most people are probably not aware of just how damaging tar sands development is for the environment and for people living in that environment.

This film introduces us to native aboriginal communities living near the tar sands, communities that have over ages developed a way of life in tune with their local environment of forest and lakes who now find themselves without clean drinking water and facing excessive incidences of cancers. We see the devastation the mining causes to the environment, vast areas of boreal forest being removed leaving desolate landscapes. The oil companies involved have only replanted a small proportion of the damaged land and then with plantation species rather than with natural forest communities.

Towards the end of the film there is some hope, the medical doctor who was sued for causing undue alarm by discussing the cancers in the area is cleared of most charges against him and the Alberta Government accepts that there are more cancers in the area due to the tar sands. BP agrees after huge public outcry and campaigning not to pump more pollution into Lake Michigan (the location of the refineries that use the tar sands oil).

There is also a summary of alternatives to our dependence on oil, though it is a real oversight that the film doesn't touch on reducing levels of consumption of oil and oil products (it does cover efficiency well though as well as renewables, though its attitude to large scale industrial windfarms seems a little too unquestioning given the issues around such developments). These issues aside though, in terms of dealing with the issues around tar sand development, it is a vital film to watch.

If you want to find out more about the issues or find out when the film is showing in a cinema near you (UK only) visit the Toxic Fuels website.

Saturday 17 April 2010


One of the Spring floral spectaculars in Edinburgh is the variety of rhododendrons and azaleas in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Photos by Crafty Green Boyfriend.

Friday 16 April 2010

Greening the UK Election

We've got a general election coming up in the UK. I'm not going to say too much about this, as I'm not a political commentator and there are plenty of political commentators out there blogging about the issues and the election from numerous angles. However, I think it's important for everyone in the UK to be aware of the issues and to think about how this election might affect our futures. For me the most important issue is of course the environment and I'm not convinced that any of the major parties have consistently well thought out policies in this area.

There are ways to make your views known to your election candidates:

You can join in the Real Debate at 38 Degrees and vote for questions to be put to the manifesto writers in a forthcoming debate.

Friends of the Earth have a guide to the debates here.

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Unthinkable Skies launch

Unthinkable Skies my poetry chapbook will be launched 6.30pm, Wednesday 12 May at Water of Leith Conservation Trust Visitor Centre, Slateford Road, Edinburgh. There will also be music from Belvedere Mountain Express!

There is now a Facebook event for the launch:

Monday 12 April 2010

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene

This is an excellent book. Having recently read two other books about astronomy which I had found totally incomprehensible, this was a great find. It is brilliant, engaging and accessible.

The book looks at the basic idea of string theory which is that everything in the universe is made up of vibrating strings and then looks at the implications of this, including multidimensional universes and discussing whether string theory could be the grand unifying theory of everything.

Those who are serious physicists, mathematicians or astronomers may find the occasional light hearted and surreal explanations of things sometimes a little frivolous. However, I'm a biologist, who during my degree, took an extra class in astronomy and walked out after two weeks of incomprehensible lectures, though I've always been interested in the topic. For me, the use here of George and Gracie the characters who float through space in illustration of relativity and then become physics professors in a 2 dimensional universe in illustration of multi-dimensional space was a touch of sheer genius. Not that I really feel that I understand string theory even now (I did lose the thread a little in the last third of the book and there's a lot of science and maths, especially in the 400 pages of the book!) but this is a great book for those with some grasp of scientific thought who are interested in finding out more about this topic.

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene, published by Vintage

Sunday 11 April 2010

April is Stash Busting Month

I've joined in with April Stash Bust month, pledging not to buy any new craft supplies and also to make craft items with what's already in my stash. As the Forest Cafe has a free fair coming up (on Sunday 25 April) then this gives me an ideal chance to make things and know that I have something to do with them once I've made them! The first things I've made are four pot pourri bags, see one of them below, made from scrap fabric and pot pourri bought from a second hand shop (but still strongly scented!). I'm packaging the bags in reused clear plastic with cardboard inserts that advertise this blog.

You can read more about stash busting month here.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Cramond Brig to South Queensferry

We had a lovely walk today from Cramond Brig in Edinburgh to South Queensferry, along the River Almond and down to the Firth of Forth. The first photo (taken by Crafty Green Boyfriend, who also took the last photo) shows Cramond Island.
The weather was incredibly nice, warm and sunny, almost like summer, despite the fact that most of the trees are still bare. We saw our first butterflies of the year, two peacocks and one brown butterfly that flew past too quickly to identify. There were lots of birds to be seen, especially pheasants in the fields, eider ducks on the Firth and goldfinches in the trees and even more to be heard, including song thrushes, chaffinches and a great spotted woodpecker. It was lovely to see two lapwings in their wonderful dancing display, but sad there weren't more of them.

Friday 9 April 2010


For weeks now their crouching run,
A moving field of Scandinavian beauty,
Stained red and eye-browed.

Lately they flocked and wheeled,
Small groups fusing,
Now fifty strong,
Calling and whistling.

Yesterday they flew away,
North wind on their wings,
Frost on their beaks.

An emptiness on our fields.

(Previously published in Envoi)

Thursday 8 April 2010

The Office Allotment

Jackdaws chack from the trees as they gather in groups. A cool breeze blows up the hillside. The allotment garden is sheltered from the worst of the winds by the office building, an old farm steading. I eat slowly, preferring to have lunch before we start spreading manure on the soil. My fellow office gardeners arrive late, one in his pin striped suit, fresh from an important meeting. We work for different organisations and this is a good way to mix socially. We divide the garden tools between us and set to work, I choose to weed rather than spread manure. A whole area of the garden has been entirely cleared since yesterday! That must have been the elusive extra member of the gardening team, who only ever appears when no-one else is around, but does loads of hard work. We chat about what we want to grow and what has the best chance of growing well here. Some plants haven't thrived at all.

what ate last year's peas?
a pheasant calls and struts
in a nearby field.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

herring gull haiku

golden evening light -
even the herring gull
looks noble

previously published in Haiku Scotland (possibly also previously posted here, but hey, here it is again!). You can see another herring gull haiku of mine here.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Soil Association

The Soil Association is the charity and certification body for organic produce and the UK’s leading organisation campaigning for a healthy food culture, and planet-friendly farming. The Soil Association is a membership charity, and was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists, and nutritionists who believed that the health of the soil, plants, animals, people, and the environment are linked. Soil Association Scotland was set up in 2002 to bring Soil Association expertise closer to farmers, manufacturers, consumers and policy makers in Scotland.

Today I started working with the Soil Association as their Communications and Marketing Manager of their Scottish branch.

Tomorrow I'll need to take my gardening gloves to work as Wednesday is the day that some people from the Soil Association and other organisations in the office complex (a refurbished farm steading) gather together in the office allotment to do some gardening!

Monday 5 April 2010

Perfect Blue by Kona MacPhee

I bought this poetry collection after hearing Kona MacPhee read the central section of the book 'The Book of Diseases' at the Golden Hour, the excellent monthly music and poetry cabaret evening held at Edinburgh's Forest Cafe.

The whole collection is very varied and includes poems on a wide range of topics, handled beautifully in a variety of forms and approaches. Iubilate is the most moving and beautiful poem about suicide I've ever read and The Short Answer is a very entertaining meditation on the space time continuum and lost car keys.

Of course Crafty Green Poet is most interested in poems with an environmental theme and there are several here.

Pheasant and astronomers enjoys observing a pheasant as the astronomers:

.....can't not watch his colours in the sunlight.
our measures and projections fall aside
as coarsest calculus to his most perfect curve.

A reminder to us to enjoy the wonders of nature, rather than overanalysing.

To a young daughter compares the narrator's daughter firstly with a cygnet and then with a mountain hare who:

herself a radiant dissident,
her blue white glow a lonely vote
for somewhere else's winter.

though this winter I feel the mountain hares may have been fitting in better with their Scottish mountainsides than they have in previous years!

This is an excellent collection, with many poems to savour and re-read.

Saturday 3 April 2010

More photos from Hermitage of Braid

We had a lovely walk along the Braid Burn yesterday (you can read more here). It's a lovely small river (or large stream?) running through a small gorge, with high rocky sides and lots of trees. It was very sunny and there were some wonderful tree shadows to photograph.

The Hermitage of Braid also contains the Headquarters of Edinburgh Council's Countryside Rangers Service, which is housed in a lovely old building which has this lovely sundial in front of it.

Friday 2 April 2010

Hermitage of Braid

We had heard that there was a lot of frog activity in Edinburgh recently (see this post on The Nature Blog for some wonderful photos) so today we walked over to Blackford Pond, where we had seen loads of frogs and toads last year (see this post). It was lovely, the weather is wonderful today and there were lots of birds around, including tufted ducks, coots, a moorhen, a heron and plenty of mallards (look how purple this mallard's head looks in the sun, its a strange effect of irridescence that I've noticed before and this is the first time I've caught it on film).

No frogs or toads though, although there was quite a lot of frogspawn in a flooded field nearby.

On the side of Braid Hill we saw a chiffchaff, hopping around crazily, it must have just landed from its migration basck from Africa. it was singing exuberently as were many other birds. In the distance we saw a buzzard, circling slowly in the breeze.

We then walked along the Braid Burn, beautiful with wild garlic leaves and full of small birds singing and jackdaws busily flying around, making a lot of noise.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Easter Card

This is a 100% recycled Easter card with matching reused envelope. Materials include yellow card, handmade paper reused from an envelope and a photo from a magazine.