Saturday 30 April 2016

Noise by Jonathan Myerson

Hal is a doctor coming to terms with the loss of her son. She becomes almost obsessed with a mysterious teenage patient and as a result finds herself taken on as the doctor to a group of road protestors.

The group have very legitimate concerns over the local road building programme and later start to campaign against a local factory that's polluting the marshlands. However their actions become more and more extreme, particularly when Hal decides to use their protests to settle some personal scores. Some pretty gruesome stuff goes on as the book moves towards its climax.

This novel makes the reader think carefully about what is justifiable in campaigning and how easy it is to get caught up in action without thinking of all the consequences. At the same time it's quite an uneven read, in terms of pacing. It starts off slowly then builds up very quickly once Hal joins the protestors but then once the climax has passed, it seems to slow right down again and in fact I found the last part almost boring in comparison to the first two thirds or so, which are compelling.

Worth reading for anyone interested in the ethics of protest movements.

Noise by Jonathan Myerson, published by Headline Review 

Friday 29 April 2016

Gorgie City Farm needs to raise £100,000 to stay open

Gorgie City Farm needs your help to raise £100,000 to stop the charity from closing

UPDATE: November 2019, once again, the farm faces closure! If you value Gorgie Farm, please consider donating via the Save Gorgie City Farm Go Funding Page.

I've always loved Gorgie City Farm and when I worked at the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, I was lucky to be based at the farm, getting to know it's daily routines and the farm animals, particularly Dexter the cat and the rabbits including Driftwood, Daisy and Sugar. The photo below was taken at my leaving party, the lamb in the photo was at the time appearing in a theatre show in Edinburgh and was quite a celebrity. 

I've run creative writing workshops at the farm and judged the farm's poetry competition a few years ago. You can read all my blogposts about the farm here
Gorgie City Farm has been a much-loved part of the local community in Edinburgh for the past 38 years. The farm offers a range of courses in agriculture, gardening and handicrafts for adults and children and hands-on, exciting activities involving farm animals, gardening and exotic creatures. The farm works with over 100 volunteers every week through training, work experience, social opportunities and personal support. The Farm supports adults and teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds from across Edinburgh.  

Rising costs and serious cuts to funding means the City Farm is now asking its supporters to help keep the Farm open. Despite cost cutting measures, including closing the loss-making café, and the award of a three-year grant from City of Edinburgh Council, the charity urgently needs public donations to continue its vital work.

As the main funders of Gorgie City Farm, City of Edinburgh Council, and Councillors Donald Wilson (Lord Provost), Cathy Fullerton, Eric Milligan and Denis Dixon are backing this urgent appeal to safeguard the charity’s future.

UPDATE: the fundraising information for the 2016 appeal has been removed. To help secure the future of the farm beyond 2019, please consider donating to the Save Gorgie Farm Go Fund Me Page.

To find out how else you can support the farm, click here

Thursday 28 April 2016

Everything is blooming now

Yesterday was a beautifully sunny but chilly day. Colinton Dell is beautiful at the moment, full of Spring flowers. The wild garlic is coming into bloom now

while the few flowered leeks are well on,

 parts of the Dells are carpeted with them, including the site of the old Kate's Mill

They are very pretty, but few flowered leeks are invasive, non-native species, that are gradually pushing the wild garlic out of the area. One way of controlling them would be to selectively forage the leeks in place of the wild garlic, the leaves of both make good pesto.....

The first cherry trees are in bloom in the Dells

and, for the first time that I remember, there are cowslips in the wildflower meadow that the Water of Leith Conservation Trust planted on the site of the old Bog's Mill

And the larch flowers continue their progress towards becoming cones

and let's not forget the beautiful wood sorrel, which is just coming into bloom, a lovely flower, indicator of ancient woodland, growing here amidst mosses and ivy on top of a stone wall.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

A Rainy Day at Blackleach

On Sunday, my parents and I went to Blackleach Country Park - the local nature reserve. It was dull and wet in contrast to the beautiful sunshine of the day before

The birds didn't seem to mind the weather though, numerous swallows were flying low over the reservoir and we heard blackcaps, willow warblers and chiffchaffs singing from the trees.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Scenes from a suburban garden

I spent the weekend at my parents' home in suburban Manchester. It was lovely to see them again and the weather was beautiful on the Saturday morning, so we enjoyed some time in the garden

I loved this skeletonised sycamore seed

but aware my parents don't want sycamore trees in their lawn, I removed it from the grass after I'd photographed it!

Friday 22 April 2016

Happy Earth Day!

 'Changing the world starts by changing your own little corner of it.'
Changing the world starts by changing your own little corner of it. - See more at:
Changing the world starts by changing your own little corner of it. - See more at:
Changing the world starts by changing your own little corner of it. - See more at:

Today is Earth Day!

You can find out what's going on in your local area here.

Thursday 21 April 2016

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

I was immediately intrigued by this novel, featuring Chief Inspector Chen, a detective in China, who is also a poet. He sets out to solve the murder of a communist 'model worker', along the way quoting ancient Chinese poets  and stumbling upon political obstacles.

The novel is very insightful into the politics of China and how it affects individuals, particularly the increasing contradictions between traditional communism and the emerging capitalism in the country. It is also very entertaining in places. I particularly liked the way it explored the tensions in Chen's life as he juggled his police work and poetry, with the latter constantly treading the line between politically acceptable and unacceptable, a line that seems to change quite frequently.

I was struck by this paragraph, it's talking about poetry of course, but you can sense its relevance to detection too!

'...a waft of the jasmine blossom fragrance from a blue tea cup, or a particular rhythm in an attic, with a train rumbling into the distant night, and he would have the feeling he were on the verge of producing a wonderful poem. All this could turn out, however to be a false lead and he would end up crossing out fragments of unsatisfactory lines.'

All in all, well worth a read.

Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong, published by Sceptre.

Qiu Xialong is a poet himself and has written a total of four novels about Chief Inspector Chen as well as editing anthologies of Chen's favourite T'ang dynasty poetry!

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Norway Maple

 definitely one of my favourite trees at this time of year, Norway Maple
and the first willow warblers have landed and are singing their hearts out!

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Upcycling an Earring into a Necklace?

Yes this seems impossible, and as I can't find the photo I once had of the earring, you may not believe me. But seriously, one odd earring (long dangling chains with beads attached) is now this necklace

which is now on sale in the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop - you can see it here.

Monday 18 April 2016

The Colours of Spring

Colinton Dell is flowing with lesser celandines at the moment, some areas are carpeted

and there are little clumps of them everywhere, they're so pretty specially in the full sun

The first bluebells are also out

and the wood anemones were awake today

All these flowers seem to be spreading through the Dells, though the anemones are only in one patch, it is extending in size.

Wild leek is also in bloom now and also spreading, sadly at the expense of wild garlic (ramsons) though the leek is pretty and probably fulfils a similar ecological niche (it can be eaten just like wild garlic too)

 The larch flowers are maturing nicely on my favourite larch tree (though some other larches are not yet flowering), some are still the beautiful red colour they have when they are first fully formed, some are becoming more purplish. It was very difficult to photograph the larch today as it was quite windy and the branches wouldn't keep still. This photo shows a flower with a fully matured cone from probably a couple of years ago (this seems to me an unusually large cone)

Lots of birds around as ever, I was amazed how many bullfinches there seemed to be. I've seen more of this species than normal over this past winter and it looks like several pairs may now be thinking about breeding in the Dells.

Sunday 17 April 2016

The Brand New Testament (film review)

God is alive and lives in a flat in Brussels, where he spends his time watching the world through an old computer screen and inventing laws to annoy people, laws such as 'the bread will always fall butter side down'.

After hacking into God's computer and texting everyone in the world with their date of death, Ea, his daughter escapes the family home and sets out to gather her own apostles to create a brand new testament. She's more interested in her apostles telling their own stories and finding themselves and being true to their 'inner music' than she is in them gathering around her. For example, her second apostle is a man who hates his job, who when he finds out the date of his death decides to sit on a park bench for the rest of his life until he has a conversation with a starling (with Ea interpreting) who encourages him to travel north until he finds the meaning of his life.

The whole film makes the viewer ponder the questions 'How would our lives change if we knew for definite the day we would die?' and 'what would happen if the women were in charge?' It's an insightful, thought provoking and entertaining film, well worth watching.

The Brand New Testament is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse until Thursday 21 April.

Saturday 16 April 2016

Craigmillar Castle Park

It was a lovely morning for exploring the grounds of Craigmillar Castle today.

There are several wooded areas in the grounds, many of them planted around 2000 to celebrate the Millenium.

The castle (a favourite of Mary Queen of Scots) dominates many views around the gardens


While if you turn from the castle you get wonderful views across Edinburgh to Arthurs Seat and Salisbury Crags

The weather was quite chilly, but it's definitely spring, the horse chestnut trees are busily unfurling their leaves

and the ash tree buds are starting to unfurl

and we were delighted to get this lovely view of a mistle thrush gathering worms (thanks Crafty Green Boyfriend for this photo)

As you can see from many of the photos, the skies were quite dramatic and our walk was brought to an end when the hail started!

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

Friday 15 April 2016

Confessions of an Eco Sinner by Fred Pearce

In this book, Fred Pearce aims to travel to the places where his stuff comes from, investigating among others: Kenyan green beans, paper recycling in China, electronics recycling, fair trade coffee, fair trade organic socks and many other items.

He also investigates his environmental footprint - not just the carbon footprint, but the water footprint and mineral footprint, including looking at the travel he undertook to research the book and the publishing and printing footprints of the book's production. (The book is produced on paper that meets Forest Stewardship Council guidelines, but he looks into more than that).

This is a very informative book, very detailed and quite dense in the amount of information it gives without ever becoming hard going. Well it's readable anyway, though it is often depressing at the same time. As I read, it was often difficult to escape the conclusion that 'we're all doomed'.

It actually isn't all doom and gloom. There are chapters on environmental activists, ethical jewellers and recycling merchants. The last section of the book focuses on the positive too, considering how we can slow down climate change, how the population time bomb isn't as bad as we think and how cities can become environmentally friendly places to live.

I did think that the book didn't explore some issues in enough depth, which I guess is a natural consequence of wanting to cover as many relevant topics as possible. The section on transport I found particularly unsatisfactory, as the tricky issues of what forms of transport are genuinely less carbon intensive was covered in just enough detail to probably be actually misleading (yes, an empty bus trundling through the streets is more carbon intensive than a private car, but if all the people in the private cars leave them at home and take the bus then the bus is obviously less carbon intensive, plus it reduces pollution, reduces congestion and probably reduces the risk of traffic accidents - we need to look at the potential best scenario and work towards that, not bemoan the fact that some buses are empty).

This book is slightly out of date (published in 2008) but still very well worth reading as an overview on many environmental issues that affect many of us on a daily basis.

Confessions of an Eco Sinner by Fred Peake published by Eden Project Books

Thursday 14 April 2016

Couple in a Hole (film review)

A British couple (John and Karen) are living in a hole in the middle of a forest in France. She barely dares leave the hole, while he forages for food and water and looks after her carefully. When she's bitten by a poisonous spider, they have to seek help from the outside world, which tips the balance of their precarious existence. (Given that this was supposed to be a very poisonous spider and they did no first aid and took ages to find help, I wondered whether she actually would have survived this).

This isn't as I had originally expected before I read the reviews, a post-apocalyptic story, but something more metaphorical. It gradually becomes clear that the couple are trying to come to terms with grief, and the hole (although literally consistent with the storyline) is also to be seen metaphorically, as the safe place where Karen can't stand to leave to try to face the world again. She sits and makes quilts from found materials and wraps up tiny offerings in leaves and waits for John to return with food. The fact that outside the hole is French-speaking and neither of them speak the language at all well also ties in with the sense of alienation and isolation they feel in their grief.

The big wide world that Karen is so scared of is stunningly beautiful, a wooded area of the Mid-Pyrenees. This got me thinking about her hiding in the hole being also a metaphor for the modern day reluctance of many of us to genuinely engage with the natural world. I actually began to wonder about the film-makers ability to engage with nature, as, though the cinematography is gorgeous and we get wonderful detailed views of red kites and wood ants, there are constant references to the 'coming winter' when it's clear from almost every outdoor shot, given the amount of birdsong and very green leaves, that it was actually shot in late spring, early summer. Admittedly, winter probably arrives early in a mountainous area like this, but perhaps this is metaphor too, given that in a sense winter is always just round the corner, but I kept thinking to myself 'but chiffchaffs wouldn't be singing like that if it were almost winter'. The perils of bird-watching during films!

The ending is cathartic, but (not wanting to give spoilers) felt wrong somehow, I felt it would have been better if it had been more like the in some ways very similar ending of Chicken, an otherwise entirely different film, one of my highlights from last year's Edinburgh International Film festival which I reviewed here. But thinking about it it's an ambiguous ending, it wasn't entirely clear what the characters fates were at the end so maybe its more of a right ending than it felt to me at the time.

Overall, it's a very beautiful and engrossing film about coping mechanisms and relationships and how precarious life can be. Definitely a film worth watching.

Couple in a Hole is showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse today at 15.35.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

Earth Month

The Nature Conservancy are celebrating Earth Month throughout this month.

Earth Month is an opportunity to enjoy nature and to help protect our wild places. Or as the Nature Conservancy says :  'the perfect time to Explore, Volunteer and Give back to nature.' With that in mind, their website includes a map of the USA showing volunteering opportunities across the country. If there's nothing officially happening in your area, there are likely to be plenty of conservation volunteering events going on independently of Earth Month.

In Edinburgh there are lots of opportunities to volunteer to help conserve nature, I volunteer with the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, but there are many other opportunities to suit different interests, skills and time commitments, for example Lothian Conservation Volunteers (who undertake tasks like tree planting, path building or pond clearances) or the friends groups attached to local parks (who do things like litter picks, wildflower planting and wildlife recording).

Getting out into the great outdoors, whether for a walk or to volunteer is a great way to keep connected with nature and so develop a greater understanding of its importance. It's also good for your health, both physical and mental.

So, what are your plans for enjoying and helping nature this Earth Month? If you're on Twitter you can use the hash tags #EarthMonth and LiveNature to share your experiences!

(Of course every month should be Earth Month and here in the UK we have 30 Days Wild in June, which encourages people to do something involving nature every day.)

Monday 11 April 2016

Spring is sprung even on a dull day

It started off bright and sunny this morning but quickly clouded over (and is now raining). It was still lovely in Colinton Dell though.

The hawthorns are putting out their leaves (this tree was quite advanced compared to the hawthorn tree next to it)

The wee patch of wood anemone is blooming, though the flowers seem a little sleepy on such a dull day

My favourite clumps of lesser celandines are out too, both nestled in the trunks of trees

The larch flowers are still out and looking wonderful, more flowers every week at the moment

And now that the wild garlic (ramsons) is growing well, the animal tracks seem even clearer than usual

These tracks could be made by badgers or deer, both of which live in the area. Whereas the track below (through wild leeks) is just as likely to be made by people and dogs!

Wild leeks are coming out in bloom just now

Plus of course, lots of birds around. I had very close encounters with robins, bullfinches and a song thrush. I would have taken photos but I felt I would have disturbed them if I had done so. All the birds are singing too, including summer migrants the chiffchaff (which has been here for a few weeks now) and the blackcap (a more recent arrival).

and continuing the green theme, I just added this chopstick bag

to the Crafty Green Poet Etsy shop, you can see it here.