Tuesday 31 July 2018

Iceman - a film review

Iceman is a reconstruction of life as it may have been for our long ago ancestors, inspired by the discovery of ‘Ötzi The Iceman’, the oldest known human mummy found in 1991, approximately 5300 years after his death. 

A family group is living peacefully beside a stream in the Öztal Alps. Their leader Kelab (Jürgen Vogel) is responsible for guarding the holy shrine. While he is out hunting, the settlement is attacked, everyone is murdered, including his wife and son, and the sacred shrine is stolen. Kelab then sets out to seek revenge. 

This film beautifully recreates what life must have been like, with scenes showing religious rituals, hunting, loving relationships and violent confrontations. There is little dialogue and what there is takes place in Rhaetic a now extinct language (and there are no subtitles), but you don't need to understand the words to be able to follow the story, in fact the choice of language adds to the authenticity of the film. Every detail of the film in fact, including clothing, weapons and housing, was researched to be as authentic as possible and this is probably as close as we will get to knowing how life was for our ancestors. Hard and violent in the main. 

Iceman is well worth watching and is screening at Edinburgh Filmhouse until Thursday 2 August

You can find out more about Otzi, the man whose mummified remains inspired this film here.

Saturday 28 July 2018

Edinburgh Botanic Gardens in changeable weather

Today we at last had rain that lastest for more than a few minutes thus properly breaking the longest hot dry spell in Scotland since 1961. (We can expect more such hot dry spells in the future as climate change makes such extreme weather more likely). Given the rain we decided to go to Edinburgh Botanic Gardens to see the exhibitions.

The first exhibition is The Edinburgh Shoreline bringing together thoughts from people who live and work along Edinburgh's Shoreline and naturalists and scientists (I took part in an interview for this project last year and blogged briefly about it here). It's an interesting exhibition bringing together photos, maps, beautiful artworks and knitted sea creatures

to provoke thought about what the shoreline means to us. The exhibition is on until 23 September and links up with the Edinburgh Shoreline project.

The second exhibition is The Lost Words which features artwork by Jackie Morris and poetry spells by Robert MacFarlane to highlight words that are no longer commonly featured in children's stories, lives and dictionaries. This exhibition is on in the Inverleith House until 2 September and ties in with the book The Lost Words.

After seeing these exhibitions we were able to enjoy a sunny walk round the gardens. We saw a family of goldcrests, one of which came incredibly close to us, but was difficult to photograph

I have never seen so many marmalade hoverflies as we saw today everywhere in the gardens

There were several other hoverflies too including this pied hoverfly

and this Myathropa florea

Several small white butterflies too

and let's not forget the bees, this is either a white tailed bumble bee or a buff tailed, I can never actually tell the difference!

Friday 27 July 2018

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J Walker

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J. Walker

Reginald is a quiet, shy man living in London after a nuclear incident has forced most people in the city to leave. He lives in his flat with his dog Lineker named after his footballing hero Gary Lineker. The story is told partly in Reginald's voice and partly in Lineker's.

I was totally gripped in the early sections of this novel, Lineker's voice in particular is engrossing and entirely believable as the voice of a dog, experiencing the world largely through smell, worshipping his master as a god and being obsessed with food. (Though possibly more sweary than most dogs might be).

'I'm in the air and bouncing at him, bounce, bounce, bounce until he gets down and gives me a scratch, both hands behind my ears, face-to-face so I get the sweet fog of his breath, a rich soup of saliva and half digested food that's been marinating beautifully for the past eight hours. And it's too much and I just have to lick him so I do and he let's me...'
The strength of his voice however fades as the story goes on.

The constrained world that Reginald and Lineker inhabit is very well drawn in the early chapters, but oddly once the plot starts developing I often found the story being less gripping than it had been when very little was happening.

Having said that though this is well worth reading, an excellent imagining of how the world might become after a major incident destroys large parts of civilisation. It's also excellent in how the details of Reginald and Lineker's lives are revealed along the way.

So is Lineker really the last dog on earth? You'll just need to read the book to find out!

The Last Dog on Earth by Adrian J Walker published Penguin Random House (2017)

Thursday 26 July 2018

Hot Weather in Silverknowes

Another dental appointment today and the excuse again to walk along Marine Drive (if you enlarge the photo you may be able to see Cramond Island in the background)

The thistles are all seeding now

and not surprisingly there were plenty of goldfinches around (they like to eat the thistledown).

A few large white butterflies were flying in the flower patch, though they were camerashy! I recorded these butterflies in the Big Butterfly Count which is continuing until 12 August.

It's ridiculously hot now though. It's astonishing how many media reports about the heatwave don't even mention climate change, when extreme weather conditions are one of the predicted results of climate change and this is certainly extreme weather for Scotland. There's a good article about media attitudes to Climate Change on the Business Green blog here.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Summer Loss

Sunshine smelled of coconut,
blackcaps sang like larks.
You took my hand and lead me
across trampolining grass
through a prickly gorse bush tunnel
onto a speedwell lawn.
The place became our hideaway
for afternoons of love
the whole of that hot summer
that stretched into eternity.

Last time I walked that way alone
black charred remains
were all I saw
of gorse.


Reposting from 2006, as it seems appropriate given all the moorland fires there have been recently

Meanwhile I've posted another poem on my Shapeshifting Green blog, you can read it here

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Wildflower patch in bloom

The wildflower patch in Spylaw Park is looking lovely just now

and this morning was full of hoverflies, including several marmalade hoverflies

and a couple of other interesting hoverflies which didn't hang round long enough for me to take their photos to then work out what species they were! Lovely to see them though, plus several bees though nowhere near as many as one might hope to see. Bees are definitely declining in a lot of places at the moment.

Spylaw Park is at one end of the walk I regularly take along the river when  volunteering for the Water of Leith Conservation Trust, I then turn back and return on the opposite riverbank. It's a lovely walk and the staff and volunteers work hard to keep the area pleasant and welcoming. However some people aren't so caring or respectful

It's particularly annoying to see this kind of thing as there are bins within easy walking distance whichever direction the culprits moved off in. I always hate to see bonfires in the woods too, but particularly this summer when it's been so hot and, until last night's downpour, so dry.

Monday 23 July 2018

Leave no Trace - film review

 Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, tree, plant, outdoor, text and nature

Tom (Thomasina McKenzie brilliant in her first lead role) is a teenage girl who lives in a lovingly created shelter in the national park outside Portland with her father Will (Ben Foster). Ben struggles with PTSD and is still coming to terms with the loss of his wife, as a result he feels the need to hide away from society and keep moving from one wilderness hideout to the next.

When Tom and Will are found they are taken away from their shelter and into the care of social services. After being put through a barrage of tests they are given a hut in a rural area where Will is made to work in the logging industry and Tom is signed onto the school roll (though social services admit that her father;s home schooling means that she is in advance of what is expected of her age group). Will wants to keep moving but Tom enjoys the company of other young people, learning how to look after bees and handle rabbits.

This is a beautifully film, the woods are gorgeous and the acting is low key and all the more moving for that. The viewer is left wondering how we should look after those in society who don't fit in and how do families cope when their members want such different things from each other.

There's an excellent (and longer) review by Kevin Jones on the Cineccentric site here

Definitely a recommended film, Leave no Trace is screening at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh until Thursday 26 July. Find out more and book here.

Sunday 22 July 2018

Ravens on Arthurs Seat

Yesterday evening we walked up to a favourite part of Arthur's Seat hoping to see swifts gathering to feed. In previous years at this time we've often seen up to 100 swifts together here and earlier this year (during this lacewing training day in fact) I saw twenty. Yesterday however, it wasn't to be, we saw only two swifts all evening, possibly the high winds were keeping them away.

What we did see though were the ravens, which are magnificent birds

Most people probably think of ravens as birds of the wild lands and the Highlands but here they are in the centre of Edinburgh.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Wester Craiglockart HIll

Lovely views from Wester Craiglockart HIll today

and amazing to see (and hear!) a family of sparrowhawks fledging - you can see one of the parent birds in the photo below

Thursday 19 July 2018

Raspberry Picking

Sweetness glows red in thorny undergrowth.
Arms scratched and nettled,
we fill bags with fruit,
juice on our hands like blood.
I snack on berries and chocolate
and dream of the jars of jam that will shine
warmly red on our shelves
seeing us through the winter.

Previously published on Misty Mountain Review.

Meanwhile I've posted my poem The Secret of Chocolate over on my Shapeshifting Green blog. You can read it here.

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Customising Clothing

One of the aspects of my current job with Granton Goes Greener is to manage the clothing swap shop in the church hall. People can bring in clothing that no longer fits or that they're bored of and swap it for something different. We aim to only have good quality clothing in the shop and some items don't quite make the grade. This t-shirt had a stubborn and unsightly stain on it, but it fits me and though I would never wear anything this colour combination out and about I would wear it around the house. So I cut a patch from a piece of black fabric from a worn out t-shirt and here's the result

I'm not pretending this is either a fashion statement or anything special but it's just a basic idea. Some people do wonderfully imaginative things by patching clothing to hide stains or tears or just to give an old item a fresh look.

Monday 16 July 2018

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

 The Gracekeepers

The world is flooded and society has become divided between the landlocked who live on land and the damplings who live on boats and travel endlessly around the globe.

Callanish lives by herself in the middle of the ocean, carrying out Restings for those who die and tending their graves and the graces (birds) that mark people's deaths.

North lives on a coracle with her beloved bear as part of a floating circus. She faces an arranged marriage and a forced move onto land when all she wants is her bear.

A chance meeting between the two women changes the course of their lives.

This is a beautifully imagined story from a world changed by climate change. The dynamics of the circus community and the prejudices they face from the land dwellers and the military are very well drawn. The relationship between North and her bear is very touching and sweet.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan published by Vintage (2015)

Sunday 15 July 2018

Edinburgh Marched Against Trump Yesterday

Yesterday around 10 thousand people gathered outside the Scottish Parliament Building in Edinburgh to protest against Donald Trump visiting the UK.

There were some excellent banners and posters

But in some ways the most pertinent for us in the UK was this one (Brexit = Trump. Stop Brexit).

When the UK leaves the European Union we'll need to find new trading agreements and our government is looking towards Trump's America for at least some of these agreements. But whereas the European Union has stringent guidelines and laws on environmental protection and health and welfare, many other potential trading partners (including the USA) have less stringent guidelines and laws. In addition, if the UK trades within the EU it means less long distance transport for our food and other goods, which means fewer carbon emissions, which is better for the environment.

The march finally arrived at the Carnival of Resistance in the Meadows where the Baby Trump blimp was waiting for us

and where there were speakers and bands including Devils in Skirts

Friday 13 July 2018

SHRUB Co-operative Reuse and Recycle Centre

On Wednesday I visited SHRUB Co-operative a Swap and Re-use Hub in the centre of Edinburgh.
They are currently preparing to expand into new premises. The building above, which is their current home which currently houses the Wee Spoke Hub is going to become entirely dedicated to this purpose.. The Wee Spoke Hub is where people can learn how to fix their bikes.

SHRUB also run an inspiring range of workshops on up-cycling and sustainable living. A couple of years ago I went to one of their jewellery making workshops which was great fun! (You can read more about it here).

SHRUB also have wonderful examples of upcycling all throughout their premises, including these two 'chandeliers'

SHRUB also have a swap shop (which is currently closed while they organise their move). You can either turn up with something to swap on the day or your can become a member and donate items to build up swap credits which you can then use to take things at a later date.

SHRUB are on a mission to make Edinburgh a Zero Waste city!

SHRUB will be launching in their new locations over the summer and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how they develop!

Thursday 12 July 2018

Cygnets and Summer Flowers at Musselburgh

It's humid and cloudy out there, we really need some rain....

Lovely to see several bees (though not as many as you would have expected even a few years ago) flying round in the red clover and tall mellilot along the John Muir Walkway

The bees were camera shy unlike this lovely burnet moth

Along the River Esk the red poppies look lovely

while the swans have got five cygnets

Tuesday 10 July 2018

What can you make with a old sock?

I recently realised my old camera case (made from scrap fabric) was falling apart so I made this one to replace it. Basically it's the top end of an old sock (I cut off the worn foot) with a button from my stash and a ready made buttonhole.

Monday 9 July 2018

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Paul Chowder is a struggling poet (though struggling is a relative term, he seems to find it easy to make a thousand dollars here and there for readings and reviews) who spends most of this novel procrastinating about writing the introduction to an anothology of rhyming poetry and trying to win back his ex, Ros, who left him largely for his failure to complete said introduction.

Along the way Chowder talks about rhyme and rhythm, fashions in poetic style, poets old and new, the value of teaching creative writing. He compares writing poetry to making jewellery:

"You can't alter the nature of a given bead or a given word but you can change which bead you choose and the order in which you string them on their line..... I think I'll do a quadruple rhythm, a love has gone and left me rhythm: one grey green bead and then three other beads of near random colours, and then a grey green bead again".

He also compares creating poetry to gardening, specifically mowing the lawn.

The book is written in a wonderfully natural chatty style, with various observations about people and nature thrown in almost casually. At the same time it packs in a lot of really valuable lessons about how to appreciate and write poetry.

In fact, if you're looking for help and advice for writing poetry I'd recommend adding this to your reading list. Possibly more inspiring than many more formal 'how to write poetry' books and certainly more fun than the vast majority of them.

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, published by Simon and Schuster (2009) 

Sunday 8 July 2018

A Long Walk on a Sunny Day

Yesterday we walked from Cramond Brig to South Queensferry through the beautiful Dalmeny Estate. Some of the walk is through open fields, some through shady woodland

 and then the route comes out at the coast, where we get some lovely views

We saw a good variety of insects including this  Leucozonia glaucia hoverfly being buzzed by a parasitic wasp

Pellucid hoverflies

and ringlet butterflies

and a speckled wood 

We were delighted to see tree sparrows, a declining species across the UK and one we haven't previously seen in this location