Friday 31 December 2010


New Year revellers -
the urban fox pokes its head
through the garden gate.

for a river of stones

Thursday 30 December 2010

Preparing for the New Year

As some readers of this blog will know, I will be participating in A River of Stones during January. A small stone is a polished moment of paying proper attention. Here are two I have already shared on Twitter:

a carrion crow, on a tv aerial, bows again and again, calling over and over 'caw, caw, caw'

fallen leaves trapped in the frozen canal - a carrion crow slides across, drinking the meltwater from the surface

(The second one was written after a wonderful walk along the Union Canal the other day, when we saw a lot of interesting birds, including my first bramblings for years!).

In January I will be sharing small stones on this blog, interspersed with other blog posts. If you want to join in you can find out more here.

If you read my Over Forty Shades blog, you may have noticed that I've not posted all that much recently. I've not been sure what to do with it, and have just kept it ticking over with the occasional poem, photo and book review. Next year however I have committed to three reading challenges, all of which I will be writing about on Over Forty Shades (The Haruki Murakami Challenge, the Italy in Books Challenge and the LGBT Reading Challenge). I also received a new camera for Christmas and am thinking of posting quirky photos of hidden architectural gems of Edinburgh over there, plus of course there will be occasional poems that don't fit on this blog. So it may become worth reading....

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks to pages where you can find out more.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman

Set in the early 20th Century, The Bird Artist tells the story of Fabian Vas, who paints birds. He also, as he tells us in the opening paragraph of the book, killed the lighthouse keeper in the small coastal Newfoundland village where he lives. The novel is an exploration of the story behind the murder, the relationships between the Vas family and the other villagers and how art and birds played a role in Fabian's redemption. It is full of wonderful details about the birds of the area and how to paint them.

Fabian Vas has a mentor Isaac Sprague with whom he has shared a long exchange of paintings and letters, which have helped him develop his skills and talent. Sprague is short on actual praise but his comments are always helpful: The most recent kingfisher ........ It was adequate. But the bird's reflection itself too closely resembled the actual bird's face. It wasn't even slightly distorted on the surface, so the texture of the water wasn't at all represented is a typical comment.

The novel is beautifully written and made me want to visit Newfoundland to see all these wonderful birds. I also wished the novel was illustrated.

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman published 1994 by Picador USA

Thursday 23 December 2010

Christmas Haiku

in the trees -
distant moon

fir tree -
icicles on the tip
of every branch

Wednesday 22 December 2010

A River of Stones

In January 2011 I'll be joining in NaSmaStoMo. National Small Stone Month. The challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write a small stone every day during the month of January. A small stone is a polished moment of paying proper attention. You can find out more and join in at A River of Stones. You can read a selection of small stones over on a handful of stones.

I'll be sharing my small stones here, interspersed with my other blog posts and I'll also be sharing them on Twitter.

Meanwhile I'm delighted that one of my haiku has been accepted for publication in the innovative and edible poetry journal Poetry Digest.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Lunar Eclipse

Memories of a reddening moon sliding through the sky outside the window. I watched every moment of the last lunar eclipse. Awed. This time though there was no chance to see it. Our flat faces the wrong way. We're too lazy to get up very early and travel through the snow and ice to find (and climb) a hill from which to watch, with no guarantee of clear skies. I took out the recycling early as an excuse to look for the moon. No luck. From ground level it was too low to see.

behind those buildings -
lunar eclipse.

But I have memories from a few years ago, a reddening moon in an awestruck night.

Monday 20 December 2010

Green Thing Videos

I won a copy of Watch and Do the Green Thing in a Twitter competition a while back. I have to admit, for some reason I thought it was going to be very 'worthy' rather than watchable so hadn't watched it until a couple of days ago. In fact I was wrong, it is very entertaining and imaginative and really makes the viewer think about how you can become greener in your every day life without preaching at you. The videos use animation, live action and a host of imaginative approaches. They are all very short so there isn't time to go into issues in any great detail but they all make you think, which is a great starting point!

For example Ninjin the Vegetable Assassin takes a unique approach to the issue of seasonal food, while Touching the Stairs has a group of mountaineers trying to reach the first landing in a flight of stairs and Huddle has a group of naked people pretending to be penguins to show what we can learn from penguins about working together and keeping warm. My favourite video is Recycled / Reborn which shows a very creative craft project using recycled trash.

Most of the videos are online, along with a selection of other videos aimed at helping you to become greener. You can watch them on the Do the Green Thing website.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Green Party Dress

This is one of my favourite items of clothing! It's a black velvet cheongsam and it's green because I bought it second hand (as I do all my clothes other than underwear and shoes). One of the best things about it is that it can be worn with tights or with trousers and even with a long sleeved top underneath, making it ideal for even colder winter parties. I wore it like that at the launch of my poetry chapbook Unthinkable Skies earlier this year.

Friday 17 December 2010

Blackleach Reflections

As I mentioned in this post, we visited Blackleach Country Park, Walkden, Manchester at the weekend. The light was wonderful and here are some more photos, all taken by Crafty Green Boyfriend.

For Weekend Reflections

Thursday 16 December 2010

A Round Up

I was delighted that my Open Planet Idea was shortlisted, you can read my post about Open Planet here and you can read more about my shortlisted idea here. The next stage is that the short listed ideas are to be evaluated and then the winning one will be taken forward by World Wildlife Fund and Sony to be made into a feasible technology / app.

I was equally delighted to find that a flash fiction piece I wrote has been accepted and published by Easily Inspired. You can read it on their website (advisable not to download anything from this site as MacAfee have security concerns about it, if you're being extra cautious you may not want to visit at all, but then you miss out on my story!).

I'm writing a series of blogposts about the birds to be found on the Water of Leith and in the wider Leith area of Edinburgh for Greener Leith. You can read the first two posts here and here.
I am also writing a series of reviews for Sabotage. You can read them here.

I've also just found out I've won a competition (not a writing competition!). I'll post more here when it's announced!

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks to other sites where you can find out more.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Ethical Funding for Community Groups

Cooperative Membership Fund

Having worked as a charity fundraiser, I know how difficult it can be for small community groups to find money to carry out their work. Many charitable trusts don't fund groups unless they are a registered charity (which is fair enough I suppose but can be problematic for small local groups run on a shoestring) and there is a surprising lack of trusts that will fund projects that just need a small amount of money - I guess a lot of funders like to be associated with big impressive projects!

So it is heartening all round to see The Cooperative Membership Fund. This grant scheme is funded by members of The Co-operative donating some of their share of profits, which is then given away in the form of small grants. This year The Co-operative Members have donated £1.2 million to small charities and other local community groups across the UK.

Another great thing about the Co-operative is that it is an ethical company - you can read about their commitment to tackle Climate Change here. Many community groups looking for charitable funds like to know that the funds they accept are not the proceeds of trade or activities that don't fit in with the groups ethics. (For example some projects don't accept money from the Big Lottery as they don't agree with gambling). A group can be comfortable applying for funds from the Co-operative knowing that the money doesn't come from the proceeds of, for example, selling weapons. Anyone who banks with the Co-operative (as i do), will be very pleased to see some of their profits used to support small community groups across the country.

The Co-operative Membership Fund supports a wide range of activities across the UK, including local food groups, such as Incredible Edible Rossendale, which encourages local people to grow their own food, increasing people's connection with the land and decreasing the carbon footprint of their food by reducing food miles.

You can view a selection of videos featuring supported projects on this page of the Cooperative Membership Fund website. The website also outlines how to apply for funds. In brief, to be successful a group must:

  • Carry out positive work in the community (it does not have to have charitable status to apply)

And the project must:

  • Address a community issue

  • Provide a long-term benefit to the community

  • Support co-operative values and principles

  • Ideally be innovative in its approach

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Monday 13 December 2010

Blackleach Country Park

Blackleach Country Park, photo by Crafty Green Boyfriend

We had a lovely visit to my parents this weekend, enjoying much warmer temperatures than Edinburgh! We discovered Blackleach Country park, which is almost on my parents' doorstep. This was designated as a country park in 2004 (it was derelict land when I was growing up) and has a lake and some nice walks. We saw a good flock of long tailed tits in the trees as well as lots of water birds, including large numbers of coots.

My parents' garden was also full of birds, notably up to ten goldfinches on the bird feeders, several blackbirds fighting over the sultanas, blue tits, a song thrush (which despite their recent declines in number are still regularly seen and heard near my parents' home), a dunnock, a wren and a very good view of a jay, which is a big handsome bird that I don't often get a close look at.

The train journey from Bolton to Edinburgh is always lovely, passing through the English Lake District and southern Scotland. It looked particularly lovely with the dustings of snow. We also noticed the Cauldstane Slap pass, which is nicely visible from the train as it passes between Carstairs and Edinburgh and which the Belvedere Mountain Express album was named after.

We got back to Edinburgh yesterday to find that my reading at TraVerses was cancelled, which was a relief in some ways as I don't really like rushing around and didn't really feel like going straight out to read after getting off a train!

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks to other pages where you can find out more.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Away for a few days!

Yesterday the icicles outside our window looked like this.

Today they have almost entirely melted away. We're hoping for good train services tomorrow to take us down to Bolton to visit my parents. We'll be back hopefully in time for me to read (briefly and at short notice) at TraVerses at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. I'll be (trains permitting) reading alongside a showing of Alastair Cook's film of my poem Adrift.

As ever red text contains hyperlinks to pages where you can find out more!

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Cauldstane Slap

Cauldstane Slap is the new CD from Belvedere Mountain Express and very good it is too! The first thing you notice is the cover, which features stunning photos of the snowy Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. In fact the area where the Cauldstane Slap Pass passes between the East and West Cairn Hills.

The cover photo complements the music perfectly, which is itself quite wintry in feel (of course this is complemented again by the current weather!). The music is a wonderful mix of accordion (which despite reminding me of the soundtrack of a South American film still manages to feel wintry here) electronic music and odd noises, including a rather manic sounding ticking clock (or possibly metronome) on the track Fireflies. All the music is performed by Howard Goodman. Some tracks feature the ethereal vocals of Becky Rose Fisher.

The title track is rather menacing in mood, which evokes the history of Cauldstane Slap - a drovers road that used to be known also as "The Thieves Road”. Border Reivers, Moss Troopers (bandits) and robbers galloped through the pass on night raids. Wrapped in their plaids and armed, drovers slept with their herds and flocks, to defend them.

The last track on the album The Last Livonian features a recording of the last native speaker of the Livonian language (formerly spoken in Latvia and currently being revived) complemented perfectly by the music.

Cauldstane Slap by Belvedere Mountain Express can be bought here.

As ever red text contains hyperlinks where you can find out more.

Monday 6 December 2010

Winter Birds

It was snowing heavily when I made my usual Monday walk round the Dells, along the Water of Leith today. It's a wonderful place at any time of the year but there is a special magic in the snow - a real winter wonderland. Unfortunately there's been so much snow that some trees have lost branches or fallen under the weight. If you're thinking of wandering round the Dells, do be careful, the path is partially blocked in places! I have cut back some of the smaller branches and also the ivy attached to some of the fallen trees, but I don't have the tools (or the skills!) to deal with the larger fallen branches. The Water of Leith Conservation Trust and the Edinburgh Countryside rangers will deal with these issues as and when they can. You also need to take care underfoot, the snow is soft and very nice for walking on, but it's easy to stray from the path and find yourself falling in a hole!

I saw lots of birds today. A heron took flight from the river almost as soon as I got into the Dells. I saw two dippers, one standing on a snow covered rock in the middle of the river, singing. We think of the robin as being the only bird in the UK that really sings in the winter, but the dipper (whose song is almost unexpected in its very existence) also sings now, a lovely song. It's a very early breeder so I guess its starting to stake its claim to territory extra early. I also had a very close view of a goldcrest, the tiniest British bird, but from a distance more likely to be confused with a coal tit or a blue tit than with a wren (and I saw one of those today as well!). I also had an excellent view of a buzzard that was being mobbed by a group of crows.

As I was leaving the Dells, I walked into an area that was full of long tailed tits. I saw about 15 of them, all bouncing from branch to branch, chatting away to each other.

On the way back into town, I passed a row of white berried rowan trees, and saw a small group of waxwings flying towards me. They landed in the rowan tree and started ripping off the berries!

Conservation organisations tell us to be extra careful not to disturb birds at this time of year, which is very true as they need to conserve their energy and don't want to be flying around all the time avoiding potential threats. However I think it is often true that birds are likely to come very close of their own accord at this time of year!

Sunday 5 December 2010

Green the Film

Green is a heartbreaking, award winning film about the last days of a dying orang utan who has been rescued from the wasteland that her forest home has become. As Green lies dying on her Hello Kitty beanbag, we are shown footage of the remarkable beauty that was once found in the Indonesian rainforests and amazing moments shared between orang utan parents and offspring. We are then shown the forests being destroyed and replaced with palm oil plantations, intercut with scenes of the paper industry, the timber industry, hardwood furniture showrooms, beautiful women wearing heay make up, cars being filled up with bio-diesel made from palm oil.

Green the Film has its own website where you can watch the film, read the blog, find out who is responsible for destroying the Indonesian rainforests (scroll down) and take action. To help preserve the rainforests, ask yourself questions like:

a) do you need that new furniture? If so can you buy it second hand? Or from a dealer that sources its wood entirely ethically (admittedly difficult to verify this since the FSC is no longer entirely credible as a certification for ethically sourced wood).

b) do you need to use your car? Many forms of bio-diesel (such as those made from palm oil) are as damaging as oil and gas and there isn't enough bio-diesel from used chip fat to keep the world driving.

c) do you need to use so many cosmetics and toiletries? For those you do need, can you use less? Source the products you need from companies who do not use palm oil.

d) cut down on your use of processed foods, most of which contain palm oil. For those processed foods you can't do without, source products that contain olive oil or other alternatives to palm oil.

I posted recently about the video The Sustainability Lie, which shows that even the palm oil plantations that are certified as sustainable may be anything but.

The Indonesian tropical forests are wonderful habitats, home to amazing creatures such as the orang utan. Surely we need to do what we can to protect them?

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks that lead to pages with more information.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Winter haiku

snowy roofs -
a flock of geese skeins
across grey skies

icy pavements -
the rotweiler pauses
before each step

Friday 3 December 2010


Scotland is having the worst weather for November since the 1960s. Edinburgh is ankle deep in snow, which is very pretty but is causing some chaos. (More chaos than it needs perhaps in some areas, some people are questioning why our schools are closed when schools in Siberia, Finland and Alaska are all open as normal!).

These extreme cold weather conditions of course are causing some people to question climate change, as sceptics always will. The most obvious cause for extreme weather hitting the UK while global temperatures increase, would be the loss of the Gulf Stream. This is the current of warm water that comes up from the southern oceans and passes by the UK making our winters, at least up until two years ago, milder than we would otherwise experience given how far north we are. The Gulf Stream could be lost as Arctic seas become warmer. There is a good article in the Telegraph newspaper, that explains this and other reasons why extremely cold winters in the UK are compatible with overall global warming.

Wildlife is vulnerable in this weather, so if you have a garden, make sure you put out food for the birds. The RSPB offer some excellent advice on how to feed the birds. The RSPB offer some specific advice for feeding birds in winter.

Of course people can be vulnerable in this weather too, so if you have elderly neighbours, please check up on them to see if they need anything.

As ever red text in this post contains hyperlinks which you can follow to find out more!

Thursday 2 December 2010

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the Pullitzer Prize in 1975. I found this copy on a Bookcrossing bookshelf a couple of months ago. This is an amazing book! It's a journal of the author's year in her home near Tinker Creek in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, including her observations and thoughts on solitude, writing, religion, and nature. She records everything in amazing detail, making you wish you could see more yourself when you're out observing nature. Woven seamlessly into her observations are thoughts about how nature fits together and finds a balance; the meaning of life and death for humans and for other living things and a spiritual searching. She has a wonderful ability to see the long time scale and to make connections that most people don't make on a conscious level and that would probably help us all if we could develop the same ability:

...the duck pond is rapidly turning into a landfill of its own, a landfill paved in frogs. There are a million frogs here, bullfrogs hopping all over each other on tangled mats of algae. And the pond is filling up. Small ponds don't live very long, especially in the south. Decaying matter piles up on the bottom, depleting oxygen and the shore plants march to the middle. In another couple of centuries, if no one interferes the duck pond will be a hickory forest.

A wonderful book for anyone who loves nature.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard published by Harper's Magazine Press, 1974.
As ever, red text in this post is a hyperlink and takes you to a page where you can find out more!

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Tawny Owl

One of the wonderful things about being a volunteer patroller along the Water of Leith is that I get to know the wildlife of my part of the river really well. For example, there is a tawny owl roost that I look at every time I go past in the hopes of seeing the owl. I had only ever seen the owl once before Monday when it stood at the front of its roost and watched while we caught it on camera. A beautiful and very well camoflaged bird I think you'll agree!

snow on the ground -
the tawny owl watches
from his roost.

Click on the image to make it bigger.
As ever all the red text links to pages where you can find out more!