Friday 31 August 2012

Ai Weiwei - Never Sorry

Ai Weiwei Never Sorry is an inspiring documentary film about the Chinese dissident artist and activist Ai Weiwei. It follows the artist through several of his projects, including a memorial to victims of a major earthquake, his almost obsessive photographic recording of his life and his extensive activism on Twitter. For many years he seemed to escape the censorship and harassment that many of his contemporaries in China faced, but after being imprisoned last year he is currently unable to leave the country.

Ai Weiwei comes across as incredibly driven in his work, but with a great sense of humour. His studio is over-run with cats (the opening scene of the film shows Ai making a sculpture while a cat sprawls across it.)

This film is inspiring, showing how we can use art in well thought out activism to try and change the world, or to at least raise people's awareness.

Ai Weiwei, Never Sorry will be on at the Cameo cinema, Edinburgh next Tuesday 4 September.

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

Thursday 30 August 2012

Book Spine Poetry

Thanks Marianne for inspiring me to do this!

Out of Eden, the Wild Places Collapse. 

You can see more of my attempts on Over Forty Shades here. And if you're inspired to try some yourself, Edinburgh Central Library would like to see them!

For a particularly impressive and inspiring example, see the poem JoAnne put together over on Titus the Dog

Advance notice of some readings

 I'm reading at the launch of Anti-Zine, the magazine of the Antisocial Writers Club, 7pm, Thursday 20 September at 3rd Door, 45-47 Lothian Street, Edinburgh.

I'm reading 10 minutes of poetry at 10 Red, 7.30pm, Wednesday 3 October at the Persevere, Easter Road, Edinburgh.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Lovely weather for ducks

I went to Musselburgh this morning. It was raining but as is often the way, the birds didn't seem to mind. I was surprised to see a few swifts still around, flying with the house martins (Our swifts have long gone, but we have no house martins, I wonder if in fact swifts generally stay longer where there are martins and swallows for them to hang out with?). Out on the water there were loads of eider ducks, some of the males still in their eclipse plumage, some back in their normal eider uniform. Further out there were two busy groups of gulls and gannets, fussing around as though they'd found a good patch of fish. There were also a few great crested grebes and a couple of guillemots on the water and a few common or arctic terns diving for fish.

Still lots of lapwings on the Lagoons, which were busier than they've been for a while, with dunlin, bar tailed godwits and ringed plovers joining the lapwings. Not for the first time I wished the Lagoons' bird hides had roofs, it was too wet in there to sit down!

You may be interested to read my article Seasons Turning in Musselburgh on the Lothian Life website. 

This afternoon, there was torrential rain here, with thunder and lightning!

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

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Salad from the Windowsill

I recently harvested the first batch of salad leaves from our windowsill garden. They were delicious alongside hummus. I think the harvests will be small but frequent!We've got more seeds too, from packets I was sent as gifts.

Monday 27 August 2012

really my Last review from Edinburgh International Book festival 2012

On Thursday, I prematurely claimed to write my last review from this year's Edinburgh International Book Review. I was wrong, though I didn't know it at the time.

I then won a Twitter competition for tickets to the Book festival event with Susannah Clapp talking about the life and works of Angela Carter. It was a fascinating event, Clapp is Carter's literary executor and spoke insightfully about Carter's work and her own book, A Card from Angela Carter an illustrated memoir about the writer. But that event, excellent as it was isn't what I'm going to review here.

After that event I managed to get a last minute press ticket for Robert MacFarlane talking about The Old Ways his book about walking. He was in conversation with Stuart Kelly and they covered a lot of ground in their discussion as well as MacFarlane reading several passages from the book. They talked about paths and journeys really having no beginning or end and the parallels between land art and path-making.

MacFarlane had put together a slide show, which included some haunting black and white photos of the coastal causeway at the Broomway in Essex. There were also photos from his visit to the Shiants (which some of you may remember from my review of Sea Room, Adam Nicholson's book about those islands). This lead to discussion of sea ways, the hidden paths across the water that in many cases have been used for generations. Going even further back, MacFarlane talked about finding the prehistoric footprints at Formby that Jean Sprackland had also mentioned in passing earlier in the festival. When the talk moved to the politics of walking in Palestine, MacFarlane said that some of his friends there felt that the connection they felt with deep time as they walked through the ancient landscape of the area, helped them to see political unrest in a different perspective.

This was the only event I went to at this year's Book Festival that had a sign language interpreter, Rachel. She was brilliant, even giving a very fluent interpretation of what seemed like a challenging passage from Old Ways that she hadn't been shown before (MacFarlane at the last minute, changing his mind about what to read!). I don't understand much sign language, but it is always so beautiful to watch.

Thanks again to Edinburgh International Book Festival for another excellent event and to Clicket for arranging the press pass and tickets!

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

Saturday 25 August 2012

Discover Organic

I seem to be having a lot of luck in winning things at the moment! I was delighted to win this cookery book from a Twitter competition run by Dads Cooking Tonight.

The book is beautifully designed with a nice hard cover, lots of photos and nicely laid out recipes. It also has lots of extras, in addition to the recipes. These include a potted history of organic food, quotes from well known people as to why they love organic and brief articles from the celebrities who have shared their recipes in these pages.

I have to say my first impression of the recipes was, oh my goodness, that's a lot of meat! I knew the book wasn't vegetarian and in fact had entered hoping to win it as a gift for someone else (who isn't vegetarian!). Plus of course, some recipes can be adapted - I'm sure you could substitute mushrooms for the prawns in the Spicy Prawns with Apple and Mint Yoghurt Chutney or even for the beef in the Asian Beef Salad and end up with something equally palatable (I'm certainly willing to try). But Braised Lamb Steak and Roast Chicken are shockingly meaty dishes for this veggie (which isn't a criticism of the book, it's much more about my dietary preferences and what I'm used to seeing in the pages of veggie cookbooks.) More seriously, I have a feeling that reducing the carbon footprint and environmental impact of one's food by going organic naturally fits with going veggie too so I expected an organic cookbook to be a little more veggie friendly.

Having said that there are some excellent veggie recipes in here - the Roast Tomato and Basil Pesto Pasta looks amazing, as does the Tofu and Shiitake Stir Fry. There's a whole array of delicious deserts - including Plum and Cardamon Brulee and Chocolate and Amaretto Panna Cotta. A couple of the recipes include elderflowers, which can be gathered from your local elder bush, bringing in foraging, which I recently talked about here and here. You can't help too but love a cookbook that includes a Treasure Hunt Salad and an ultra simple recipe for Tomatoes on Toast.

So, if you're not a vegetarian and you're wanting to learn more about organic food, this is a highly recommended book. If you are vegetarian though, you will probably want to search out a specifically vegetarian recipe book.

Discover Organic is published by Organic Food UK.

Friday 24 August 2012

A Beautiful Etegami

I was delighted recently when DosankoDebbie created this beautiful etegami artwork in response to one of my haiku. I was even more delighted a couple of days ago to receive the original artwork itself in the post! All nicely laminated to prevent postal related damage. Thank you Debbie, what a lovely thought and what a beautiful piece of art!

Thursday 23 August 2012

Revealing the Secrets of the Land

Today was my last day reviewing the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Thanks to the festival and to Clicket for giving me press tickets for the events I've been to and reviewed on this blog. I've been particularly impressed by the discussions I've attended this year, you can read my reviews of events earlier in the Festival by following the links below.

Foraging and Bee-keeping.

Nature Calls.

Science in Fiction (and Science Fiction).

Into Africa.

Today's event was another fascinating discussion between the poet Jean Sprackland and the religious historian Martin Palmer, chaired by Fiametta Rocco.

Sprackland's latest book Strands, her first foray into non-fiction, is a poetic account of a year on the beaches of North West England (beaches I know quiet well, having grown up in Manchester and visited those, our nearest beaches quite often!). She explored the beaches with a mind open to discovery, never knowing what she would find, but always willing to pay equal attention to everything, whether an ancient artifact or a clump of plastic. She's found Roman coins wrapped in seaweed, a wooden door (she read a beautiful long passage about this door and how different it seems out of context) and ancient prehistoric footprints. As some of you may know, I'm a bit of a beachcomber myself and so was particularly interested in her descriptions of the items she found and her sense that they all have interconnected stories. She uses these stories to comment on the environmental problems facing the marine environment, but spoke also of a lasting sense of being on the edge of 'still unfathomed space' when standing on the beach looking towards the sea. A sort of spiritual feeling.

Palmer's book, Sacred Land, is much more academic and looks specifically at sacred spaces in the UK. Fifteen years ago he wrote Sacred Britain, which was a guidebook to the sacred places in Britain and he describes this second book is a handbook for people to find their own sacred landscape. Palmer remembers his godmother taking him out to the open spaces round where he lived and telling him stories about the sacred elements of the landscape. He talked about the fact that up until the Victorian period, in Britain we had a vision of the city as a sacred space, able to tell a sacred story (he talked us through some of the layout of Edinburgh's Georgian New Town, to give an idea of how this storytelling might work). He went much further back into times before cities were even an idea for our ancestors and discussed the relationship our prehistoric ancestors had with nature and their sacred spaces like long barrows and stone circles.

In essence the two speakers were talking about the stories that can be found wherever we are, if only we look hard enough and pay full attention. It was a fascinating discussion!

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Foraging and Beekeeping

I've blogged a couple of times recently about foraging (see my posts here and here) so I was particularly pleased to get a press ticket (via Clicket) for this talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Alys Fowler is the author of several books, most recently The Thrifty Forager. She gave a very informative illustrated mini-presentation on some of the plant species that can be foraged in urban areas of the UK. She recommended the young leaves of lime (linden) trees as a lettuce substitute, while pointing out that the flowers make a lovely tea. Chickweed, sow thistle and wild rocket are all species whose leaves can be used in salads. The leaves of many species including nettles, dead nettles and bladder campion can be used in soups. She gave a wonderful description of garlic mustard leaves as a 'Willy Wonka type of foraged leaf, it starts off as a very strong mustard taste, then as you chew it changes into a very distinctive garlic flavour. She talked about the value of urban apples, and explained that apple trees store pollution in their leaves and the apples themselves are free of toxins as long as you peel them. She also made a very clear plea for people to be considerate foragers and to take only what they need and to be sure to leave enough for other foragers and more importantly the wildlife.Her book also goes into quite some detail apparently (though she didn't say a lot about this in the presentation) about the need to plant edible landscapes and she recommended Incredible Edible Todmorden as an example of a community that has really dedicated itself to creating such a landscape.

Steve Benbow is the owner of the London Honey Company and author of Urban Beekeeper. He keeps bee hives across London including on the roofs of iconic buildings like the Tate Gallery and Fortnum and Mason (where the bee hives are particularly decorative and a red carpet was laid out on the day the hives were officially opened!). These bees produce excellent honey. Steve spoke about his journey as a beekeeper, starting with the bee hives on the tops of New York apartment blocks which had been his first inspiration. He has designed a bee taxi, that is decorated on the outside in a furry bee design, inside of which is a cinema that shows bee movies to educate children and young people on the importance of bees. He recommends UK bee keepers to use British bees, which are dark (so they can absorb heat) and don't mind the rain too much, they're also thrifty and hard working compared to the golden coloured bees from hotter climates, which also get really stressed on the journey when they're imported here.

Both Alys and Steve have found that foraging and beekeeping have helped them to develop friendships and community links as well as helping them to feel more a part of their local ecology.

The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler is published by Kyle Books

The Urban Beekeeper by Steve Benbow is published by Square Peg

This morning, I had been lucky enough to have a ticket for Mark Lawson's excellent interview with Iam McEwan at the BBC Edinburgh Festival. You can catch it on Front Row, Radio 4 tonight at 7.15pm.

And I'm delighted to have a piece on late summer at Musselburgh up at Lothian Life

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

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Signs of an Industrial Past

As you may have guessed from reading this blog, one of my favourite places to go birdwatching is Musselburgh, walking along the Mouth of the River Esk onto the John Muir Walkway to the Musselburgh Lagoons. Musselburgh Lagoons  nature reserve is set up on three reclaimed ash lagoons. A couple of lagoons are still in use as repositories for ash from Cockenzie Power Station. The John Muir Walkway can see quite bleak at times (though in summer it's bright with flowers) and the old signs warning about lorries and dangerous land only add to that sense of desolation. But don't be fooled, this is a great place for wildlife, skylarks, meadow pipits and reed buntings all nest here and snow buntings visit in the winter. Then once you look over the sea wall, you never know what you might see, the Musselburgh coast is really fabulously rich for bird-life (and features quite heavily on this constantly updated list of unusual bird sightings on Birding Lothian).

For Signs, Signs

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

Monday 20 August 2012

Green Issues at Edinburgh Book Festival

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has got its recycling all sorted with these well organised recycling bins, nicely colour coded for the different kinds of waste. So full marks there.

They're also signed up to the comprehensive Environmental Policy that covers all the Edinburgh Festivals. So again, full marks. 

I'm less impressed by the fact that the Book Festival and the various newspapers selling copies at the festival are all giving away cotton tote bags freely. Yes, cotton tote bags avoid plastic waste, but each cotton tote bag takes more energy to make than a plastic carrier bag. I read somewhere that you need to use a cotton tote bag 50 times or more before you actually start saving on the energy needed to make it. So cotton tote bags are only fully a good thing if you use them over and over and over. I'm guessing that a lot of people will collect several cotton tote bags from the Book Festival (and at other similar events) and then store them in a cupboard somewhere, likely in the same place where they used to store their millions of plastic bags before they realised that was a bad thing.

So, if you are going to the book festival, take your own cotton tote bag, how about the one you picked up at last year's book festival? It may not have one of this year's designs, but it probably hasn't yet got holes in it, or a broken handle.

(I have about ten cotton tote bags, most of which I've had for several years: two in my everyday handbag, one in my evening handbag. one in my rucksack, one extra strong one that I use for carrying books, one that I use for carrying recycling, one that I use for carrying my equipment when I'm out volunteering along the Water of Leith, and one on each door in the flat just in case we need one when we're rushing out the door. I also have to admit I've picked up a tote bag at each of the Film Festivals over the last two years, this is because those were fill to the brim with delegate gifts and I was too lazy to take everything out and give the bag back. Plus, in that context, the tote bag in reality is less an alternative to a plastic carrier and more an alternative to a plastic document carrier / brief case and actually needs less energy in its production than the item it's replacing.)


Just a reminder,  I'm appearing in Venus in Transition  at 6pm, tonight at Captains Bar. 4 South College Street, Edinburgh. This is a spoken word and musical tribute to the 70s Scottish singer songwriter Venus Carmichael, devised by Andrew C Ferguson and featuring poet Fiona Lindsay and singer Kelly Brooks.

Also at Captain's Bar, I'll be reading short stories and poetry at 6pm on 21st August (tomorrow!). Also reading will be: Rosie Bell, Mark Gilfillan, James Spence and Helen Boden.

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

Sunday 19 August 2012

Nature Calls

As any reader of this blog will be aware I am very interested in the human relationship with nature and so was particularly pleased to get a ticket for this event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Author Melanie Challenger and environmental historian Chris Smout were in conversation with Al Senter, about human attitudes to the environment.

Challenger's book On Extinction looks at extinctions in the natural world but starts in Cornwall, where she grew up surrounded by the relics of the old tin mining industry, which left an industrial landscape that she found fascinating and poignant (and one that I remember from many childhood holidays in Cornwall - the tall chimneys of the derelict tin mines stand in such contrast to the wildness of the sea cliffs).

From there the discussion explored human attitudes to nature through history. Smout pointed out for instance that although it is very easy to point the finger at religion (specially Christianity) as having encouraged us to exploit nature, the same religions contain strong elements exhorting stewardship towards the earth.

The current fall in importance of environmental issues on the political agenda was linked directly to the economic situation, which is pushing politicians to urge growth and more growth as a way of getting us out of the downturn, while overlooking the fact that unchecked economic growth is in fact unsustainable and will only lead to increased climate change and increased pressures on already threatened species of plants and animals.

The speakers acknowledged that extinction is part of nature but pointed out that we are having a disproportionate effect on species being pushed towards extinction. Challenger admitted that there is an element of nostalgia around potential extinctions, but that we lose so much if we allow species to become extinct. In specific discussion about whether it was worth investing so much in saving the  giant panda, the speakers discussed the charisma of pandas and their role in helping to engage wider audiences in conservation in general, as well as the value of the panda itself as being such an amazing creature.

There was quiet a lot of discussion about nostalgia, going back to the Roman nostalgia for the Great Forest of Caledon, which once covered Scotland. in fact the Romans are believed to have exaggerated  the extent of this forest, which was already before their time reduced in extent due to climate change and the axes of the Iron Age inhabitants of Scotland.

The conclusion was that we need to instil environmental consciousness in everyone, but it was admitted that no-one knows how to do that. Some people seem to have more natural propensity towards caring for the environment and others just seem as though they will never really care.

This was another very thought provoking session at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, thanks again to Clicket for the ticket. You can read more about the various Edinburgh Festivals on the Clicket blog.

I'm appearing at the Fringe Festival myself over the next couple of days. I'll be part of Venus in Transition  at 6pm, Monday 20 August at Captains Bar. 4 South College Street, Edinburgh. This is a spoken word and musical tribute to the 70s Scottish singer songwriter Venus Carmichael, devised by Andrew C Ferguson and featuring poet Fiona Lindsay and singer Kelly Brooks.

Also at Captain's Bar, I'll be reading short stories and poetry at 6pm on 21st August. Also reading will be: Rosie Bell, Mark Gilfillan, James Spence and Helen Boden.

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

Saturday 18 August 2012

Science Fiction at the Book Festival

I was back at Edinburgh International Book Festival today to listen to a discussion about the role of science in fiction and the role of fiction in promoting science.

I always like to read about science, though I generally tend to read popular science non-fiction. I am a great fan of the potential of science fiction in stimulating people's thinking about potential futures (and the novel I'm writing could be defined as science fiction though I think of it as speculative fiction in the broader sense, as there isn't enough science in it for me to feel that it really qualifies as science fiction).

Pippa Goldschmidt chaired the Book Festival discussion between Jennifer Rohn and Neal Stephenson.

Rohn is a scientist and author, who set up Lablit, when she found herself disappointed by the scarcity of real scientists in mainstream and literary fiction (rather than in science fiction or crime fiction). Lablit publishes creative writing about contemporary science and discussions about books in that field.

Stephenson writes mostly novels about the history of science and has set up the Hieroglyph project to bring together science fiction writers and scientists to collaborate on bold ideas.

The discussion was wide ranging and thought provoking, covering topics including feminism and science, scientists as heroes and public distrust of scientists. I've pulled out some of the most interesting points below:

Stephenson said that the current trend for dystopian science fiction is the tail-end of a backlash against the techno-optimism of the 1950s/60s that lead to several environmental disasters and is still seen by some as a large part of the reason we face so many problems today.

Rohn claimed that good science fiction (particularly if it is then made into a movie) can reach a much larger audience than popular science books can, which she seemed to suggest are preaching to the converted. (Personally I think that many SF books are preaching to the converted, because there are a lot of people who won't read SF any more than they'd read popular science).

Rohn suggested that some people don't like to read fictionalised accounts of history (specially if they involve real people) because they don't like the uncertainty of the truth of the story (I agree with this entirely, I don't like historical fiction about well known people unless it is made entirely clear how much of the story is true and how much is made up). Stephenson said that he gets round this issue by using a fictional character as the Point of View character, telling the story, because their point of view doesn't need to fit perfectly with history.

Both authors agreed that large parts of science are boring (endless repetitive experiments!) and these need to be edited carefully to avoid dragging down the plot. At the same time, they both agreed that large parts of science are very difficult to understand, even by scientists studying a different branch of science and that getting information across to the reader can be a real challenge, if you are to avoid the ten page lecture! Rohn suggested conversations between scientists of different disciplines as being the best answer here!

All in all it was a thoroughly thought provoking event and gave me a lot of ideas for how to approach certain issues in my novel! Thanks to Clicket for the ticket and you can read more about all the Edinburgh festivals on the Clicket blog.

In other news, I'm delighted that my piece on Colinton and Craiglockart Dells has been published on the Scottish Book Trust's favourite places website

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

Friday 17 August 2012

Additions to the Herb Garden

As many of you will know, we've been growing tomatoes and herbs on our windowsills for a few years now. At the moment, our first tomatoes are ripe and our basil is thriving. We've already tried twice to grow coriander this year and failed but the latest batch is making a good start and our salad leaf plants seem to be also making a good start. Our dill sadly got ill and died and our rocket was scarily yellow and pathetic looking so we composted that.

Today we just received  a parcel from the Fresh Herb Company, a prize from a Twitter competition that contained this handsome window box, which certainly makes our windowsill look much tidier:

and this handsome mezzaluna herb chopper with bamboo chopping board.

Plus a wee book about making the most of herbs!

So many thanks to the Fresh Herb Company! Their website contains tips on caring for herbs, information on herbs and health, ideas for using herbs and a blog.

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

Thursday 16 August 2012

Into Africa

As some readers of this blog know, I lived in Malawi for two years and travelled in Zimbabwe and Botswana. So I was particularly interested in the Into Africa event, chaired by Rosemary Burnett at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I wasn't disappointed.

Alastair Hazell (who was born and brought up in Malawi) opened the event with a moving,  fascinating and illustrated account of the history of slave trading on the island of Zanzibar. The trade, selling people from the mainland of Africa through Zanzibar to the Middle East followed the route of the monsoon winds along the African coastline. Zanzibar was an incredibly wealthy state then, not due purely to the slave trade but to ivory. The amounts of ivory traded back them were astonishing, cutlery makers in Sheffield, England, imported 25 tonnes of ivory per year. Hazell's book The Last Slave Market tells the story of how John Kirk, a Scottish botanist went to Africa with David Livingstone and ended up playing a crucial role in ending the slave trade.

Rosemary Burnett then asked Gus Casely-Hayford to talk about the book of his TV series The Lost Kingdoms of Africa. Their conversation focused on the amazing culture and learning that took place in Africa during the time that Europe was going through the Dark Ages and how much we need positive stories from Africa to balance the bad news stories.They talked about the commitment of the north African Berber culture to learning and libraries, and Ethiopia, which has the oldest continual Christian history of any country.

Finally the discussion opened up to the floor and explored the common themes to the two books, largely slavery and forgotten histories. There was also a discussion about the links between Scotland and Africa, ranging from the fact that apparently different areas of Ghana have adopted different Scottish tartans to the number of Scots who were employed in the colonial administration in African countries. In my own experience, when I was a VSO volunteer in Malawi, a very large proportion of the other volunteers were either Scots or had been educated in Scotland.

The Last Slave Market by Alastair Hazell published by Constable and Robinson

The Lost Kingdoms of Africa by Gus Casely-Hayford published by Bantam Press

Thanks to Clicket for the ticket for this event! You can read more about all the festivals on the Clicket blog here.


Also at the Book Festival today, I popped into the Guardian Spiegeltent as I had heard via Nasim of Velogubbed legs, that they had set up a bookswap so I left a book there. But there were very few books there, so either people are taking books and not leaving any in return or the whole thing is just very much underused, so please, if you're going to the Book Festival and have books you are happy to hand on to someone else, leave one or two in the Spiegeltent.

And in other news, I love this etegami artwork that dosankodebbie created in response to my recent haiku.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Summer fungi and sparrowhawks

Yesterday I spent the morning in Colinton Dell, along the Water of Leith. I was impressed with these fungi (anyone know the species?)

This moth (either a Small Emerald or a Little Emerald, I'm not sure) is very beautiful, but sadly dead.

The highlight of the day though was the family of sparrowhawks. There were at least three birds and probably five, all flying around in a group of trees. Every so often one or two of them would fly further afield, all the time they were shouting at each other. Apparently they nested in this group of trees last year and have obviously done so again this year. I think the young had just fledged, there was certainly a lot of excitement going on. I got some wonderful views of the birds in the trees and a couple of times as they flew overhead. They dominated the whole area of the Dells for the whole morning, no wonder I saw only a few other birds! No photos, times like that I just want to watch and enjoy the moment, my photos would never have done justice to them!

For Nature Notes

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan

Ubiquity is a totally fascinating book, that uncovers the patterns that underlie the frequency of things as seemingly different as earthquakes, financial collapses, wars, new scientific ideas and mass extinctions.

Buchanan writes in an accessible, engaging style, though occasionally enough maths creeps in to get the brain a bit bogged down if maths isn't entirely your thing. But that doesn't matter, because the ideas are so compelling. The book was written in 2001, so some of the detail may be out of date but the concepts are certainly still relevant. One of the particularly relevant issues is forest fire:

Scientists made a computer programme that predicted when forest fires would happen and found that in forests where there are few small fires, the trees grow so dense that the whole forest becomes particularly vulnerable to vast fires that can sweep through an entire forest, destroying everything in its path.

This is reflected in reality, where in the US for many years from 1890 onwards the general attitude was to put out every small fire. This meant that small natural fires that are a natural part of forest ecology weren't allowed to happen and so the forest aged, new trees had less opportunity to grow and dead branches and brush built up, creating fuel for the time when a huge fire might develop. Apparently this has changed, with the US federal Wild Fire Policy accepting that fire is part of forest ecology.

The other theme that particularly leapt out at me was evolution, specifically evolution of rabbits (and any author who uses rabbits to illustrate a discussion will only get extra points from me!)

"In any population of rabbits, for example, some will see better, run faster or think quicker than others. This is variation. These fitter rabbits tend to live longer and produce more offspring than do weaker rabbits. This is selection. And because parents pass copies of their genes down to their offspring, the next generation almost certainly contains a greater proportion of fitter rabbits."

We're then given a graph (which I won't attempt to reproduce here) and a discussion of patterns of evolution, using misfit rabbits, frogs and, for simplicity, digital species. The scientific investigations into how species evolve then showed up patterns that underlie frequencies of extinctions.

The whole book is fascinating for the parallels it draws between such seemingly unconnected topics. But at the back of my mind it makes me wonder about whether in some ways, we're controlled by these underlying patterns? Does it mean there's no use in trying to avert catastrophe, if by doing so (using the wildfire example above as a model) we only store up fuel for a future catastrophe?

Ubiquity by Mark Buchanan, published by Phoenix

Buchanan recently started a new blog, The Physics of Finance.

Monday 13 August 2012

Sunday 12 August 2012

Foodies Festival Favourites

I noted in Friday's blogpost that starting the day off with beer tasting at the Foodies Festival may not have lead to the greatest mental clarity, leading to me forgetting to take the details of the favourite things I sampled there. So yesterday, when I returned to the Festival, with Crafty Green Boyfriend, I made a point of taking notes, I also had to try several more samples of my favourite items just to be sure! So, here is a selection of my favourites from Foodies Edinburgh 2012, from small scale producers based in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK:

ginger curd and bramble and liquorice jelly both from Bracken Hill Fine Foods, based in Yorkshire

carrot & cardamon jam and ginger & apple chutney both from Muriel's Luxury Handmade Preserves. Muriel uses produce grown by her husband Jock in Thisselcockrig, their market garden in East Lothian. They don't have a website.

After extensive sampling, I decided dark chocolate with lavender was my favourite of the amazing chewy chocolate confections from Goupie, based in Kent.

Even extensive sampling couldn't help me find a favourite seed bar from 9Bar and Seed Stacked, based in North Wales. All their bars are equally tasty and healthy!

Yellowhammer and Red Kite, both brewed by the organic Black Isle Brewery (located unsurprisingly on Scotland's Black Isle) are two of my favourite beers (and not just because they're named after birds!).

The raspberry, apple and mint fruit juice I mentioned on Friday came from the Juice Shack (as directed in the bunny friendly sign below). I couldn't find a website for this company.

There were plenty of other tasty treats I enjoyed sampling, these were just my favourites! 

It was great to see so many small scale producers and retailers represented.

Thanks to Edinburgh based ethical retailer Real Foods for the free tickets for the festival!

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

Saturday 11 August 2012


I love Hornbeam trees, they're not native to Scotland (though they are native to southern England) but were planted centuries ago along the Water of Leith. Their wood is very hard and was used in construction of the mills that used to line the river. I took these photos earlier in the week, when I last wandered round the Dells along the Water of Leith.

Today I was back at the Foodies Festival and will blog about that again tomorrow (you can see yesterday's post on the event here). I was delighted to win the tickets for the festival from Real Foods.

I was also delighted to win a pair of tickets to any show I wanted during the festival at Greenside. Crafty Green Boyfriend and I chose to see Grim(m) - Unreal Stories for Real Times last night. You can read my review on my Over 40 Shades blog here. To have your chance to win a pair of tickets to your choice of show, just follow GreensideVenue on Twitter.

For Shadow Shot Sunday

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

Friday 10 August 2012

Foodies Festival, Edinburgh

As you may remember, I won tickets to this week's Foodie's Festival from Edinburgh ethical food shop Real Foods. I had entered a competition on their Facebook page, where I had said I would write an awesome blog post about the event if I won the tickets. So here goes.

I have to admit, that in terms of clarity and completeness of information about the event, I may have not made the best start by going to a beer tasting session at 11.30am. But as a real ale fan, this was the best choice in the drinks programme for me (the later events being wine, cocktails and gin, of which only the wine could tempt me). Melissa Cole, well known beer writer and enthusiast lead the session and was very entertaining and informative. We were given a potted overview of the brewing process and a guide to how to taste beer (hold up to the light to appreciate the colour, swirl around and sniff and then taste. We were also given quite generous servings of the beers in question, which included two of my favourite beers - Schiehallion, a light, citrusy lager brewed by Harviestoun Brewery and Red Kite, a traditional real ale brewed by the organic Black Isle brewery, both these beers are Scottish.

Then I wandered round all the stalls, enjoying both the stunning sunny weather (we're finally getting a real summer!) and the wide variety of free samples of foods and drinks from a large number of mostly Scottish food and drink producers. My favourite items were (and this is where I didn't pay enough attention to detail, because I didn't note who made what): the raspberry, apple and mint fruit juice (what a wonderfully refreshing combination!); the ginger curd and the amazing seed bars. There was also a stunning array of delicious chutneys and jams, some of which were made of intriguing and unexpected combinations of ingredients.

After drinking my raspberry, apple and mint concoction in front of the music stage, I went to two afternoon sessions. The first featured comedian Lucy Porter entertaining us while making a simple warm salad, which featured too much chorizo and oysters for my taste, but it was all very amusing. The second featured the chefs from Gardener's Cottage, a new Edinburgh restaurant. was billed as 'how to make the most of East Lothian vegetables'. I wasn't the only vegetarian in the audience looking forward to that one. We were all disappointed to say the least, when the first recipe in this event featured fish and the second featured salami! The beetroot and ricotta salad was delicious though, but how difficult would it have been for the chefs to have featured purely vegetarian recipes given the title of their event!

Overall though, it was a thoroughly enjoyable event, made even more so by the weather and I'll be back tomorrow for more! 

Thursday 9 August 2012

Nostalgia for the Light

Nostalgia for the Light is a documentary by Patricio Guzman, set in the Atacama desert. It focuses on the astronomers who work in the observatories that make benefit of the areas very clear light. Alongside this, the film follows the activities of women who are looking for the remains of their relatives who were among Pinochet's disappeared, who were buried in the desert. The film is beautifully made with wonderful photography of galaxies and the forbidding landscapes of the Atacama. The director draws thought provoking parallels between the astronomers and the women who are searching for answers.

The film visits the site of one of Pinochet's concentration camps in the desert, built on the site of an abandoned mine, which had been in use when miners were basically slaves. In addition we are shown some of the amazing artwork made in the desert by pre-Columbian period native Americans.

The film ranges over many topics, all arising from what is found in the desert and in the skies above. It is really thought provoking in the comparisons it makes, showing how interconnected everything is.

The film is showing again tonight, 20.45 at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh.

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

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Hermitage of Braid Walled Garden Workshop 2

I blogged a month ago about a workshop I had attended at the Hermitage of Braid. The workshop is part of a project, run by the City of Edinburgh Countryside Rangers, and facilitated by Helen Boden, to create poems that will be incorporated into the Walled Garden which is being renovated.You can see the walled garden in progress above (with some of the workshop attendees writing in the sunshine!). The building at the top of the hill is an old dovecot, where pigeons used to be kept. The garden when finished will be a wildflower garden, designed to attract bees and other insects. Some of the pieces from the writing workshops will be displayed in the garden.

It was lovely to have such sunny weather for today's workshops. A number of passing dogs tried to join in! Among the things I wrote was this haiku:

Where's the cat?
A herring gull chasing 
a buzzard.

(This may be a very specifically British, or at least European, haiku. Our buzzard mews like a kitten, which I guess may not be the case for buzzards elsewhere in the world!)

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

Tuesday 7 August 2012


I love the dramatic architecture of the teasel heads! 
Particularly in the glorious sunshine we had today!

Monday 6 August 2012

Sunday 5 August 2012

Updated! Readings at the Edinburgh Fringe

I've added an extra date to the list of readings that I'll be giving during the Edinburgh Festival period.So here's the full list again and some publishing news at the bottom of the post!

I'll be reading poetry and short stories on Tuesday 7 and Tuesday 21 August at Captain's Bar, 4 South College Street, Edinburgh. The shows start at 6pm and I have two five minute slots in each of them.
I have a five minute slot  at the Inky Fingers Mini-Fest Open Mike at Pulp Fiction Books at 6.30pm, Wednesday 8 August.

Also at Captains Bar, I'll be part of Venus in Transition  at 6pm, Monday 20 August. This is a spoken word and musical tribute to the great forgotten 70s singer songwriter Venus Carmichael, devised by Andrew C Ferguson and featuring poet Fiona Lindsay and singer Kelly Brooks.

Some of you may recall that my poem Sleep Disturbed won the May poetry Competition at Creative Writing Ink. Well I was delighted to find out that it has now been chosen as the quarterly overall winner!

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

Saturday 4 August 2012

Moorhen chicks

We had a lovely walk along the Union Canal today. It's so warm and sunny it feels like summer (which of course it is, but this year it has rarely felt like it!)! The meadow-sweet and great hairy willow-herb were in full bloom and buzzing with bees.

 We were so happy to see this moorhen with her chicks! The photo isn't brilliant as we couldn't get very close to the birds.

Thursday 2 August 2012

All the colours of the flowers

I love the variety of colours of flowers at the moment! I walked along the River Esk in Musselburgh today and then along the John Muir Walkway to Musselburgh Lagoons. The Walkway is a wonderful mass of flowers. I love seeing all the colours together.

 opium poppy with a hawkweed
 hairy willowherb with tall mellilot and scentless mayweed
 scentless mayweed with hardheads (knapweed)
red clover, white clover and birds foot trefoil

but sometimes its equally nice to see different species that are almost exactly the same shade as each other.

Mallow and hardheads (knapweed)

It really felt like summer today, a feeling that has been very rare so far this summer! There were several butterflies flying around - a small tortoiseshell, a few whites, a couple of ringlets and a couple of meadow browns. I also saw two common blue damselflies and a red damselfly which I'm guessing was a large red damselfly

As there have been the past couple of times I've visited, there were a lot of lapwings on the Lagoons, lovely to see as lapwings are declining drastically in the UK. There were also a lot of terns around in the Firth of Forth, I couldn't get a good enough look to see whether they were common terns or arctic terns. I saw one velvet scoter, though there may have been more further out. There were also lots of eiders as there usually are at this time of year. Several bar tailed godwits too, some in their wonderful summer plumage (which I love seeing, they're more commonly seen round here in their more drab winter plumage). Many other species too!

On a different note, I'm delighted that one of my haiku took second place (and two others were joint 8th) in this kukai on Sketchbook.

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

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Foodies Festival, Edinburgh

Real Foods, an ethical food company with two shops in Edinburgh recently ran a competition to win tickets to Edinburgh's Foodie Festival, 10-12 August. All you had to do to be in with a chance of winning was to say why you should win, I said I would write an awesome blog-post! I duly won the tickets and will need to write an awesome blog post once I've been to the festival!

In the meantime, you can find out more about the festival here. There will be lots going on including tastings, demonstrations and master classes. The festival has been criticised in the past for cordoning off part of a public park for a private event, which I agree is controversial, particularly as Edinburgh has a fine events venue at the Royal Highland Show grounds, which hosts events such as Gardening Scotland as well as the Royal Highland Show itself. Having said that, I'm looking forward to the event and will report back in suitably awesome style in due course!

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