Sunday 31 July 2011

Courgettes in Flower

I was sent some free seeds earlier this year. I've shared photos of the coriander already and that is growing brilliantly and giving us a wonderful harvest for all the curry type things I cook. The basil is doing brilliantly as well (though that wasn't grown from seed!). We also had some carrot and leek seeds which I planted in pots outside and have basically left to their own devices, we're getting plenty of rain this year so I don't need to worry about them drying out. We also got some courgette seeds, some of which failed to even germinate and two others have grown into monsters that threaten to take over the windowsill where most of our garden lives (given complicated issues around the so called shared garden out the back of the building). So here are the monsters, now flowering.

Theoretically we could get 11 courgettes out of this, but I'm not expecting that. Having said that I hadn't expected anything to start with, and these lovely flowers brighten up the room, while the enormous leaves increase the privacy of our flat without blocking my view of the swifts which are giving us wonderful aerobatic displays this year as ever.

Saturday 30 July 2011

Sun, Sea and Sand

It was a perfect summer day today and we had a trip to North Berwick. There was quite a breeze and the water was quite wild, though it sparkled in the sun when it wasn't crashing over the rocks.

The Bass Rock was white with nesting gannets and the air around it was a cloud of flying and diving gannets.

There was a raft of over 50 eider ducks and we also saw redshanks and a couple of terns (probably common terns). Sand martins were swooping over the beach and we saw them going into and coming out of nest holes in the sandy cliffs.

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

Thursday 28 July 2011

Poetry Update

I'm reading short stories and poetry at Havers and Blethers, Captains Bar, Edinburgh at 7.30 on Monday 1 and Thursday 4 August. I took part several times last year and it's generally a very entertaining evening. So if you're in Edinburgh, please feel free to pop along!

I'm reading a short story at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, 4pm, Tuesday 23 August. It's part of the Edinburgh City of Literature. Story Shop project and I'll be reading in the Spiegeltent, which is huge, so there's plenty of space! It's a free event and you don't need a ticket, so if you're in Edinburgh that day, you know what to do....

I'm reading with Mary Johnston and Jane Mary Wilde at Wordpower Books, 43-45 West Nicholson Street, Edinburgh at 11am, Saturday 24 September.

Sketchbook holds a regular kukai (haiku contest). The latest one was on the theme of rainbows and one of my haiku was awarded joint 4th place! You can read all the haiku here. Two of my haiku also get a mention in editor Karina Klesko's comments on the vegetable haiku thread and one is mentioned in editor John Daleiden's comments on the same thread.

I've recently been taking part in the One Minute Writer Prompt, which is a great way of practising writing, you just write for one minute on the given topic, no polishing or anything. I've won the Writing of the Day a few times and even Writing of the week (here and here)!

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

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Confusing the Seasons

Confusing the Seasons is the new novel by Dan Cavallari. It starts out as a tale of rural family life in northern Maine, where lives are dominated by the weather:

Mainers recognise the seasons with all their senses. Aside from the obvious bite of the autumn and winter chills, these tougher New England souls taste their seasons; smell them; hear them; touch them and see them. As Einar sat in the living room of his home in Northern Maine, not far from Fort Kent, he knew it was cold, knew winter was on its way and the first snowfall wouldn't be far off - before Thanksgiving for sure. He knew this by listening. His silent house gave way to other noises: the crackle of the burning logs in the fireplace, the groans and pops of the house settling into its joints, arthritically cracking from the lasting of heat from within and cold from without. The windows knocking from the gusts of wind outside, interspersed with the crunch and scatter of the dead leaves across the ground and each other outside. These were the signs that the snow was coming, but without them, Einar would still simply know.

Einar's family, like him, are all more or less in tune with the rural environment around them. His daughter's husband though is a city boy, and spends his time with his mobile phone stuck to his face, which alienates him from everyone else in the family. There are of course other tensions in the family, as there are in any family and these are explored carefully and sensitively in the first half of the book, which I really enjoyed.

However, from about half way through, the book changes from heart warming tale of rural family life to blood-thirsty revenge drama. This part of the book is gripping, but just wasn't what I wanted to read, particularly given recent events in Norway. I also felt that I had been mislead somewhat by the book's blurb (which you can read here).

So all in all, I felt this wasn't quite the book I'd hoped it to be, but there is no doubt that Cavallari can write a good, gripping story and I look forward to see his future work. I am also intrigued by his mixed media Apocalypse project.

Confusing the Seasons by Dan Cavallari published by Brown Tie Publishing

Dan has responded to this review on his blog here.

Disclaimer - I received a copy of this book through a Twitter giveaway

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

Monday 25 July 2011


the scent of lime trees -
a baby wren emerges
from the undergrowth

Saturday 23 July 2011

Big Butterfly Count

This year so far we haven't seen all that many butterflies. A good number of white butterflies, a few ringlets and the occasional small tortoiseshell had been it before this week. Yesterday we saw a small copper on Corstorphine Hill (it rushed away and didn't want to be photographed!). On Thursday we saw two butterflies that looked like graylings (a rare species, but one that is locally almost common in certain areas of Edinburgh) that were securely fastened together as they swooped in front of the path in front of us and then continued their coupling in a gorse bush where Crafty Green Boyfriend caught them in this photo.

If you're in the UK you can send your butterfly sightings between now and the end of August to the Big Butterfly Count run by Butterfly Conservation.

Friday 22 July 2011

Ants vs Bees

These ants were busily moving this bee up a slope on Corstorphine Hill today.

(Click on the image to make it bigger).

Thursday 21 July 2011

Stinkhorns, Snails and Stories

I spotted this stinkhorn fungus along the Water of Leith on Monday. It really lives up to its name with a smell of sewage, which attracts the flies. The first time I've seen this type of fungus along the river.


after the rain
the varied patterns
on the snail shells

I managed to get an entry in for the Clarity of Night short story competition, right at the last moment. The contest has now closed and voting has started. You can read my entry here and find out how to vote here. (Ah, I notice only participants can vote, but anyone can leave a comment!)

I also have exciting news about another of my short stories, watch this space for more details!

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Cute Coots

Just look at those feet!

Lovely to see this family of coots at Inverleith Park at the weekend!

For World Bird Wednesday and Nature Notes

Those of you interested in nature photography, may be interested in the Nature Conservancy photography competition. You can find out more here. The competition is open to original digital photos that feature the natural wonders of the world. It is also open to photographers from any country so send them your best shots by the closing date of 12 September!

Thirty five photos will be selected as honorable mentions and finalists, and the Nature Conservancy online community will vote for their favorite images. The grand prize winner will be featured on the cover of the 2013 Nature Conservancy calendar.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Night Fish by Kristine Ong Muslim

Night Fish is a small and perfectly formed chapbook from Kristin Ong Muslim. The poems are populated by ghosts and souls and, in the poem Extremities by seemingly disembodied limbs.

There's also a lot of water in these poems. The slippery water that eludes definition in Hypergraphia:

watery city of typography. All the pebbles are
letters desperately forming into words. The
handwriting is not quite legible yet.

It is the water of rising sea levels in Night Fish, a beautiful evocation of the changed (and likely disastrous) world we may face in the future:

From now on, there will never be any flat land.
just water. All words will be derivatives of
fixed names denoting the ocean surface bearing
the image of the moon.

It's a lovely, haunting, subtly disturbing chapbook.

Night Fish by Kristine Ong Muslim is available from Elevated Books, an imprint of Shoe Music Press

Monday 18 July 2011

Monday Bunday

Well I promised you bunnies and here they are! There seems to be only one hotel to stay at in Edinburgh if you love bunnies. That's the one next door to the Zoo on Corstorphine Road. In front of the hotel there is a sloping bank of grass with a hedge at the back. On this bank there are bunnies aplenty! They always seem happy and very hungry! There used to be a little black bunny that lived with this group, but he diesn't seem to be around any more.

Saturday 16 July 2011

Botanic Gardens

We had a lovely wander round the Botanic Gardens yesterday. The weather was changeable so we were very glad of the two exhibitions on at the John Hope Gateway building that kept us out of the rain!

Downstairs, Gold Glass Rubber and Recycling showcases recycled art, sculpture and jewellery from Danish crafters. Everything in this exhibition is amazing, beautiful and fascinating. However, apart from the lovely brooches made by Gitte Helle out of broken porcelain, none of the jewellery seems really wearable (unless on the catwalk or in certain nightclubs). One series of 'art objects' was made largely of chess pieces and I wondered whether in fact these would have been better recycled by packaging them into new 'recycled chess sets'. This exhibition is on until 11 September and is worth checking out.

Upstairs is Found in the Fields a stunning exhibition of lithographs and linoprints from Carry Ackroyd, inspired by poetry by John Clare. The works give a modern interpretation of Clare's work and are full of closely observed scenes from nature, in some cases with excerpts from the poetry being threaded through the illustrations. If you can't get along to the exhibition, Carry's website has a wide selection of her work, including a lot that isn't in this exhibition. The exhibition is on until 4 September and is worth visiting at least once.

After we had seen the exhibitions, we wandered round the Botanic Gardens. On the pond we found a moorhen mother with five of the smallest chicks I've ever seen! Their mother had to rush them into the reeds as the grey heron flew over. I don't think there will be five chicks for much longer, as there are two pairs of sparrowhawks in the Gardens as well as the heron. Not to mention foxes....

Talking of sparrowhawks, one has just flown over our flat. I recognised it by its flight pattern, a few quick wingbeats and then a glide, over and over as it circled the sky.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Windowsill Gardening Update

As you may remember, we have been growing basil and coriander on our windowsill this year. They're both doing well and are a very tasty addition to our meals! (I always think these are the two herbs there is most benefit from growing yourself as they taste so much better fresh than dried). The basil is quite photogenic too as you can see below.

I mentioned in a previous post (which also contains an early photo of the basil and coriander) that we were hoping to get some tomato plants and we now have these, they're still small and are scattered round the house in the sunniest spots we can find (our flat only gets morning sun). The photo below shows the shadows cast by the tomato plants.

Friday 15 July 2011

Corstorphine Hill

We had a lovely wander up Corstorphine Hill at lunchtime. It was very warm and humid, with the gathering clouds seeming to promise rain, but it hasn't rained so far!

The hill looks lovely at the moment with all the rosebay willowherb in bloom.

There were lots of soldier beetles about, many of which were feeding on thistles rather than the umbellifers that they seem to usually prefer. Plenty of bees too.

There were lots of rabbits about. One dashed into the rosebay willowherbs at top speed and just where it vanished we noticed a couple of common spotted orchids!

There were a lot of bunnies outside the hotel near Edinburgh Zoo, and I'll share photos of those on Monday, which is after all Bunday!

Thursday 14 July 2011

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Attention all Dog Owners!

Dog fouling is a big problem along the Water of Leith as it in many places. It's disgusting that people will use pastic bags to pick up the dog mess but then will throw the bag into the trees. Unfortunately nothing seems to stop them. This anti-fouling sign is more picturesque than most and can be found near the site of Lindsay's Mill alongside the Water of Leith as it passes through Dean Village.

Saturday 9 July 2011


Yesterday Edinburgh had the most amazing thunderstorm that lasted a total of two hours, the storm spent that time circling the city and throwing thunder, lightning, torrential rain and hailstones at us.

Today we foolishly thought the rain might hold off for the Canal Festival. We made our way over to the canal and enjoyed looking at the stalls and the animals that Gorgie City Farm had brought along for the petting zoo (though Driftwood, the rabbit who we have sponsored for the last few years, wasn't there).

We then wandered along the canal and enjoyed watching the swallows swooping low over the canal and lots of swifts flying around higher up. There was a family of swans, with the cygnets definitely at the ugly duckling stage of development, thgh the adults looked magnificent.

I managed to capture some nice abstract type reflections in the water.

It really felt like summer and we got quite far along the path. Until it started raining. Torrentially. So we turned back. But we took some photos of the rain too, just to prove how torrential it was.

so that's summer in Scotland!

for Weekend Reflections and Nature Notes

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to otherwebpages where you can find out more.

Friday 8 July 2011

Mooncup Madness

(Men may prefer not to read this post)

I have long thought about buying a Mooncup. They are the ultimate in environmentally friendly sanitary protection - avoiding the waste that you get with tampons and normal towels and not requiring the huge amount of water that seems to be necessary to launder reusable cloth towels. Plus the Mooncup doesn't have the health risks attached to tampons.

So the Mooncup would be ideal. But I have always had visions of wrestling with a full Mooncup and ending up with blood spattered all over the bathroom on a regular basis. Plus although the Mooncup isn't actually expensive (it costs about £20) that is expensive compared to what you pay per month for regular sanitary protection. And I've never wanted to have to pay that knowing that I'd be needing to buy my usual protection for at least a few months before getting the hang of the Mooncup.

Anyway, I won a Mooncup in a competition on Greener Leith, which recently ran a series of blog posts about the advantages of Mooncup. So now I have no excuse to at least try and part of the deal is that I write about my experiences here.

Well, my period started just before we went to Arran. I didn't want to take the Mooncup on holiday with me, not wanting to end up spattering blood over a beautifully decorated B&B bathroom. Plus the advice is that you try the Mooncup for the first time halfway through your period. So that didn't give me much time.

I tried, I really did, but the Mooncup was resistant to my efforts (it seems quite springy and its tricky to get it folded down whilst getting oneself into the right position). I did manage to fit it once but then after I'd emptied it, it didn't seem to want to go back in. I'll try again next month and see what happens. I'll keep trying for a few months, but doubt I'll have the staying power of the women in the menstrual cup discussion forums, some of whom have tried for two years before they felt comfortable with it. (This discussion forum is actually a good place to find out more if you're wanting to start using a menstrual cup.) I suspect Mooncup isn't for everywoman, but it is worth a try, as it is environmentally so much the better option and will in the long run save you quite a lot of money.

As ever text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Evening Sky

I'm looking out of the window of our third floor flat. The windowsill is green and sweet scented with coriander and basil plants and a crooked cactus with the remains of some flowers hanging off it.

It's very warm, even though it's late in the evening and the windows are open.

The sky is hazy evening blue with wispy clouds above the tenements, chimneys, roofs and tv aerials. Seven swifts fly low above the old school building. Two of them fly on over our roof and out of sight, screaming as they go. A herring gull flies past.

There's the sound of traffic from the nearby main road and a loud conversation going on outside the restaurant on the corner.

Three gulls fly past, calling loudly - one of them lands on a chimney and shuffles around for a bit before taking off again. Suddenly there's a lot of gulls calling.

A group of ten swifts chase each other across the sky, but they're harder to see now in the fading light.

Written on Monday evening for It's all Around You for 26n

I've had a few poems published recently, you can read them by following the links below:

Dreamscape and Deepest, Darkest on Pygmy Giant

Abstract on The Camel Saloon

I've also posted a poem Strangers on Over Forty Shades

and if you're in London on 31 July you can have the opportunity to eat one of my haiku in cupcake format, thanks to the ever delicious Poetry Digest.

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

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Black Guillemot

The black guillemot is a lovely seabird that particularly likes Scottish harbours. The only places we've ever seen them are the harbours at Oban; Ardrossan (on the way to Arran) and Brodick (on Arran). As well as the smart plumage you can see in the photo they have lovely red legs and a red gape. We enjoyed watching them swimming around and chasing each other as we waited for our ferry to take us back from Arran. Hopefully if you click on the photos, you'll get a bigger version.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Glenashdale Waterfall

As I said yesterday, Glenashdale Waterfall on the Isle of Arran is stunning! We hadn't had much of an idea about it before we went on the walk, we just like woodland walks and waterfalls are always a bonus! The walk from Whiting Bay to the falls is wonderful and very interesting (there's also the remains of an Iron Age Fort perched on a rocky outcrop in the woods). The woodland is lovely, we even saw yet another spotted flycatcher, a bird that we've seen a lot of over the last couple of weeks, despite previously having very rarely seen them (and sadly they are one of the many declining British birds).

The falls are very dramatic.

And at the top there is a wonderful peaceful pool with a miniature waterfall and rocky areas with ferns and even a common spotted orchid! (I shared photos of common spotted orchids near the Water of Leith in an earlier post). This area unfortunately was a mass of biting midges, otherwise it would have been a wonderful place to have a picnic.

I wrote a review of this walk for Walk Highlands, which you can read here. On the same site I've also written reviews of:

Lamlash to Brodick -

Blackwaterfoot and Kings Caves -

Brodick Castle grounds and Nature reserve

(As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more!)

Monday 4 July 2011


We had a lovely holiday on the Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland. It's probably the most accessible of the Scottish Islands, just a few hours by public transport from Edinburgh and the trains and ferries are timetabled nicely together. Once you get there, there's a regular bus service that takes you all round the island. (I definitely recommend buying a day saver bus ticket and spending the day on the bus, getting off where-ever looks interesting!). Arran is often described as Scotland in miniature and it really is! There are mountains, lowlands, beautiful beaches, wonderful waterfalls, red deer, seals, a wonderful selection of birds, golf courses with good provision for nature, a castle with beautiful gardens and a nature reserve. The photo below shows Goatfell the highest mountain on Arran, taken from the beach at Brodick.

We stayed in Brodick, at the Glenarty, a small Bed and Breakfast Hotel with excellent environmental credentials and beautifully decorated (though small) rooms with views across to Goatfell.

The Arran Brewery, near to Brodick Castle, brews one of my favourite beers (Arran Blonde) and also has a lovely beer garden, overlooking a field where spotted flycatchers spend their days catching flies (hadn't seen this bird for years until our recent day trip to Biggar and here they were again in Arran!). We also saw the flycatchers nest in a hole in a wall and also saw house martins' nests under the eaves of the brewery building. (Normally I would put hyperlinks here to the appropriate pages for martins and flycatchers in the RSPB website, but currently if I try to access the RSPB site my computer crashes! Sorry about that!)

The Glenashdale waterfall near Whiting Bay is stunning and I'll blog about that tomorrow!