Saturday 31 March 2012

Edinburgh Enlightenment Exchange

Today was my first day at Edinburgh International Science Festival and it started in great style with the inspiring Edinburgh Enlightenment Exchange. To be honest, this day was so inspiring I could probably blog about nothing else for several weeks, but I will restrict myself to one fairly long post.

The event celebrated the spirit of the Scottish Enlightenment by bringing together scientists, artists and other creative innovators to share ideas and inspiration on a diverse variety of topics ranging from nuclear waste disposal to the connections between dance and psychology. For me, it was inspiring to see so many people bringing different disciplines together - where art and science can find inspiration from each other, rather than viewing each other in mutual suspicion. Though as a poet and scientist I often think this mutual suspicion is overstated by people who are neither artists nor scientists.

Below are brief notes about the various speakers at the event, just to give a flavour of it!


Polly Arnold started things off with nuclear waste disposal. A topic we're all probably aware of as being vitally important, but rarely has it been presented in such an engaging way. Polly used wonderful metaphors to describe things, for example comparing the large number of electrons in radioactive elements to pomegranate seeds. She gave some fascinating insights into how the elements of nuclear waste can be separated and transmutated to reduce the problems around disposal.

Following quickly on her heels, Peter Lovat talked about the connections between dance and psychology. Speaking from his own experience, Peter discussed how dance can help people with problem solving, improve memory and how it has been shown to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. He also got everyone in the auditorium on their feet and dancing!

Tilo Kunath talked about regenerative medicine and how induced Pluripoten stem cells (which are made from adult cells rather than embryonic cells) are being researched as an ethical alternative to embryonic stem cells.


After a short discussion and a coffee break we were back again with Suzy Glass of Trigger who talked about the importance of allowing yourself to fail along the path to creative or scientific progress. We need space to play and more grazed knees in the playground! She also talked a bit about her work with the residents of the island of Canna, a Scottish island that is facing a real population crisis (only ten people live on the island now). She has worked with a variety of creative people, including musicians who have created soundscapes of the island based on Gaelic songs about birds.

Tommy Perman and Simon Kirby of Found next presented a double act about their work in creating Cybraphon, an autonomous emotional robot that constantly searches itself on the internet then monitors its own emotions which then feed into a constant musical tune and Twitter and Facebook updates. It was fascinating to hear that Cybrophon receives virtual gifts from its Facebook followers after it reports that its mood is negative!

Sabrina Maniscalco then introduced us to the Quantum Circus a collaboration between quantum physicists and circus performers. We saw a clip of the Finnish performance of their musical circus show about Schrodingers cat, which was inspiring most artistically and scientifically, and will be appearing in Scotland in 2013 (duly translated into English!) definitely a show to see!


To wake us up after lunch we were taken on a (virtual) run around Edinburgh landmark Arthur's Seat by Angus Farquhar of NVA. Their project Speed of Light aims to encourage local people to see the hill in a new light. Runners (many of them novices) wearing suits fitted with LED lights run around the hill in the dark in specially choreographed routes that weave light patterns in the open spaces.

Suitably refreshed we then found out from Gavin Starks about his incredibly ambitious project AMEE which aims to ultimately measure the carbon footprint of everything on earth, which works through tools such as household carbon calculators and embedding environmental sustainability in product design.

Another equally ambitious project is Zooniverse, which was presented by Chris Lintott. This is a huge citizen science project that aims to map the universe using volunteers to study astronomical photos to classify galaxies and to look for weird new features in the universe. It is a real example of how ordinary people can make a real difference to science and how scientists can facilitate the process by giving people the right tools to be able to effectively input data.


The first speaker in the final session, Steve Blackmore of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh talked about the absolute fundamental importance of plants to life on earth and how we should be taking better care of our green leafy companions.

Subathra Subramaniam then took us to the arctic with Cape Farewell, which brings artists, scientists and young people together to seek inspiration in the arctic and to share that inspiration with others through research, education and artistic works. One of their voyages was filmed as Burning Ice, which I reviewed during last year's Edinburgh International Film Festival here.

Finally Richard Wiseman, magician and psychologist appeared as a surprise guest to reveal the psychological secrets behind some common magic tricks.


I also blogged about the event here.

It was lovely to meet Kate of blur of woodsmoke who was also there and blogged her impressions here!

I'll continue to blog about the Science Festival over the next two weeks both here and over on Clicket, where I was delighted to be chosen as one of their seven Science Festival bloggers!

Disclaimer - I received a press ticket for this event.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks that take you to other websites where you can find out more!

Friday 30 March 2012

Craighouse Update

I went today to the developer's exhibition showing their proposals for the old Napier University Craighouse campus development. I was relieved that it looks as though it isn't going to be anywhere near as bad as I had been lead to expect. (You can read my concerns here).

New build housing will cover 4% of the site, this is 4% too much, but it's much less than I had been lead to believe. The woodlands will thankfully not be built on and public access to these woodlands will be maintained (or are the developers here making a promise they won't be able to keep?). Car parking will be mostly restricted to the existing car parks or will be hidden away, in some cases underneath the housing. There are likely to be fewer cars once the site becomes housing, compared to how many were there when it was a University.

A real area of controversy is that some of the housing will be built on the old orchard. The representatives of the developers today said to me that all the trees in the orchard are either dead or very nearly so and that it isn't really an orchard any more. I'm not sure that that would be true, old and in fact dead trees have a real ecological value. Having said that, looking at the plans the orchard is at the edge of the site and having housing there is less intrusive than it would be if it were built right across the open space. Also the developers are going to plant a new orchard, though of course those trees will take years to reach maturity.

The other real issue is that the entire site is designated in the Edinburgh City Local Plan as Open Space and/or Area of Great Landscape value, and therefore any new-build on the site is contrary to the Local Plan. If the local council gives planning permission for this development, it sets a dangerous precedent for future developments on our open spaces.

In an ideal world certainly, the development would be restricted to renovating and converting the existing historical buildings. So far however, no-one has come up with a financially feasible way to do this. Given that we live in an imperfect world, perhaps the current proposals are the best we can hope for? Or do we want to wait for a perfect proposal, which risks in the meantime allowing all the historical buildings to fall into decay such that they can then never be refurbished?

If you're concerned about the proposals, please go along to the exhibition between 10-4 tomorrow at Old Craig on the campus site. Have a good look at the plans and ask the developers some questions. Get involved and have your say!

Shadows over the Future of Craighouse

Napier University recently sold Craighouse Campus to property developers, Mountgrange Real Estate Opportunity Fund. The developers now own the campus grounds; the woods and the hill itself.

The developers plan to turn the Grade-A listed buildings into flats (which is not necessarily a problem) and controversially to build 3-storey new housing across the orchard (a designated Open Green Space of Great Landscape Value in a Conservation Area), 3 to 4-storey blocks around the site and a very substantial new-build development across a large area of Open Green Space, mature woodland and Nature Conservation Site.

The proposed destruction of green space and woodland along with the pressure from 200 new households in terms of traffic, schools and carparking across this beautiful site led to the formation of Friends of Craighouse Grounds & Woods.

Crafty Green Boyfriend and I today wandered round Craighouse and the nearby Easter Craiglockart Hill. The woods were alive with birds, as well as the most common woodland birds we saw bullfinches and greenfinches and heard great spotted woodpeckers. I also took these photos of the area that stands to be impacted by the inappropriate development.

If you live in Edinburgh (or even if you don't!) and care about the future of this wonderful woodland area and historical site, please join Friends of Craighouse Grounds and Woods before we lose yet another green space that's vital for wildlife and people alike. You can see photos of the groups protests here. If you can, also go to the exhibition of the plans (short notice I know, sorry!):

■Friday 30 March. 2-8pm. Boroughmuir RFC, Meggetland Sports Pavilion
■Saturday 31 March. 10-4pm Old Craig

for Shadow Shot Sunday

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins

Most of the stories in this brilliant book are gritty urban realism and so I've reviewed it on Over Forty Shades.

However the title story fits right in with the themes of this blog and is such a lovely story it deserves a blogpost to itself.

Three Ways of the Saw is a meditation on the felling of a storm damaged locust tree, told from the perspectives of: the ageing owner of the house and garden where the tree grows; the tree surgeon just approaching middle age and the young apprentice tree surgeon.

The parallels between the ageing tree and the ageing house owner are obvious but beautifully drawn.

I grab the bottle of oxycontin and go to the picture window where I can look out over the front porch at what's left of my honey locust. Used to be that almost every day when I cam home from the paper mill I'd sit on the porch swing for a while and watch its thorny, green branches sway in the wind or its snow covered skelton hunkering down beneath the flat winter sky. Trimming the thorns off the trunk and otherwise keeping an eye on it had been my habit ever since I planted it thrity-three years ago to grow into blocking out the transformer and telephone pole behind. But there was more to it than fixing a bad view. There is what we decide to take and what we can give back. There is the grind of the mill and the sulfur stink of stripped logs being processed down to slurry, and there's the trees I've planted on this deep lot, one for each year here, the first of them all now halved and dying in the middle of my front lawn.

The reader knows that the homeowner has little time left to him and that his wife will soon be left alone. The futures for the other two characters are less certain, will the tree surgeon keep his health and continue to work in an understanding way with trees? Will the apprentice learn to love the trees and to see tree surgery as more than just a job or will he prefer to spend his time getting drunk with his friends?

Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins published by Atticus Books.

Reviewed for Brighton Blogger's Reading Challenge 2012.

You can read my latest post on Green Books on Brighton Blogger's Book after Book blog.

There's also another interesting article about greening the publishing industry here.

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

National Spring Clean

Anyone who cares about the environment at all must be concerned about the amount of litter. How often do you go for a nice wander through the woods or the hills only to find drinks cans in the heather and trees decorated with bags of dog poo? In many areas of our towns and cities, the situation is much worse. Then there's the effect of litter on our waterways and oceans. (the Midway project is a powerful exploration of these problems).

So Keep Scotland Beautiful are running the National Spring Clean through April and May. They hope that 200 000 people will join in this year and volunteer to clean up their local area. This offers an ideal team building and corporate responsibility opportunity for your company or organisation! Your staff or members could get to know each other while doing something really worthwhile and cleaning up a local area. To find out where your nearest litter pick is, you can visit this handy interactive map. I'll be picking litter every week, as I always do, along the Water of Leith. The Water of Leith Conservation Trust runs river clean ups every spring. You can find out more on the volunteering page of their website.

I've also blogged about this over on my new blog here.

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

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Few Flowered Leeks

I walked along the Water of Leith this morning, a wonderful spring day with lots of birdsong. I spotted a pair of dippers who looked as though they had found a nest site on a pretty bend in the river and a pair of dunnocks that were dancing together.

The few flowered leeks are now in bloom and quite an odd looking bloom it is too! Gabrielle had asked for a close up shot, so here are a couple!

The leaves can be picked and eaten as salad or in sauces (but please note thatlots of dogs run around the Water of Leith and you must wash the leaves thoroughly before eating). Apparently these plants taste very different from the wild garlic, which is not yet in bloom so I'll post a close up of that flower in the next week or so!

For Nature Notes

Monday 26 March 2012

Edinburgh Enlightenment Exchange at Edinburgh International Science Festival

I've just found out I'll be one of the bloggers covering Edinburgh E2 the Edinburgh Enlightenment Exchange at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, which is exciting news! It's a full day of talks about innovative ways of communicating about science including creative collaborations between science and the arts. As a botanist by training, I'll be particularly interested in the talk about the continuing value of Botany by Stephen Blackmore the Regius Keeper at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. The most exciting event though has to be the talk by quantum physicists Sabrina Maniscalco and Elsi Laine that will focus on the Quantum Circus project, which uses circus performance to explore quantum mechanics!

The event happens on Saturday and I think there are still tickets left, which can be booked here.

Sunday 25 March 2012

another repurposed pencil cases and a GIVEAWAY!

I used up the last of the checked fabric samples to make another pencil case today. I added two nice buttons as decoration though the case fastens with press-studs. The fabric is quite robust, though the cases aren't lined. I have to admit I am not an expert with needle and hread and few of my seams are perfectly straight, nor can my buttons and fasteners be guaranteed to be perfectly aligned. The pencil case is much greener in reality than it looks in the photo.

Anyway, now there are three pencil cases that I've not yet given away as gifts (sorry for the slightly odd angle in this photo!).

I'll be giving away one of these here, as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning one of these, please leave a comment here within two weeks and say

a) which you would like and

b) i) either what you would use it for or
....ii) why you like gifts made from reused materials.

Then I'll draw the names from a hat and the winner will get the pencil case of their choice. If there are a lot of entries, the runner up may win the small yellow purse in this photo.

Friday 23 March 2012

Reflections in Redford Woods

If you've been reading this blog over the past week, you'll know that Crafty Green Boyfriend and I recently discovered Redford Woods a lovely area of woodland along Edinburgh's Braid Burn. Today I thought I'd share some more photos for Weekend Reflections.

wild garlic in abundance on the other shore of the burn!

probably more shadows than reflections in this photo, but a lovely piece of water!

the view across to the Pentland hills from fields near the woods

For Weekend Reflections

Thursday 22 March 2012


on her nest -
a brooding coot

previously published in Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Pedestrians and Pets

I like this sign at the entrance to the Liberton Brae office complex based in renovated farm buildings in the south of Edinburgh. I took my birdwatching class there on Monday and we were amazed by the number of skylarks that were flying around and singing above the famrland. I know that four pairs used to nest there, but it seems like there are more there now! We also heard yellowhammers. It's a great area for swallows and house martins in summer too. Further along the walk we had wonderful views of a kestrel, which was a great way to end this term of walks!

Today I did my weekly walk round Colinton Dell by the Water of Leith. Definitely spring! The undergrowth green with the leaves of wild garlic and few flowered leek and yellow with celandines (which were literally shining in today's bright sunshine) and coltsfoot. The air full of birdsong and the magical sound of great spotted woodpeckers drumming. Long tailed tits collecting nesting material and a pair of goldcrests doing an adorable little courtship dance! You can now also read my post about Why I Volunteer for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Tomorrow We Will Live Here by Ryan van Winkle

Ryan van Winkle is well known in Edinburgh, for being the Scottish Poetry Library's Reader in Residence and for running the wildly popular Golden Hour event at the Forest Cafe, until the cafe shut. Crafty Green Boyfriend and I regularly went along to the Golden Hour and enjoyed its unpredictable mix of poetry, stories, music and cartoons. I was even allowed to read my poetry on the stage there once!

Ryan is also an award winning poet and Tomorrow, We Will Live here is his first collection and I've finally got round to reviewing it!

There is something about these poems, which makes me want to re-read them. Ryan has a distinctive poetic voice (something that seems not too common these days to be honest) and a real ability to create mood and atmosphere.

There's a sense of times lost in may of these poems. In My 100-Year Old Ghost, he talks about his ghost who:

........................tries to sell me on simpler times:
the grass soft, endless -
lampless nights
pools of crickets singing.

In They Tore the Bridge Down a Year Later he regrets the new bridge, where the traffic is too heavy

and me and my boy can't sit there,
let the water pass.

There are poems here about the smell of gasoline, doing the laundry, the sense of dread of moving into a new home (The Apartment, which ends: and Christ, tomorrow / we will live here) and a death row prisoner dreaming of rain. Plenty of poems about various stages of relationships too.

Tomorrow, We Will Live Here by Ryan van Winkle published by Salt.

posted as part of Brighton Blogger's 2012 reading Challenge

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

Monday 19 March 2012

Redford Woods

We just discovered Redford Woods in Edinburgh at the weekend! It's a lovely area of woodland along part of the Braid Burn. I posted some photos here and here and there are more!

wild garlic and leeks poking through the remaining leaves from last autumn

the strength and resilience of nature

The highlight of the walk was watching a pair of long tailed tits collecting feathers and lichens and taking them to the exquisite work of art they were building in a gorse bush. The work of art is of course their nest and is a beautiful collection of moss and lichens held together with spiders webs and lined with feathers. You can see one of the proud architects below, if you look carefully you can see the nest just below the bird and to the left, under the bog leaf.

Saturday 17 March 2012

Shadowy Woodland

We had a lovely walk today around Redford Woods, an area we've never visited before, despite it being on a convenient bus route. I'll blog more about this walk in the next couple of days, but here for now, is a selection of shadow shots taken around the woodland, which stretches along part of Edinburgh's Braid Burn.

the woods are so lush at this time of year with the wild garlic and leeks
I always feel sorry for beech trees, they seem to carry so many scars, but they make a nice canvas for shadows!

these young trees will soon be in leaf!

a nice secluded house!

more wild garlic and a view of the burn!

Shadow Shot Sunday 2

Friday 16 March 2012

Publication update

I was excited to find my poem Heaven Shifts included in this selection of responses to a poem by Tomas Tranströmer in Notes from the Underground.

I was surprised to find On the Road to Cape Maclear - a piece about Malawi included in Pure Travel (I'd forgotten all about it!)

I also had a 75 word story Sally's Horse included on Paragraph Planet recently, which you may have read if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter. I can't currently find the link though and it won't be added to the site's archives until the end of the month, but I'll include it here as soon as I can. Edited to add: you can now access Sally's Horse by scrolling right down on this page then clicking on my name. It was a piece that first started life in Janis Mackay's Children's Fiction evening class I'm currently attending.

Thursday 15 March 2012


trees by the boating lake

pussy willow by the boating lake

The grey hill in the distance is part of the existing ash workings.

The old ash workings have been filled with water and form the Musselburgh Lagoons, which are wonderful for waders and ducks. Today they were quite quiet (I saw a heron, four shelduck and a couple of teal) but often they are full of hundreds of birds of many species. Today, along the nearby coast I saw velvet scoters, very distant grebes (great crested?) and twite as well as lots of waders including a grey plover.

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

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Climate Week

It's Climate Week this week in the UK! Climate Week is Britain’s biggest climate change campaign, inspiring a new wave of action to create a sustainable future. There are events happening all over the country, you can find those happening in your area by using this handy interactive map.

Hopefully the events and awareness raising that go on as part of Climate Week can inspire people and organisations to take steps to reduce their impact on the environment!

I wrote a brief piece about Climate Week on my new blog here, and apologies to the several people who visited that blog expecting a piece about why I volunteer for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust and found an empty post. I had accidentally pressed Publish instead of Save. However that piece will be ready to read next week!

Tuesday 13 March 2012

From maps to envelopes

We had some old, out of date maps hanging around in the flat so I thought I'd repurpose some of them into envelopes. Here are some of the results. All are slightly smaller than A5 so sneak into the post as small letters (note to overseas readers, the UK mail charges significantly more for letters that are larger than A5 size ( 210 x 148 mm / 8.3 x 5.8 in) - you can read about paper sizes here)!

I made these envelopes to fit notelets I've made from reclaimed office paper. I measured around the notelet and allowed a bit of a margin then simply glued the paper together to make the envelope. You can make envelopes like this out of any paper to fit the size of your card or writing paper! You can also put the white side of paper facing outwards for a more 'professional' look. Of course I need to add little white address labels to them before I use them!

I'm sharing this crafting idea as part of Crafting a Green World's new Green Crafts Showcase. You can join in too - find out how here!

Monday 12 March 2012

Magnus Fin and the Selkie Secret by Janis Mackay

I was delighted to recently have been at the launch of Magnus Fin and the Selkie Secret by Janis Mackay, whose Children's Fiction evening class I'm so enjoying at the Office of Lifelong Learning at University of Edinburgh.

In this novel, Magnus Fin finds out that someone has stolen the treasure that belongs to Neptune, King of the Sea. This is no ordinary treasure but includes all the instructions for how to rule the sea, such as how to make waves. Magnus believes that the strange kist that has washed up on his beach contains Neptune's treasure but he has to find the key before he can find out and then return the treasure to the king.

Meanwhile, Magnus' teacher Mr Sargent has become puzzled by the behaviour of Magnus, his cousin Aquella and their friend Tarkin. A chance remark in the pub about the children being 'aliens' is overheard and leads to a chain of gossip that leads to the paparazzi hitting the village. Well, actually only Billy, the tea boy in a tiny magazine, who wants to be a journalist, but that's enough for the selkie community to feel threatened.

This third in the Magnus Fin trilogy follows Magnus and Tarkin as they try for a while to be 'normal' to put their teachers off the scent of what's really going on. Of course underwater adventures aren't quite compatible with being normal so things soon get difficult.

Can Magnus return the treasure to Neptune? Will Tarkin ever see his Dad again? Will Billy and Mr Sargent learn to accept people who appear different? And whatever happened to that gang of angry fish with fish hooks studding their faces?

Magnus Fin and the Selkie Secret by Janis Mackay published by Kelpies, an imprint of Floris Books.

You can read my reviews of the earlier Magnus Fin books here and here.

Reviewed as part of Brighton Blogger's 2012 reading Challenge.

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

Saturday 10 March 2012

spring haiku

dew covered fields -
a stoat in ermine
bounces past


putting words
to the chaffinch's song -
ginger beer

the second of these was previously published in Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society

Thursday 8 March 2012

International Women's Day in Fairtrade Fortnight

It's Fairtrade Fortnight! For those who don't know, Fair Trade is trade that gives producers a fair wage for their products. The fair trade premium that such products attract is invested into communities, often into environmental improvements or educational projects.

This morning I went along to the Edinburgh Fair Trade City Group Fair Trade Brunch at the Cafe Camino, a lovely venue just next door to Edinburgh's St James Centre shopping centre, so an ideal location to attract passers by in to the event!

Brunch offered a selection of pastries and snack bars, teas and coffee (all fair traded of course!) and the chance to browse stalls from some of Edinburgh's top fair trade retailers (including the One World Shop and Hadeel).

There were inspiring talks from women agricultural producers. Norma Gadea Paivas is a Nicaraguan coffee grower, who is a member of SOPPEXCCA (the Union of Agricultural Co-operatives). She spoke movingly and inspiringly about how her local co-operative enabled her family to leave their life tied to the large plantations where they had used to work. The co-operative holds training to empower women and the fairtrade premium that their coffee now attracts is invested into the community and has so far enabled them to establish projects including an environmental campaigning group and a women's health project.

Hanan Alsanah, is the director of Education and Community Building of the Bedouin Women's Organisation Al Sidreh. This organisation, named after a strong desert tree, is a rug making project in the village of Lakiyah. Hanan spoke movingly about the history of the Bedouin peoples in Israel and how the Al Sidreh project is empowering women to develop economically and personally and to empower their own daughters in turn. Hanan will be speaking again tonight at 7.30 at Hadeel, Shandwick Place, Edinburgh. I won't be able to go to that event, but it promises to be inspiring!

The theme for this years Fair Trade Fortnight is to Take a Step for Fairtrade, for example by buying a fairtrade product you've never tried before (mine are fairtrade oranges which are the most delicious oranges I've tasted (I'd almost given up on finding really tasty oranges too!) and smoked almonds from Hadeel, which may well be addictive they're so good). You can also hold an event to promote fair trade or even blog about fair trade! You can share your steps on the Fair Trade Fortnight website here.

Edinburgh is a fair trade city and Scotland is on track to become a fair trade nation by the end of this year!

I've shared some ideas for Fair Trade steps you can take at work over on my new blog here. Please feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section over there!

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

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Mothers Day Card

In the UK, Mothers Day is just a week on Sunday! Here's the card I made for my Mum, using only scrap card and paper.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Are you Wild about Plants?

Plantlife, the charity that conserves wild plants in the UK, wants to find out how important wild plants are to communities and individuals today. To help them do this, they want to hear about your wild plant memories, foraging tales and recipes! You can write to the Wild About Plants team with your memories, poems and photographs which will be added to a plant anthology on their website.

If you have more time, you can complete a parish record form, which as well as asking how local people use wild plants, asks you to record whether certain wild plants grow in your parish (or neighbourhood). You can download a parish record form here.

Plant enthusiasts can also subscribe to Pioneer, a free quarterly newsletter that offers useful tips, facts and plant ID help for amateur botanists and nature lovers. Readers are encouraged to provide content and feedback regularly making for a real hands on friendly and fun newsletter! Email to sign up!

Monday 5 March 2012

Magnus Fin and the Moonlight Mission by Janis Mackay

This is the second in Janis Mackay's trilogy of books about Magnus Fin, the Scottish boy who is part selkie.

Every morning Magnus goes down to the beach and spends some time with the seals. But one morning there are no seals to greet him. Magnus discovers that his selkie family and all the seals in the sea are being threatened by a mysterious disease. Magnus and his American friend Tarkin set out to investigate.

Meanwhile Magnus's cousin Aquella, a selkie who has lost her seal skin is trying to adapt to life as a human. She desperately wants to help Magnus and Tarkin in their investigations but is unable to go too close to the sea.

This adventure is as exciting as Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest and it also follows the main characters as they grow up, addressing issues around identity and belonging. Tarkin is becoming more and more Scots (with liberal use of the word muckle in all his sentences!), while Magnus is totally adapting to being a selkie:

Swimming was a joy. His strength felt boundless. He twisted, he turned. Like a bolt through the blue he plunged westwards. He cleaved through the racing currents, rounded Cape Wrath then turned north towards Sule Skerrie. On he swam, the only seal in the ocean wearing a moonstone and a silver locket, which were now tight around his thick seal neck.

There are a host of well drawn minor characters in this book - the mysterious winkle picker; the helpful but elusive crab and the gang of angry fish with their faces scarred with fishing hooks.

Can Magnus and Tarkin find out what is causing the disease and save Magnus' selkie family? You'll have to read the book to find out!

Magnus Fin and the Moonlight Mission by Janis Mackay published by Kelpies, an imprint of Floris Books

Reviewed for Brighton Bloggers 2012 Reading Challenge.

You can read my review of Magnus Fin and the Ocean Quest - the first book in the trilogy - here.

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

Sunday 4 March 2012


by the roadside
a dead male blackbird lies
with open beak -
tomorrow's dawn chorus
will be a singer short.

Saturday 3 March 2012

gift bags from repurposed materials

I posted recently about some pencil cases I had made from some repurposed fabric samples. Well here are a couple of very wee purses I made from the same lot of fabric. The button in the top one comes from my stash and the ribbon from the second was cut out of an old diary! I'll probably use these two to put little gifts in.

Friday 2 March 2012

Hazel catkins

One of my favourite sights in the plant world in spring! The long dangly catkins are the males, the discreet but rather beautiful red catkin (just above the three males) is a female.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Some thoughts on Birds

...Ah but a rare bird is
rare. It is when one is not looking,
at times when one is not there
.......................................that it comes.

from Seawatching by R S Thomas

I had been reading R S Thomas' poetry on the bus before my latest Birdwatching class and then quoted the above before taking the group on our walk at Musselburgh. We didn't see any great rarities, but everyone was happy with the variety of species we did see!

The walk, perhaps surprisingly. also helped to inspire a post about Marketing on my new professional blog, which you can read here.