Thursday 30 July 2020

Volunteering Recommences along Water of Leith

As lockdown eases in Scotland, volunteers are starting to return to the Water of Leith!

Yesterday I did my first river patrol in the Dells since early March! (We don't live close enough to the river for it to be within the allowable distance for #DailyExercise during lockdown.) It was lovely to be back along the river, to chat (at a safe distance) with people I haven't seen for months and to see so much wildlife. I had been concerned that I would find loads of litter along the paths, but there was relatively little, so I didn't have an onerous task picking it! One of the dog owners I chatted to, has been able to pick litter along the river throughout lockdown, and no doubt others have been doing the same. This is brilliant and shows how people have been caring for their local greenspaces.

The wildflower meadow near Bogs Bridge looks lovely

Several house martins were flying above this meadow, which is lovely to see and it was also just here that a roe deer trotted out of the undergrowth onto the path and then disappeared back into the undergrowth when it saw me! The sparrowhawks are fledging further downstream, though you can hear the noisy youngsters from quite a distance away. The other wildlife highlight of the walk was standing under an apple tree and being surrounded by blue tits and long tailed tits with a goldcrest joining them!

I'm looking forward to getting back into the habit of walking this part of the river every week!

In other news, I found out via Twitter, that my poem Lost Dances of Cranes has been set to music by mezzo-soprano, Mariya Kaganskaya, composer Elinor Armer and pianist Alla Gladysheva. You can watch the video on Youtube here. While I'm flattered to have my poem set to music and it's a lovely video, it would have felt better to have been asked in advance. What do readers think on that one?

Wednesday 29 July 2020

The Big Necessity by Rose George

Subtitled Adventures in the World of Human Waste this is a fascinating, entertaining (and sometimes disgusting) examination of the history and current situation for sanitation across the world.

We're taken on a tour of underground sewers in London, fields used for open defecation in India and various public conveniences across the world. The author examines differing cultural attitudes to human waste and to toilets themselves - why have only the Japanese really embraced the idea of the high-tech toilet and why do Western nations so prefer toilet paper rather than rinsing despite the former being considerably less hygienic? Along the way we meet campaigners, sewage engineers, toilet designers and politicians.

Sanitation is shown to be an essential - cholera, the best known water borned disease kills vast numbers of people in developing nations every year - yet one that is largely ignored at policy level. Four in ten people across the world still lack a toilet yet sanitation campaigns often fail due to trying to impose toilets on people who aren't used to them rather than working with communities.

Are we right though to consider human faeces as waste? The book also examines how human waste can be used to generate biogas for cooking and heating or treated so that it can be safely used as compost, as well as examining the dangerous practice of spraying untreated sewage on crops.

Throughout the book there are fascinating facts such as Jennifer Aniston using a body double in a scene where her character was cleaning a toilet!

This is an essential look at the world of sewage and the health and environmental issues associated with it. Just don't read it while eating.

The Big Necessity by Rose George, published (2008) by Portobello Books (now part of Granta Books).

You may also be interested in this article on the Rapid Transition Alliance site about links between COVID_19, toilet paper shortages and sanitation.

On an unrelated topic, I've delighted to have two poems published on the Plum Tree Tavern site, which you can read by following the links below:

Sunday 26 July 2020

A Saturday in Saughton Park

Yesterday we had a lovely walk to and round Saughton Park, the first time we've actually been insde the park since lockdown began. The walled garden is looking beautiful

The roses are wonderfully in bloom just now

We also walked along the wonderful perimeter fence that is such a great place to find interesting insects! Yesterday's highlights included this red legged shieldbug

this cream spot ladybird (with a red mite)

this magnificent wasp
and this young hawthron shield bug, the young instars look quite different from the adult shield bugs

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn


On 10 January 1992, a container ship sailing out from Hong Kong hit bad weather and lost many of its containers including one that was full of plastic bathroom toys (beavers, turtles, frogs and, most famously, ducks).

Written in 2011, this is the account of how Donovan Hohn tried to trace the story of those bathroom toys and follow their journeys across the world. Taking in the production of plastic toys, the science of ocean currents, climate change and plastic pollution, this is an adventure story as much as a journalistic investigation. It also (unsurprisingly perhaps) makes frequent reference to Moby Dick.

The plastic toys are really just a hook for this book, which is less about plastic pollution than I had hoped and more about the author's experience of travelling the oceans. It's interesting and well written but not as focussed as it could have been, though there's certainly a lot of interesting material here, investigations into the so called Garbage Patches in the Pacific Ocean, accounts of scientific investigations into ocean currents and the effects of plastic pollution on ocean ecology.

The scary thing is that many of those original plastic toys are probably still floating round the oceans, gradually being worn away by ocean currents and the eroded pieces of plastic being ingested by ocean animals. Even more scary is the fact that these plastic toy animals are only a fraction of the items lost at sea, adding their weight to the mass of pollution we add every day to the seas.

Moby Duck by Donovan Hohn, published (2012) by Union Books.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Crafting Face Masks

I really should have posted this a while ago, but it was only the other day, when I read that the Guardian newspaper website were looking for photos of people's homemade face masks that I even took a photo of my mask!

I've made several of these masks, some for myself, some for Crafty Green Boyfriend and one for my Dad (who has also got masks he bought locally).

I adapted a design I found online (sorry, I don't have the link). Basically:

Cut two 10 inch by 6 inch rectangles of cotton fabric and lay them on top of each other.
Fold over the long sides 1/4 inch and hem.
Fold over 1/2 inch along short sides and stitch down.
Thread a long shoe lace or other cord through the hem on each side so that it loops at the top and can be tied in a bow at the bottom
Gather the sides of the mask on the cord and adjust so it fits your face
Stitch the cord and fabric in place at the corners to keep from slipping

A pocket can be left between the two layers for inserting a replaceable filter (which could be a paper towe, a coffee filter or someting similar).

You can of course use elastic loops instead of the shoe lace / cord but the latter tends to be better if you wear glasses (I certainly found that my mask fell off all the time when it had elastic loops.)

To prevent your glasses from steaming up when wearing your mask, make sure it fits snugly on your nose and tuck it under your glasses. Apparently if this doesn't work, you can put a piece of double sided sticky tape between your nose and the mask. Don't touch the front of the mask while wearing it and make sure it fits properly. It should cover both your nose and your chin. Remove the mask by touching only the cord / elastic and wash regularly. Don't pull your mask down to talk to people!

Wearing a mask like this can reduce the chances of passing on the coronavirus and if everyone wears a mask or other face covering in indoor spaces or crowded outdoor spaces then everyone is protected.

It isn't necessary for your mask to colour co-ordinate with your living room wallpaper.

Remember social distancing and regular hand washing / sanitising are also required to minimise the risk of infection. Also avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.

Other mask designs are available, and many shops sell re-usable masks.

Monday 20 July 2020

87 Beavers

87 Beavers is an art project set up by the Scottish Wild Beavers Group and Extinction Rebellion Scotland. The idea is to showcase 87 pieces of beaver inspired artwork to draw attention to the fact that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has, under licence, killed 87 of Scotland's protected beavers.

Beavers were hunted to extinction 300 years ago and have recently been reintroduced. Their dams can help prevent flooding downstream and can create habitats that are great for wildlife. Beavers became a protected species in Scotland last year but that year 87 were killed by SNH.

As a protected species, beavers should not be killed except in extreme situations where no alternative action is available. It would be possible in most cases to translocate problem beavers to other areas of suitable habitat. It's particularly disturbing that SNH, the country's conservation body, would choose to kill rather than translocate the beavers.

The 87 Beavers website is an example of what I think Extinction Rebellion do best, use art and culture to raise awareness of ecological and environmental issues.

You can view the artworks at 87 Beavers, there are many amazing paintings, drawings and a fine looking chocolate cake! There are also several poems and I'm delighted that one of my poems features at number 37.

There's still time to send in your art work to 87beaversATprotonmailDOTcom by

Sunday 19 July 2020

Weekend Walk

As Scotland continues to open up with lockdown relaxing, we took a lovely walk yesterday down to Blackford Pond and the Hermitage of Braid.

The pond looks lovely at the moment

as does the nearby wet woodland area, which actually at the moment isn't very wet

We then walked through Midmar Paddock, hoping to see some butterflies for the Big Butterfly Count. Sadly we only saw one large white butterfly and one small black moth, neither of which stopped for their photo. However the paddock looks lovely at the moment

and the lesser stitchwort is beautiful woven among the grasses

and meadowsweet dominates the marshy area in the corner

From Midmar Paddock we continued our walk through Hermitage of Braid, alongside the Braid Burn

Friday 17 July 2020

Big Butterfly Count

The Big Butterfly Count starts today and offers nature lovers in the UK the opportunity to count and study butterflies and day flying moths. The information gathered will help conserve these insects.

To take part, count butterflies for 15 minutes during bright (preferably sunny) weather between now and 9 August. If you're counting from a fixed position, you need to count the maximum number of each species that you see at a single time - so you don’t count the same butterfly more than once. If you're counting butterflies seen on a walk, then total up the number of each butterfly species that you see during the 15 minutes. Then you fill in your sightings on the website here.

We have seen good numbers of butterflies in our two local cemeteries during lockdown, including this meadow brown that we saw yesterday

What butterflies have you been seeing locally?

Thursday 16 July 2020

Two charity anthologies

I'm delighted to have work included in these two charity anthologies, both of which came through my letterbox in the last couple of days!

Changing Tides is an anthology of poetry, stories and essays about the oceans, raising money for Coral Restoration Foundation, which works in Florida and beyond to restore coral reefs, to educate others on the importance of our oceans, and to use science to further coral research and coral reef monitoring techniques. I'm delighted that my poem Slick is included in this anthology. I have so far, only skim read the contents, but this particularly impressed me:

It is the way our songs became so crude,
censored by the shrieking


from Eubalaena Glacialis by D'Orr and Deja

The Changing Tides anthology costs $14.95, with all net revenues going to The Coral Restoration Foundation. You can purchase it here.

Made at Home is an anthology of creative projects made during lockdown. It is raising funds for CRISIS the homelessness charity. It includes a wide range of projects, from models made from biscuits, through poetry, sewing projects and cocktail recipes, all accompanied by colour photos and some of which include instructions. It's a real dose of inspiration! Each participant also shares their feelings about the importance of home during lockdown. I'm delighted to have an upcycling project included! The project was crowd funded here.

Made at Home can be used in fact as a book of creative prompts! I've just discovered an online list of creative prompts, specifically put together by poet Alec Findlay, for  these pandemic times here.

Wednesday 15 July 2020

Telling the Bees and Other Customs By Mark Norman

Subtitled The Folklore of Rural Crafts, this book explores the folklore relating to some of the world's oldest crafts.

What we now think of as 'traditional crafts' are skills that used to be woven into the everyday life for whole communities, and they came with their own set of beliefs and ideas. Each chapter gives a brief over-view of the history of a particular group of crafts, the patron saints or the gods associated with them and the folk tales, superstitions and beliefs that grew up around them. The author specifically states that he has limited the areas covered in the book to ensure a deeper examination of specific beliefs, so the chapter on baking covers bread but not cakes (so now I want to research folklore around cakes!)

Norman takes an interesting approach, weaving stories of how crafts have historically been carried out together with strands from different mythologies to create an overview of how our ancestors viewed certain crafts, while also highlighting the similarities between different follkloric traditions.

The first chapter examines the importance of spinning in Egyptian, Norse, Greek, Chinese, Japanese and Christian traditions, drawing parallels  between the different belief systems as well as looking at the role of spinning in day to day life for different cultures. The chapter continues, examining weaving, knitting, and, bringing it all up to date, yarn bombing, showing that we continue to make new traditions.

Interestingly, bees are one of the most popular animals to feature in folklore and Norman devotes a chapter to bee-keeping, looking at the evolution of bees themselves, the treatment of bee-stings and the use of honey in folk medicine as well as to the development of bee-keeping and the traditions surrounding it, including the tradition of 'telling the bees' when their beekeeper has died.

The chapter about blacksmithing shows how in ancient times, blacksmiths were believed to have mystical or healing powers that aligned them with shamans, though other traditions assign a more sinister alliance to the blacksmith - the story The Blacksmith and the Devil is one of the oldest known folktales. This chapter also gives detailed advice on what type of horseshoe to use and how to hang it on your home if you want it to bring you luck!

The chapter on brewing traces the importance of beer back to ancient Egypt where the brewery of Ramses gave payments of beer to temple administrators. There are over one hundred deities linked with beer and the brewing process, which attests to the drink's central value over the centuries. " was generally believed that getting drunk would bring you closer to the gods." A whole section is devoted to the health benefits of beer, most of which have been superseded by modern medicine if not downright debunkedthough it is certainly true that in times when good drinking water couldn't be guaranteed "switching from water to beer during periods of widespread illness did help to save more lives."

The final chapter focuses in baking bread - old folklore traditions link the stones used for grinding grains to make flour to the turning of the seasons and in fact "[m]yths from Finland and the
Scandinavian countries speak of the World Mill, constantly turning out cosmological good or bad fortune."
This chapter outlines the evolution of the role of millers in communities, as well as stories around the dietary value and religious significance of bread.

The dashing through the various traditions could possibly be overwhelming for some readers, but I found it fascinating.

Telling the Bees and Other Customs By Mark Norman, published by the History Press

Disclaimer: I received a free e-publication of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday 13 July 2020

Repairing a Chair

As a society these days we tend to be too eager to throw things away and buy new rather than repairing old things. Some things of course can't be repaired but it's a good idea to try to see whether you can get something repaired or even try to do it yourself. It can be quite satisfying to be able to complete a repair yourself.

Recently, I posted about how I'd used an old sock to repair the arm rest on a chair. In that post I mentioned that my next repair project would be to make a cover for the seat of another chair.

This is the sort of state this other chair had got into

and as I examined the whole chair I realised that making an actual cover for the seat wouldn't be the best solution. So to start with, I used some of the material used for stuffing toys to replace the lost foam from the seat

I sewed that onto the seat and then covered it with some felt (I had just enough of this felt to cover both damaged areas of the seat)

So now the chair is more comfortable and is protected against further damage. I may or may not make a cover for the whole seat.

Thursday 9 July 2020

Birds and Butterflies!

Today we saw this beautiful small tortoiseshell in North Merchiston Cemetery, it looks very fresh and new, as though it has just hatched

Meanwhile in Dalry Cemetery, this little robin came to say hello. It comes to say hello most days in fact! (I'm pretty sure it's the same one that comes to say hello, even though obviously there are other robins in the cemetery.)

Yesterday we also had some great sightings, including this red admiral, looking a little the worse for wear

this speckled wood

and this dunnock who was filling its beak with the sunflower seeds we had put out for the birds

Thanks to Crafty Green Boyfriend for taking the photos in this post!

Wednesday 8 July 2020

An Indifference of Birds by Richard Smyth

An Indifference of Birds (cover)

Mostly we think of birds in terms of how we see them, but this book turns the tables and imagines how birds see us. In only 100 pages, Richard Smyth takes us on a journey investigating how the human world affects birds.

Smyth looks at the ways in which we have changed things to favour some birds to the detriment of others. He considers how we look to birds, how they may value the food waste we leave and the accidental rockfaces that we create in our cities. He suggests that these artificial environments are just environments to the birds, if they can use these as they would another natural environment, then they will use them.

He tries to look at howa bird might feel if it is caught to be then reintroduced somewhere else, does the bird in fact accept this just as though this is what happens to every bird at some point in its life? We can't ever know whether this is true, but it's certainly an interesting perspective.

Red kites are once again thriving above British cities but, as Smyth points out, these cities now are very different environments than they used to be and how does that impact on the species? Do red kites have any sort of folk memory of how the city was for previous generations?

One of the most sobering insights in the book is the gradual (and therefore easily overlooked) nature of most of the damage that we are doing to the world. Sudden extinctions are rare, but gradual loss is all too common. How do birds see the gradual loss of greenspace that is happening across the world, moment by moment and tightening the world for many species of birds. We don't notice the loss of one or two house sparrows in our local area, how do the sparrows themselves see it? Will we continue making the world a more hostile place for most species of birds or will we find a new way forward to accomodate birds in our world?

I love how this book turns things around, away from a human centric view of birds to a bird centric view of humans (though obviously, given this is written by a human, it is only a reimagining of a birdcentric view).

"Better, perhaps to embrace the birds' indifference. To try to see that 'ours' is also 'theirs'. To watch kestrels hunt in the cathedral cloister and think not how wonderfully they set off the architecture, but rather  how wonderful it is that this thing we call 'architecture' has within it a whole other meaning, a whole alternative reality, a whole bunch of alternative realities: the kestrels' reality, the pigeons' or sparrows' or herring gulls' reality, realities of shelter, airflow, altitidue, prey, peace..."

An Indifference of Birds by Richard Smyth published by Uniform Books.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Tree Following Update

For Tree Following this year I've selected a beautiful horse chestnut tree in one of the cemeteries on our #DailyExercise route.You can see my first blogpost about this tree here, my second is here and my third is here.

Here are some photos of the tree over the past few weeks, firstly looking into the canopy:

The first yellow leaves appeared early in June, this photo was taken on 9 June

on the same day we noticed that some of the conkers were starting to develop their characteristic spikes

and this is how far the conkers (on a different part of the tree) have developed now (photo taken yesterday)

Of course, this horse chestnut isn't the only tree I'm paying attention to at the moment. We're lucky to have several beautiful lime (linden) trees near where we live and in the cemeteries which we visit for Daily Exercise. These are my favourite trees at this time of year as they are in bloom and they smell wonderful!

Saturday 4 July 2020

A Visit to the Botanic Gardens

Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens have been  closed since the beginning of lockdown but have re-opened in the last couple of days. We managed to book a time-slot to visit today (you can book a visit here). Some areas of the garden are only accessible via a one way system and the cafe and restaurant are not yet open (though the toilets and shop are).

It was very rainy today but it was lovely to see the planted wildflower meadows looking beautiful, particularly as it is National Meadows Day today!

The lime (linden) trees are in bloom and smell wonderful

The demonstration wildlife friendly gardens are in bloom at the moment (and the camomile smells amazing!)

You can wander down the Scottish Tree Trail

And the rest of the gardens are as picturesque as ever