Sunday 29 November 2020

Publishing Update

I'm delighted to have four poems featured on the Kalanopia website. Kalanopia is a poetry journal that aims to raise awareness around visual impairment and accepts poetry about vision from all poets, whatever their eyesight is like. You can read my poems by following the links below: 

The Memory Window.


Two Haiku about cataracts

You will also find sound recordings of my poems at these links! 


I'm also delighted to have a haiku on the Breadcrumbs website here and a haiku shortlisted in the Evesham Festival of Words Haiku contest.

Saturday 28 November 2020

A sunny visit to the Botanic gardens

 We were able this morning to book a time slot for visiting Edinburgh Botanic Gardens this lunchtime! (Due to COVID the gardens are only admitting a limited number of people, you can book a time slot here). Once you are in the gardens you can stay as long as you like! 

The gardens looked beautiful in the late autumn sunshine 

and though there were a lot of people around, some areas were quite quiet. Though it's annoying that large parts are roped off to allow for preparation for the Christmas light display, as this means that people are restricted to the paths and some areas feel very crowded). 

The silver birch trees look particularly pretty in the low sunlight  

Many of the birch trees have witches brooms in them, these are caused either by a parasitic wasp or a virus. 

These witches brooms don't damage the trees.

Thursday 26 November 2020

Tide by Hugh Aldersey-Williams


 Subtitled 'The Science and Lore of the Greatest Force on Earth' this is a chronological look at the development of thinking about tides. It covers mythology, science, natural history, art and social issues around tides from the times of ancient Greece to the present day. The historical narrative is interspersed with the author's observations of tides in various oceans. 

Ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt were all situated in areas around the Mediterranean, which doesn't have major tides so the tides as such didn't play hugely significant roles in these cultures, until the Romans expanded their Empire beyond the Mediterranean (and found the tides a significant obstacle to invading Britain). The first significant scientific research into tides took place in the area that is now India. 

Tides obviously have a profound influence on the wildlife of the coast, particularly the intertidal area (the area between low tide and high tide that is constantly being deluged by water then drying out). The book contains a fascinating chapter examining how wildlife responds to changing tides, from the feeding behaviour of wading birds such as knots to the breeding cycle of the grunion, a fish that lays its eggs on the beaches of California.

Tides have played major roles in war (e.g. the D-Day landings), tragedies (e.g. the death of 23 cockle pickers on Morecombe Bay in 2004), historical turning points (e.g. The Boston Tea Party) and the reshaping of geography. Historically tides have always eaten away at coastlines, but in these days of climate chaos, this effect of the tides is increasing. Tidal defences have been built in many places, while in others the tides are harnessed to generate electricity.

Tides have influenced artistic creations too, including Handel's Water Music (composed for an event that took place on the water) and Telemann's Water Music, which was more of a creative response to the water itself.

This is a fascinating insight into the power and nature of the tide and it very effectively synthesizes knowledge from many different areas. However, I would have liked more coverage of the environmental issues affecting our oceans, particularly plastic pollution. 

Tide by Hugh Aldersey-Williams published (2017) by Penguin.

Wednesday 25 November 2020

A Friends Group is on its Way for North Merchiston Cemetery!

I had a socially distanced walk round North Merchiston Cemetery yesterday with someone who is interested in setting up a Friends Group for the Cemetery. We discussed a lot of issues, looked at some of the gravestones and even caught sight of the albino squirrel.

So, as a result of this meeting, we have set up a Facebook group for the cemetery as a way of gauging interest in setting up an official Friends group to look after and celebrate the cemetery as a place of remembrance and as a wildlife haven. We'll be looking for people who are actively interested in serving on a committee and / or taking part in volunteering activities (subject to COVID restrictions and council guidelines on Friends group activities). We want the group to be as inclusive as possible of local residents and people who work in the area. 

So if you're live or work in the North Merchiston / Slateford / Gorgie area of Edinburgh then watch this space! 

You can find the Facebook group for the Friends of North Merchiston Cemetery here.

Friday 20 November 2020

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


I just re-read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, a novel many of us probably read in childhood, or we know through the various adaptations for stage and screen that have been made over the years. 

Mary is a spoilt young child who was brought up in India but when she was orphaned she came to live with her Uncle in his huge house in Yorkshire. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms and at night, Mary hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors.

Mary starts to explore the grounds f the house and discovers a locked secret garden, surrounded by walls.With the help of a local boy, Dickon, she discovers a way into the garden and the two of them start to bring it back to life. When Mary discovers that it is her cousin Colin who is crying at night, she and Dickon start to take him out into the garden. 

This is a story of how nature can help young people to develop skills and recover their health after illness. It's beautifully written and some of the descriptions are wonderful, the robin that inadvertently leads Mary to the entrance to the secret garden is particularly well portrayed:

"The robin flew down from his tree top and hopped about or flew after [Mary] from one bush to another. He chirped a good deal and had a very busy air, as if he were showing her things."

This is a wonderful book to revisit or read for the first time in the strange times we're living through. There's a good review of the book and a recent television adaptation on the Guardian website here



Thursday 19 November 2020

Albino Squirrel in North Merchiston Cemetery

We were delighted to see this albino squirrel in North Merchiston Cemetery today! We watched it scampering around the trees and gravestones for quite a while! It seemed quite tame and certainly happy to pose for the camera! This is the first time we've seen a white squirrel in the cemetery, though they're often seen in places not too far from there. 

Apparently albino and other white squirrels are commoner in Edinburgh than in most other places. Albino grey squirrels are entirely white and have pink eyes whereas other white squirrels are leucistic grey squirrels, and have brown eyes and may have patches of grey or brown on their bodies.

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Preparing for Christmas - Part 1 Christmas Cards

 It's going to be a strange Christmas this year, but some things will still stay the same. I'm still making Christmas cards to send and here are some of my designs I've made so far 

I've used a variety of materials including: 

* pictures cut from old greetings cards and calendars

* card stock from my stash

* paper shapes from a huge bag of paper craft supplies I bought in a local second hand shop (the shop shut its doors forever during lockdown, which is a real shame, it was the best local shop for second hand craft materials). 

A lot of people see Christmas cards as wasteful and are turning to digital greetings. However I think there's something special about getting greetings cards through the post and cards that are handmade using upcycled materials are pretty eco-friendly. You also need to think that anything digital has a large unseen carbon footprint when you take into account all the servers etc which use electricity. 

Making Christmas cards could also be a great lockdown activity for children, specially if Christmas cards aren't counted as essential products in your local version of lockdown.

Anyone else making their own Christmas cards this year?

Monday 16 November 2020

Sun Glowing in a Beech Tree

 This beautiful beech tree at one of the entrances to Craiglockart Dell along the Water of Leith was really catching the sun today

Meanwhile these fungi (I think they're velvet shanks, but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) reflect the same colour in the wooded Dells 

Saturday 14 November 2020

Late Autumn on Corstorphine Hill

 It's been quite a dull day today, but mostly dry so we enjoyed a trip up Corstorphine Hill, which was looking very moody

Many of the trees are now bare of leaves and show their skeletons against the sky

but some are still in leaf, like this lovely oak tree 

and these beech trees 

Plenty of fungi around of course, like these young puffballs

this young hairy stereum

this, that I originally thought was a liverwort but someone in a fungi forum told me it's a fungus
and this impressive bracket fungus
The long grasses are full of these little tunnels, probably used by some species of vole (we've seen voles around the hill several times)

Thursday 12 November 2020

Cat Ghazal

On the library sofa sits a purring cat
Curled up and asleep lies a quietly snoring cat

The birds in the garden gather at the feeder
Watched from the window by an alert furry cat

The autumn evening streets are lit by orange lamps
that light up the rushing groups of rain blurry cats

Here come the groups of children tricking and treating
One of them is dressed up as a sweet furry cat

In the barn there is a scattering of rodents
being chased by a family of hurrying cats

The poet sits at the desk in her small study
On her lap for inspiration her purring cat


This ghazal was originally inspired  by the resident cat at the Salisbury Centre, where I facilitated a ghazal workshop in November 2009. I've reposted it today, partly to celebrate all the lovely local cats we spot on our local walks (particularly our neighbour's cat below) and partly to remind myself to write more ghazals, I've not written one for a while and it's a lovely poetic form. 

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Beechcombings - The Narratives of Trees - by Richard Mabey

The beech trees in Edinburgh have looked particularly beautiful this autumn, like these in Craiglockart Dell

 Beech isn't actually native to Scotland or in fact to much of the northern part of mainland Britain. It in fact only made its way into the country just before the Channel formed between Britain and mainland Europe and is only native in the southern parts of the country. 

 Beechcombings, by well known nature writer Richard Mabey, looks at the history of trees in the British landscape, with specific reference to beeches. He tries to put human history into the perspective of the much longer timescale of woodlands. He also balances the history of natural woodlands with different forms of woodland management and with his own experience as a manager and owner of a small woodland. 

Ageing trees provide valuable habitat for a large number of lesser plants, invertebrates and birds that feed on the invertebrates and in fact disease organisms:

'ageing, coexistence with parasites, entrenchment, are not 'diseases'. They are ancient arrangements trees have made with their environments. More worrying would be trees which appeared entirely 'healthy', unnibbled by insects, abandoned by fungi. What would that say about the toxicity of their surroundings?'

The book explores in some detail the differences between natural woodland and managed forestry and the value of both of these. There are challenges for natural woodland to develop along natural lines, given the 'new enemies - human, animal, fungal, atmospheric - that were not there in prehistoric times'. 

There are interesting discussions about the motivations behind woodland management - desire for control, aesthetics, cultural significance, ecological ideals. But maybe we can learn from natural woodland regeneration, more than we realise: 

'Trees have evolved through aeons of climate change. Collectively they know how to cope with it. We don't, and need to learn from solutions that they may only be able to express in unmanaged and unmanipulated situations. Their ancient, inbuilt diversity is not available from nursery-grown stock.'

Beechcombings by Richard Mabey, published by Chatto and Windus

Beechcombings very much complements Landskipping by Anna Pavord which I reviewed here

Monday 9 November 2020

Tree Following Update

The tree I'm following for this year's Tree Following challenge is a horse chestnut in one of the local graveyards which we have walked through almost every day since lockdown began and since it was relaxed (and now has been tightened again). A lovely tree to study and here's the latest: 

The tree looked particularly fine in it's autumnal colours in October sunshine 

and here is a photo of the tree from the roadside! It seems impossible to get a photo that does justice to both the tree and the church so I concentrated on the tree!

Next year's buds are already showing on the tree, the potential for new growth is always there.!

By 30 October, the tree had lost a lot of leaves but still looked magnificent with the sun shining through it

and by 5 November, almost all the leaves have fallen

though those that remain are beautiful

and today the tree is almost bare

For Tree Following and Nature Notes.

Sunday 8 November 2020

I Can Now Use a Sewing Machine!

 As many readers of this blog will realise I sew quite a lot, but so far it has all been by hand! So when, earlier this year I was given a sewing machine I quickly signed up for an introductory sewing class with Edinburgh Sewcial Club. Then COVID_19 happened, we went into lockdown and classes were all postponed. 

However, recently the club started up classes again and yesterday I was able to attend! Fewer participants in a socially distanced studio, window and door open for full ventilation, everyone wearing masks, lots of hand sanitiser and no shared materials or equipment, this was a COVID secure class (or as secure as you can get in these pandemic days). 

It was a very enjoyable class, I learned all about how to set up and use a sewing machine, though the machines in the studio are different than the one I have, but mine is too heavy to want to carry it down three flights of stairs, into a taxi and then down a flight of steps and through a building into the studio). I made this lovely cushion using floral fabric I had taken along and some striped fabric in complementary colours from the studio

which looks lovely on my comfy chair in our living room 

You can see more photos from the class on the Edinburgh Sewcial Club Facebook page here

Today I wanted to consolidate my learning by inspecting my own machine, which is a Singer 5805. 

I was able to easily find the manual online and worked out how to thread the machine. However, the machine is missing the spool cap, so I can't as yet sew anything (the spool cap ensures that the spool of thread doesn't fall off the machine.) I know the part is available from US based Etsy stores but £12.00 postage for an item that costs about £2.00 is very steep, though I'll pay that if necessary! 

Actually, I did learn to use a sewing machine in Domestic Science classes at secondary school, but that's a very long time ago and I had forgotten everything.  

Edited to add: I remembered there is a sewing machine shop (David Drummonds) at Haymarket in Edinburgh so that's where I went to buy the spool cap. It's a good place to go if you need a new machine, parts for an existing machine or if your machine needs to be serviced. It's good to support local businesses particularly in these times of uncertainty.

Thursday 5 November 2020

Autumn sunshine

 It's beautiful today, and we enjoyed the autumnal sunshine on our walk round the local cemeteries. 

This beech tree is particularly lovely at the minute 

Several redwings and other thrushes were flying around this tree and the surrounding holly bushes, but moving around too quickly to be caught on film. 

This red admiral butterfly was much slower than the thrushes and so Crafty Green Boyfriend was able to get this photo 

and there were still a few hoverflies on the ivy flowers, including this Eristalis sp. 

Scotland isn't under lockdown at the moment, though daily life is restricted in a tier system (where restrictions vary depending on the number of local cases) and there is of course no guarantee that cases of COVID won't increase in the future leading to another lockdown.

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Sunshine at Silverknowes

 I met a friend for lunch in a restaurant today (while we're still allowed to do that). Beforehand I went for a walk along the fields at Silverknowes. The fields are looking beautiful in the autumnal sunshine 

A roe deer was grazing in this field, though I don't think it's in that photo! 

Across the road from the fields, the sun caught the white trunks of these silver birch trees in the golf course

This whole area is a haven for curlew and other wading birds when the tide is high on the nearby Firth of Forth. Today there weren't many birds in the fields or golf course as the tide was very low

Edinburgh Agroecology Co-op have ambitious plans to 'transform' the fields into a local food hub. On first look the plans (which you can see in some detail here) are exciting and seem to promise a nature rich future for the site, but on closer inspection it seems clear that the project hardly factors in the fact that the fields are already vital for considerable numbers of wading birds, many species of which are in drastic decline in the UK. Wading birds that currently spend time on open, undisturbed fields will not be able to adapt to spending time in urban food gardens, busy with people planting and harvesting food. If you share these concerns, and want the project to include space for wading birds in its plans (or have other feedback on the project) then you can respond to their survey here.