St Andrews Botanic Garden, Fife, Scotland

22 July 2014 23:11

St Andrews Botanic Garden bot 2

One gorgeous day last week we decided to take ourselves off to the lovely mediaeval university town of St Andrews, a favourite place of mine, you can see images of the town here, but first we stopped off at the St Andrews Botanic Garden. Jack had prepared a picnic lunch (he’s not a bad lad) and these two photos are of the view from our picnic bench. The pond was alive with life but luckily none of it was biting.

St Andrews Botanic Gardens bot 1

The bit of land below has been set aside as a wildflower meadow.

St Andrews Botanic Garden

There’s also a herb garden and they sell a lot of unusual herbs at the Botanics shop, as well as some very fresh (just dug up) produce from the vegetable garden.

St Andrews Botanic Gardens

Below is a lily pond.

St Andrews Botanic Garden

Below is part of a rockery, alpine garden.

St Andrews Botanic Garden,

More rockery/scree garden. I must admit that I’m tempted to create a mini rockery in my new garden. Remember they were all the rage in the 1960s? everything comes back around!

St Andrews Botanic Garden.

I would have to scale it down more than a wee bit, there’s no way I could cope with rocks the size of the ones above.

St Andrews Botanic Garden

Last year I and a lot of other people signed a petition to try to keep these gardens open to the public as they were under threat of closure, due to cutbacks I think. You can read about it here. They’ve got a reprieve for the next five years anyway, but given the huge price of land around the town (due mainly to golf) I have no doubt that at some time in the future someone will try to grab it again for building purposes. If so, I’ll be lying down in front of a bulldozer!

I hope you enjoyed your armchair trip to the St Andrews Botanic Garden.

And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson

21 July 2014 23:59

It was Jack who recommended that I should read And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson, he thought it was great, and I have to agree. It was first published in 2010 and it’s quite a chunkster at 671 pages. It’s written in six parts and it involves quite a lot of characters who at times don’t seem to have anything to do with each other but their stories all link up eventually. (You can read Jack’s much fuller review here.)

I loved it because it’s the history of Scotland since the 1950s although it does dip back into some old soldiers’ World War 2 experiences. It brought back so many memories, particularly the unexplained death of Willie MacRae, a solicitor and SNP activist which I had forgotten about (how could I have?) and the rise of Scottish Nationalism in the early 1970s. In reality I’ve always hankered after an independent Scotland, but never thought it was worth one person’s life or any acts of violence at all. There were a few complete nutters who did try campaigns of violence. I remember standing waiting at the station for the train to come only to be told that it wouldn’t be coming because there was a bomb on the line just outside the station – really! Even crazier it turned out that the bomb had been put there by someone I was at school with and his brother, and ‘we’ all knew that they didn’t have three brain cells between them! Since the successful devolution referendum in 1997 there has thankfully been none of that sort of nonsense, not that it ever amounted to much.

Anyway, I digress, although this book is about ordinary Scottish people, it’s also sprinkled with politicians, pressure groups and spies.

It was only recently that some ex high heid yin admitted that even the CIA was involved in dirty tricks during the first devolution referendum campaign, in 1979. Never mind, we’ll get there eventually.

Some blurb from this very good book:

Bold, discursive and deep, Robertson’s sweeping history of life and politics in twentieth century Scotland should not be ignored. – Ian Rankin, Observer, Books of the Year

Brilliant and thoughtful. Eminently readable, subtle and profound
- Independent on Sunday

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery

20 July 2014 00:00

I downloaded Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery from Manybooks you can get it free here.

The book was first published in 1939 and the Rilla in the title is of course the daughter of Anne of Anne of Green Gables fame. Rilla is the youngest of Anne and Gilbert’s children, she’s just 15 when the story begins and she’s looking forward to her first adult dance.

It’s not long before the outside world bursts in on the inhabitants of Prince Edward Island, in the shape of World War 1 and Rilla has to grow up fast, being catapulted into a life of Red Cross classes and war work and even ends up caring for a new born baby whose mother died in childbirth. Rilla had never even touched a baby before, never wanted to but she just had to get on with it.

Worse than anything though was having to give up her brothers and all the other young men she had grown up with. The locals soon all became experts in the geography and politics of Europe and life revolved around the newspaper reports of battles in previously unheard of places.

What struck me though was how Scottish it all was. One brother is always talking about hearing the piper coming to take him away, the family dog is doing a good impression of Greyfriar’s Bobby, their speech is liberally sprinkled with ‘wee’ and various other Scottish words, and of course it’s just full of Scottish names. There are locals who are Gaelic speakers.
Inevitably this book is sad in parts but if you’ve enjoyed L.M. Montgomery’s books in the past you’ll want to read this one.

The Canadians who were desperate to join up in 1914 and help the ‘old country’ in its time of need had a tough time of it and so many of them never got back. If you visit the Somme today you will find that there is a part of the battlefield which is forever Canada/Newfoundland and is looked after by a great band of young Canadians who show people around that part of the Somme which has been preserved as a memorial and to help future generations understand what it was like. When we were there we were shown around by a young woman called Aloma Jardine – another Scottish surname of course. You can see what it looks like today here.

I think it’s significant that Montgomery didn’t write this book until 1939, I’m assuming that it was a subject which was too painful to write about until then and the prospect of another war brought it all back. I decided to read it this year as part of my own commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Great War.

A Saltire in Perthshire – a portent?

18 July 2014 23:14

We were driving in Perthshire one day last week and I spotted a Saltire in the sky! You might have heard of how Scotland’s flag (the Saltire) came to be a blue background with a white Saint Andrew’s cross on it, if not then you can read about it here.

Anyway, below is a photo of last week’s Saltire. Is it an omen for the independence referendum I wonder? I took the photo through the windscreen as Jack was driving along so it isn’t nearly as clear as it looked on the day.

A Saltire?

Oh all right, it probably is just two jet trails crossing the sky, but you never know, it might be an omen!

a saltire  from bridge

I took the photo above just a few minutes later as we were driving across the Friarton Bridge over the River Tay, just south of Perth. You can still just see the cross in the sky.

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses

17 July 2014 23:37

I feel that as we are now living in a small town with a teeny library which is only open nine hours a week that I really must borrow books from it, just so that the ‘high heid yins’ can’t say that nobody uses the place and decide to shut it down completely. But it’s slim pickings most times I visit and the last time I was getting sort of desperate when I saw this book The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe.

Anyway, the book is the first one by Mary Simses who grew up in Darien, Connecticut. It’s not my usual sort of reading, I’m not a big reader of romances as I find them too predictable but this one does feature a bit of a mystery and it was nice to be in coastal Maine for a while.

Ellen is a high-flying lawyer and her beloved gran asks her to deliver a last letter to an old flame of hers, with her dying breath. Ellen feels she has to carry out her gran’s last wish, so she leaves Manhattan where she and her fiance live and sets off for Beacon, Maine. Beacon is the small coastal town where her gran grew up and it’s a bit like stepping back in time compared with life in Manhattan.

Ellen’s also a keen photographer and as soon as she reaches Beacon a mishap whilst framing a shot turns her into a bit of a local talking point, much to her embarassment. Out of her comfort zone she turns into a bit of a nincompoop.

It’s all light hearted reading, good for travelling or a summer beach read, not that I ever read on a beach, never having sunbathed in my life – but you know what I mean.

I still prefer vintage crime for comfort reading but this was a nice wee change, and I got to live in Maine for a while too. There is so much mention of food in this book that it put me in mind of one of those books which were written during World War II in Britain when rationing was still ongoing, and authors indulged themselves writing about all of the food which couldn’t be obtained for years. I think a few actual recipes at the end of the book might have been a good idea, well a blueberry muffin recipe anyway. But I might just be thinking along those lines because I’ve recently finished reading the Clarissa Dickson Wright book which had a recipe at the end of every chapter. I still have not tasted blueberries, I must give them a go soon.

The blurb on the front says: ‘If you liked the Nicholas Sparks novels, you will devour this book’ James Patterson. I’ve never read anything by Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson for that matter.

Pittenweem Arts Festival and The Forth Bridges Festival

15 July 2014 23:28

Have you ever been to the Pittenweem Arts Festival? It’s very unusual because the many artists who live in the fishing village open their homes up to the public to give everyone interested a good look at their artwork. At first it seems a bit weird to be walking through someone’s kitchen to see their work but you get used to it and it’s all very enjoyable.

As a gardener I love being able to see people’s back gardens as much as their artwork. The festival runs for a week and the village seems always to be full of people trailing from house to house to view the wares. It isn’t all paintings but includes embroidery, weaving and knitting, sculpture and all sorts.

There are even courses which you can attend on things like knotting, taught by fishermen and folk music evenings. You can read about it here.

The festival runs from August the 2nd to the 10th. You can read more about it and see some photos of Pittenweem here.

There’s also a Forth Bridges Festival this year, it’s a new one and you can read about it here. It runs from 3rd September to the 13th September.

Scotland’s Commonwealth Games Outfits

14 July 2014 22:59

Tell me honestly – what do you think of this design? It’s the outfit which our poor athletes are going to have to wear at the parade at the beginning of the Commonwealth Games which kick off in Glasgow on the 23rd of July.

Commonwealth Games outfit

I think it’s truly horrible, from the turquoise shirt to the tan – yes TAN socks. I really feel sorry for anyone having to don this combination. What is the tan colour referencing I wonder – the inside of a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer?!

I often think that we in Scotland shoot ourselves in the foot a bit because so often we do everything to avoid any sort of tartan, distancing ourselves as far as possible from the old fashioned shortbread tin tartanry and tat. Tartan is hardly to be seen anywhere in Scotland- unless it’s a wedding when it seems almost to be obligatory for the men to wear kilts. In fact if you go to Northern Ireland or even France it’s really surprising how much tartan you see in their streets compared with Scotland.

Let’s face it some tartans are pretty garish but I’ve never seen one as ghastly as the mixture which has been thought up by the designer. I’m presuming that she canvassed opinions on the colours from various high heidyins involved in the planning of the games, so why was nobody brave enough to say – no that’s not a pleasing colour combination, in fact none of it ‘goes’ and the colours really are not what you think of when you think of Scotland.

You can’t go far wrong with a white shirt teamed with a kilt and when you think of Scotland’s landscape and the Saltire flag then it’s blues and purples which are the natural choices to go with. It looks like the designer has decided to use colours just to look different, but it’s a mistake to go with something just because it’s a shock to the senses. The colour choices make the kilts look cheap and nasty and it’s really difficult to make wool look cheap! I’m assuming they used Scottish wool in the making.

I signed a petition online complaining about the outfits, it’s obviously too late to change things now and knowing the price of one kilt I dread to think how much these monstrosities cost, but I felt I just had to register my feelings on the subject.

The designer Jilli Blackwood is apparently internationally renowned but she seems to have just gone for the shock horror value and forgotten that our athletes are representing Scotland, they look more like an advert for dolly mixtures or liquorice allsorts in that pink and blue tartan. The women’s outfits just look so old fashioned and not in a good way.

I’m all for zany fun but there’s a time and a place for it.

The powers that be should have had a competition between schoolchildren to design the outfits, the kids would have come up with something far more enhancing I’m sure, after all it was a kid who designed Clyde, the Glasgow Commonwealth Games mascot, obviously in the shape of a thistle, and that’s a beezer!


Rifling through my Drawers by Clarissa Dickson Wright

14 July 2014 00:05

Rifling Drawers cover

I bought this book a good wee while ago at a library book sale and as often happens with my own books I just didn’t get around to reading it. It was only when poor old Clarissa’s death was reported in the news that I remembered about it. When I did get around to reading it I was left wishing that I had read her previous book Spilling the Beans first, I’ll have to look out for that one as this one was quite a hoot, she was a wonderful eccentric. Her full name was Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmerelda Dickson Wright, so I think that her parents must have been fairly eccentric too!

The book was first published in 2009 and is really a year in her life as it’s split up into the months of the year with each month having a recipe at the end of it.

It’s one of those books that you can’t help stopping reading every now and again and sharing some of the contents with whoever happens to be nearby. That can be a bit annoying I’m sure for the person that you’re reading the excerpts out to but I must say that Jack appreciated all the interruptions. Clarissa had such a good sense of humour and really didn’t give a damn about what people thought of her, a great combination. I thought I went off at a tangent when I was having conversations but I think that she was even worse than me for that, but it all makes for an interesting and enjoyable read on subjects which you would expect, like food and alcohol (she had been an alcoholic) to euthanasia, bees, politics, and the scandal featuring Margaret (Duchess of Argyll.) You have to be a certain age to remember that one and I must say that the quality of sex scandals hasn’t half gone down in recent years! And I’m just scratching the surface of topics.

She was delightfully un-politically correct which is so refreshing nowadays, even although I didn’t always agree with her points of view. She was a big supporter of the Countryside Alliance and of hunting, shooting and fishing which didn’t endear her to the many pressure groups who are against such things. In fact she was on a death list as those anti-hunt people seem to always be very violent themselves. I did go into her Edinburgh Grassmarket bookshop some years ago but sadly she wasn’t holding court at the time. You can read her Guardian obituary here.

Ram, Uther, Rose and Midnight Sky

11 July 2014 00:39

a ram

A few weeks ago we were in the East Lothian village of Tyninghame and decided to go for a walk around the countryside there, well it was a necessity really. We came across a field full of rams, they aren’t something that you see often, especially these very prehistoric looking curly horned ones. The chappie above posed perfectly between these two trees to have his photo taken.


Above is Uther, he’s named after King Arthur’s father of course and he was the very reason we were going on the walk, he is a red and white Irish setter and was going stir crazy indoors on such a lovely day. He’s just full of energy and this was him after the long walk, when he was a bit more biddable, but as you can see he still had to be tethered to a tree, otherwise he would have been over the hills and far away in a trice. He is a gorgeous dog though.

white rose

The above rose is one which was planted just last month in my new garden. It’s a lovely plant but sadly it doesn’t seem to have much in the way of fragrance, but it only cost me £1 from the pound shop so I shouldn’t really complain. I have no idea what its name is either as it was called ‘white rose’ on the package it came in. It’s doing very well though and the leaves are really healthy which is more than can be said for the named pink one which I bought at much greater expense, its leaves are covered in the dreaded blackspot.

sky at midnight

Some people don’t realise how long our summer days are in these northern climes of Scotland. You can easily read a book outside after 10.30 in Scotland in the summer. This is a photo which I took from my garden just after midnight on the 22nd of June, so just after the summer solstice. The camera was facing north. As you can see there is still light in the sky but it’s not moonlight. You don’t have to wait long before we are back to full daylight again.

Armchair Travelling and Winnie the Pooh

10 July 2014 00:37

This armchair travelling malarkey can be very surprising. A few nights ago I was innocently roaming the internet when I suddenly found myself in Philadelphia of all places – well at least half of me seemed to be there anyway, through the wonders of google chat. It was Joan of Planet Joan on the other end of course and when during our chat she found that she was a wee bit peckish she happened to mention that she had taken ME down to her basement via her Ipad or some such gadget, so that she could get a snack.

I’ve never had a house with a basement and I find the idea quite alarming, so I wanted to know if there was a wee window which you (I) could get out by in case of being somehow locked in there. Joan assured me there was a wee window, then of course I wondered exactly how wee, because I’m not quite as skelf-like as I used to be!

Immediately Winnie the Pooh came to mind, would I be like him and be stuck half-way through the window, or in his case Rabbit’s door. I just love E.H. Shepard’s illustrations

Where is all this silliness leading to I hear you ask?!

Winnie the Pooh was of course written by A.A. Milne and although he was born in England he was brought up in the very strict Scottish Presbyterian tradition, his grandfather was a Scottish Presbyterian minister. So I count A.A. Milne as a Scottish author, if you haven’t already read Winnie the Pooh you might want to do so now and count it towards the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge.