Saturday 29 September 2012

Collected poems of Gillian Clarke

I first read this book years ago and recently re-read it slowly over a couple of months. Gillian Clarke is one of the best known and best loved poets of Wales. Being her Collected Poems this book brings together a diverse selection of poems, including Cofiant - a long family biography in verse form, following an old Welsh tradition of such poems and a series of poems The King of Britain's daughter about a historical princess of Wales.

Clarke is a poet who clearly lives in nature and her descriptions are beautiful:

Dusk unwinds its spool
among the stems of plum trees
subliminal messenger
on the screen of evening

(from Pipstrelle)

She has the ability to transport the reader right there, to the farm field, to the derelict mine, to the shoreline.

It's interesting too, to notice how the poetry changes through the selections. I'm not enough of a literary critic to draw out the stylistic differences without more learned people disagreeing with me, so I'll say no more, but if you read the book you'll probably realise what I mean. (I have to admit, too, that on a personal level, I found some of her line-breaks in the early poems really distracting and annoying). 

This is a collection that is worth savouring and reading several times.

The sea writes on the sand
in a scribble of weed and gull bones.

(from The King of Britain's Daughter)

Collected Poems of Gillian Clarke, published by Carcanet

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

Friday 28 September 2012

If You Go Down to the Woods Today....

Autumn is a wonderful time to visit the woods, all those wonderful colours as the leaves turn..... It won't surprise many of you that my favourite woods to wander through in Autumn are the Colinton and Craiglockart Dells along the Water of Leith. But Edinburgh has several other lovely areas of woodland including Hermitage of Braid and Corstorphine Hill.

If you're in the UK, you can find your nearest woodland from the Woodland Trust's Visit Woods website. You can find out how you can get involved more here.

The Woodland Trust are also interested in the plants and animals you see when you're out and about in the woods. You can find out how to help them record our woodland wildlife here.

You may have read recently that the UK's ash trees may be at threat from Chalara dieback disease. According to the Woodland Trust, this disease could be as devastating as Dutch Elm disease was. The Trust has agreed not to import ash trees, to avoid bringing the disease into the country. Ash trees are one of our commonest woodland trees and if they are severely affected by disease then potentially our woodland landscapes could be significantly damaged. This disease joins many other diseases including sudden oak death and horse chestnut bleeding canker as threats to our woodlands.

So, join the Woodland Trust in campaigning to protect our woods, but also, get out there and enjoy them while we still can!

As ever, red text contains hyper-links that take you to other web-pages where you can find out more.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Saving the Frogs One Poem at a Time!

SAVE THE FROGS! has announced the international Frog Poetry contest, with prizes including the chance to have your poems published in a book they will sell to raise funds for their amphibian conservation projects. The competition aims to raise awareness of the mass extinction of amphibians that is currently taking place worldwide. Please spread the word to any poets you know and if you're a teacher, this would be a wonderful project to get your students interested in poetry and frog conservation.


Meanwhile I'm delighted that Hila interviewed me on her blog The Sill of the World. You can read the interview here

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

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Bunnies in Fiction - an update

Some of you (specially those of you with bunnies!) may remember this competition a while ago where I invited you to nominate your bunny or bunnies to feature in a short story and novel. Well, as announced in this post, Humphrey, the rabbit of Cottontails Baby won the prize of appearing in my short story. I've now sent this story off to seek a magazine or similar that might publish it (as well as sending a copy to Humphrey for his approval). You can read Humphrey's thoughts about the story here.

I think I've chosen the winner(s) for the novel too, but I'll wait just a little longer before finally choosing (the delay is due to the novel being quite difficult at the moment. I'm happy with the start of it, but am now a bit stuck. Hopefully I'll get properly moving on it again soon). Anyway, even though I think I've got a winner (or winners) please, if you want your bunny to be a star this is the absolute last call for entries to this competition. So if your bunny would like to enter and hasn't already done so, please read this post and answer the questions there.

The novel and short story are both set in a future independent (and much flooded) Scotland. The main characters in the stories are human but the bunnies are very important too! The stories are not children's stories, but are speculative fiction (not quite scientific or tech-based enough to be really science fiction).

And for the bunnies who I don't choose, never fear, there may be the chance to be characters in a series of children's stories I'm writing. The first of these (which I wrote long before I thought of the competition) has been accepted for publication and should be appearing online soon (of course as soon as it does I'll link to it from this blog!).I don't know how many more stories I'll write in this series, but it could be a few!

As ever, red text contains hyper-links that take you to other websites where you can find out more!

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Sea Otter Awareness

Apart from bunnies, there are few creatures cuter than sea otters. But they're not just cute and cuddly, they also play vital ecological roles. By eating the sea urchins that eat kelp, the sea otters help to preserve kelp beds. This means that the kelp beds absorb more carbon dioxide which reduces sea acidification. Healthy kelp beds also offer more habitat for fish, an awareness of which may help fishermen to value sea otters which otherwise they see as major competitors. This fact had lead to significant decreases in sea otter numbers.

Sea otters have increased in numbers in recent years but they still need to be actively conserved. Sea Otter Awareness Week (this week) aims to highlight the benefits that sea otters bring to coastal ecosystems and the problems that they face.

This week also sees the launch of the film Otter 501, which promises cuteness overload as well as an inspiring story of animal rescue. The film is just one part of an immersive multi media web experience, which you can read about here.

So look out for the film and take part in any activities, on-line or in your local area (particularly if you live on the Pacific coast of the USA or Canada).

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

Sunday 23 September 2012

More beaded bookmarks and a special offer

I recently posted photos of some of the first batch of beaded bookmarks. Well I've since made several more in the same general design (thick thread with chunky beads threaded on at the ends) and here are some of the results.

They're a great way of using up spare thread and beads and are very easy to make!

So, the special offer: if you buy a copy of my poetry pamphlet Unthinkable Skies from me (£4.50 plus postage and packing) I'll add in a free bookmark of this design, while stocks last. If you'd like a specific bookmark let me know, and I'll send it to you if it's still available otherwise it will be the most similar one still in stock.

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

Friday 21 September 2012

Over on Sunny Room Studio

I'm delighted to be a guest on Sunny Room Studio today! You can read my wee piece about haiku, with an introduction from Daisy here.

Thursday 20 September 2012

A couple of mysteries

Yesterday at Musselburgh I saw this lovely caterpillar which I thought might be easy to identify. I was wrong. Does anyone know what species it is?

I also found this (not perfectly in focus unfortunately). I guessed it was an owl pellet, Crafty Green Boyfriend thinks it came from a different type of bird of prey. Anyone out there have any ideas? Whatever it was, has been eating a lot of beetles!

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Signs of Otters

 As well as being a wonderful woodland (as I blogged about in this post) the RSPB Wood of Cree Reserve overlooks this lovely patch of water that is a favourite haunt of otters (click on the photos below and you should be able to read the signs!). We didn't see any otters while we were there.

For Signs Signs

You can read my poem about otters, inspired by a road sign in Orkney here.

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

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Rabbit Awareness Week

As many readers of this blog know, I love rabbits. (Go here to find all the posts about Anya, who used to be our pet rabbit (and about the crafts I've made using her shed fur)).

It's Rabbit Awareness Week this week, raising public awareness of rabbit health and welfare issues.

And here is Humphrey, the office rabbit from Cottontails Baby, talking about what it takes to keep a bunny happy. It's an old post, but well worth re-reading.

By the way, does anyone know what's happened to The House of Rabbits Blog? I tried to visit this morning but Blogger said that the blog (and Rabbits Guy's profile) no longer exist.

Update: Rabbits Guy has had a computer glitch, the House of Rabbits blog was shut down for some reason, but all the bunnies are working hard to get it back up!

On a different topic, I just added a pack of brown floral sea pottery shards to my Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop. You can see them here.

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

Monday 17 September 2012

Wood of Cree

Wood of Cree is a magical piece of oak and birch wood near Newton Stewart in Dumfries and Galloway. We visited on a lovely sunny early evening of a day which had seen a lot of rain. Everything was lush and green and hung with raindrops and the water gushed in torrents down the many beautiful waterfalls.

Apparently pied flycatchers are common in these woodlands for the short period of time that they're in the UK at all (April to July). One of the few places in Scotland that they visit. Seems to me it would be delightful to spend a spring evening watching those lovely birds flitting around a woodland dell....

Sunday 16 September 2012

Red Kites in Dumfrieshire

Red Kites are an iconic bird of prey, that became extinct in England and Scotland by the end of the 18th century, though they had held on in Wales. They have since been protected very carefully and reintroduced to certain areas of Scotland, including Dumfries and Galloway.

On our recent trip to that area, I was totally delighted to have a very close view of a red kite in flight, we were driving in our hire car at the time, so no photos I'm afraid! I had brief sightings of two other red kites during our trip. Very handsome birds.

The Galloway Red Kite Trail offers brilliant opportunities to see these birds.


While we were in Dumfries, we met JoAnne Mackay who was kind enough to give me a copy of her poetry pamphlet Grave with Lights which I've reviewed on Over 40 Shades here

As ever, red text contains hyper-links to other web-pages where you can find out more.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Last Butterflies of Summer

It's been a poor year for most of our butterflies (you can read about this in more detail in Butterfly Conservation's report on the Big Butterfly Watch).

I've certainly seen very few butterflies this year and so was delighted to see several peacock butterflies at various places in our recent trip to Dumfries and Galloway. They seem to have a keen ability to align themselves with flowers that bring out the detail of their colouring. Aren't they beautiful?

For more butterflies colour co-ordinated with flowers, see Sandy's lovely photos here on Garden Path.

Then today on Arthurs Seat, just as I said to Crafty Green Boyfriend it must be too late for small copper butterflies we saw one.

And then another and another and another. Never have I seen so many at one time! One of my favourite little butterflies (and they are very little indeed!).

It was also lovely to see lots of house martins flying around Arthur's Seat today as indeed it had been to see lots of swallows in all the farm fields in Dumfries and Galloway while we were there. 

I'll be blogging more about our trip to Dumfries and Galloway in the next few days, but meanwhile you can catch up with these posts here and here

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

Friday 14 September 2012

Clatteringshaws Loch

We enjoyed visiting Clatteringshaws Loch and the reconstructed iron age roundhouse. The photos give some idea of how changeable the weather was on our trip to Dumfries and Galloway while the last shows how much rain there has been in recent months. Alder trees may indeed like their 'feet in water' but generally they don't grow actually in the loch! 

Thursday 13 September 2012

Poetry in Dumfriesshire

Just back from a lovely few days in Dumfries. A trip with poetical connections. We stayed in our favourite hotel, which not only has red squirrels and otters in its grounds but also connections with Scotland's bard, Robert Burns (click on the photo below to find out more).

We also had a lovely lunch with JoAnne Mackay and her husband and even briefly got to meet Titus (though he is old now, a dignified and deaf elder statesman of a blogging dog). 

Plenty of birdwatching in very changeable weather, and I'll blog about that in the next few days.

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

Monday 10 September 2012

Notelets and other Goodies

I was delighted recently to win a prize on Charlotte Vallance's blog! This lovely parcel arrived just a couple of days ago! A lovely picture of a British veggie burger (well I'll certainly assume it's veggie!), a wee badge and a couple of lovely notelets with sketches of Amsterdam. It was all beautifully packaged too, in the paper that's in the background of the photo, I was as usual too eager to unwrap to remember to take a photo of the wrapped parcel!

So thank you Charlotte and if you haven't visited her Etsy shop, why not pop over now!

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

Saturday 8 September 2012

Beaded bookmarks (1)

I've recently made a few beaded bookmarks, inspired by the many designs that I've seen on Etsy. I'm intending mostly to give mine away as gifts, though if I keep making more, then I will list some in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop! The designs in this post are the most simple ones, all you need are a few big beads and a nice piece of thick coloured thread. You simply measure the thread and add the beads at points just beyond the height of a book.

I've got a stash of various beads and I'll be sharing more designs in future posts, most of them are more complicated and take more time to make than these ones!

The book in the background is my poetry chapbook Unthinkable Skies.

Friday 7 September 2012


(Sorry to those of you who visited my blog a couple of days ago expecting robins. I'd accidentally published this post before it was ready to go up!) 

I know it's early, really, to be thinking of Christmas cards! However, we're delighted that Crafty Green Boyfriend's beautiful robin photo, which was one of the winners in last year's Friends of the Earth Christmas e-card competition, is now available as a paper card (made from 100% recycled card). You can buy it in packets of 10 cards in the Friends of the Earth online store.

We're delighted to, to have been sent a packet of the cards for our own use.

And, as the robin is one of the few birds singing at this time of the year:

the traffic noise

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

Thursday 6 September 2012

Paradise Restored

Paradise Restored is a beautifully presented, informative exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.

It looks at the work of botanists and conservationists in the Middle East, outlining some of the wonderful landscapes and plants found in the area. It also showcases some of the beautiful crafts of the area.

Paradise Restored is showing in the John Hope Gateway of the Royal Botanic Gardens until 30 September. 


Last year I published The San's Promise by Rethabile Masilo on Bolts of Silk. I'm delighted that the poem was chosen to represent Lesotho in a recent BBC Scotland project to feature poetry from all the countries represented in the Olympics. You can hear Rethabile's poem here, read by Teboho Mohapi.

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

Tuesday 4 September 2012

To Travel or Not to Travel

and the joy of localism

I recently reviewed Chris Guillebeau's book The Art of Non-Conformity. Thanks for all your comments!

I said in the review though that I was annoyed by his obsession with extensive international travel for the sake of it. As Ms Sparrow said in the comments, 'Is travel for it's own sake a worthy goal? That sounds quite conformist to me.' My thoughts exactly!

Now, let me make it clear I'm not against travel. I lived in Malawi for two years and have visited several European and African countries. Some people reading this blog may have close friends and family who live a long way away whom you visit frequently.

These days we take almost all our holidays in the UK. The last foreign holidays we had were added on after the time I spent at conferences in Italy and Germany. There are many reasons I choose to holiday in the UK, including avoiding the stress of long distance travel and the many wonderful scenic holiday destinations we have in this country. We've also been remarkably lucky with the weather when we've had holidays in the UK. Even this summer of no summer weather across most of the UK (including Edinburgh), we had beautiful weather when we were up in the north west of Scotland.

So, I get really irritated when people say to me 'so when are you next going abroad?' as though there's something wrong with me for not travelling further.

One of the main benefits of travelling abroad is to experience another culture. When I lived in Malawi, I was steeped in Malawian culture for two years and visited neighbouring African countries for long enough to get a good feel for their cultures too. When visiting countries in Europe, I've often taken part in conservation activities, working with local people and other volunteers, getting to know a specific area. Or I've stayed with friends who have been able to show me their perspectives on the local area. I've also visited several parts of Germany, so that feels like a country I know quite well, specially as I speak reasonably good German.

The average two week holiday abroad though doesn't usually give the option for those kinds of experience. Jet lag, resort hotels and organised tours are all examples of holiday experiences that count against the best things about being abroad. I find that two weeks, specially if I don't speak the language is rarely enough time to get to know a culture anyway, though the activity based trips I mentioned offer a good introduction. 

Of course a main reason for an environmentalist to avoid too much international travel is to avoid the carbon footprint of lots of air travel. I've travelled through Europe mostly by train and through African mostly by bus. In the UK we travel by bus and train. Though when we holiday in remote parts of Scotland (and even some not so remote parts to be honest) we often hire a car. We found after one holiday spent in school buses and hitching lifts that there can be limits to public transport. I have flown, yes, but I have tried to limit it as much as possible.The main thing is though, I don't feel I miss out at all by not taking a foreign holiday every year, there's so much to see and do in this country.

If you're in the UK, you may be interested in the UK Staycation website, full of ideas for British holidays, no guarantee on the weather though....

If you're concerned about the growth of the aviation industry in the UK, please visit Plane Stupid and Airport Watch.

So what are your feelings about staycations? Do you feel your foreign holidays (not including visits to family and close friends) are essential to your life?

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

Monday 3 September 2012

The Art of Non-conformity

I was delighted to win a copy of Chris Guillebeau's book The Art of Non-conformity in a competition over on The Clear Minded Creative.

The subtitle of the book is: "Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life you Want and Change the World" and in a brief 200 or so pages that's what Guillebeau aims to empower the reader to do.

The book is written in a chatty, accessible, no-nonsense style, which makes it very readable. It also feels quite practical and many readers will think 'I could do that!".

I am already, I think, quite a non-conformist, so a lot of what Guillebeau says didn't come as a great surprise to me. However, he offers excellent advice, for example, to help free up your time to become more non-conformist by eliminating the unneccesary (I particularly like the idea of a 'stop doing list' as an alternative to the 'To Do List') and for finding alternative routes to education. There's a lot of focus on personal finances, deciding how much you really need and finding alternative sources of income. He also is clear that doing the things you really want to do needs to go alongside making a clear commitment to giving back to society.

Guillebeau's personal thing he really wants to do is to visit every country in the world. He admits that not everyone might want to travel that much (though he seems a bit patronising about why people might not want to do so). This sort of annoyed me and I'll be writing a blog post in the near future about why extensive travel may not be a good idea from an environmental point of view - thinking about carbon footprint but also ideas around localism. 

The book also includes several case studies, to show the reader a variety of ways that individuals have opted to live a less conformist lifestyle.

So this is an inspiring and readable book for anyone who wants to live a more interesting life, just be clear that not all the ideas may suit you!

In the same competition, I also won a copy of Chris Guillebeau's other book The $100 Start Up, which I will review in due course over on my website.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Rocking the Boat

 Mallards on a sinking boat
a closer view of a female showing off the blue in her wing

Photos taken along the Union Canal, Edinburgh

Saturday 1 September 2012

Autumn on Craiglockart Hill

 View over to Arthur's Seat
first hints of autumnal colour

I know that many people believe that seasons start at the appropriate solstice or equinox (I think this is the traditional view and most firmly held these days perhaps in the USA). Like, I suspect, most British people and certainly our Met Office, I think autumn officially starts at the beginning of September. That said, I really believe that the seasons start when they want to start and our official dates are just for our own convenience. 

We had a lovely walk round Craiglockart Hill today. It didn't really feel autumnal though the leaves are starting to turn.