The Secret Herb Garden, near Edinburgh

Looking at these photos – and particularly when you are actually at The Secret Herb Garden, it’s quite difficult to believe that you are just a hop and a skip from the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh.

Secret Herb Garden

It’s mainly herbs that are for sale as well as some vintage things such as old gardening tools and some furniture.
The Secret Herb Garden

But The Secret Herb Garden is mainly a lovely place to get away from the city and have a nice snack at the cafe.

Secret Herb Garden, Edinburgh

We had plenty of choices for where to sit, but as we visited on a very hot day we decided not to sit at a table in one of the greenhouses as it was just too hot and bright.
Secret Herb Garden

Secret Herb Garden

Vintage cars are used as decoration in parts and the old VW Beetle has been pressed into use as a log store.
Secret Herb Garden

We went all around the various garden areas first though and it feels just like being in the garden of a National Trust property, or something similar.

The Secret Herb Garden

The Secret Herb Garden
We had coffee and cake but I didn’t buy any plants as – I already had them all. I suppose that proves that I’m definitely a plantaholic!
The Secret Herb Garden

This is one of those places that we’ve been meaning to visit for ages. If you’re inclined towards distillery visiting you can do that too as there’s one just beyond the gardens which seems to make whisky and gin – as they just about all seem to nowadays. I don’t care how fashionable gin is, or whisky for that matter – I can’t stomach the stuff.

The Secret Herb Garden

May Belfort by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

This afternoon we drove to Edinburgh thinking that it wouldn’t be too busy as it’s a Sunday and we might find it easier to get parked. Insert a hollow laugh here as we couldn’t have been more wrong, it was MOBBED. It turned out that the Christmas Fair in Princes Street gardens (just below the castle) had just opened yesterday and some other streets were closed to traffic. I even saw an actual ballerina dancing on a stage in the distance – to The Sugar Plum Fairy of course.

I of course forgot my camera, but you can see images of the Christmas Market here.

May Belfort; Henri de Toulouse Lautrec

Anyway, the main reason we decided to go to Edinburgh wasn’t for shopping – it was to visit the Toulouse Lautrec poster exhibition which is on in The National Galleries. It’s called Pin-Ups and the Art of Celebrity. Sadly it’s one that you have to pay to see, the galleries and museums in Scotland are free to the public but they usually have some special exhibitions on that you have to pay for if you want to see them. Luckily we get free entry as we’re Friends of the Galleries. We enjoyed the exhibition but don’t really think it was worth the £11.50 they were charging to see it.

Are you old enough to remember the 1970s when Toulouse Lautrec posters and merchandise seemed to be everywhere? as well as Mucha posters of course. Well we still have some of the merchandise from those days but the two Lautrec prints we have in our bedroom are of Jane Avril and May Belfort and they originally belonged to Jack’s grandparents, probably dating from the 1920s.

As it happens, elsewhere in this blog I mentioned that we stood at a shoe shop window in Bruges – singing How Much is That Doggie on the Window? Well there was a dog sitting amongst the shoe displays! You know what it’s like – being on holiday somehow encourages a bit of daftness.

So where is all this meandering leading to I hear you ask? Well – today I discovered that May Belfort was the original singer of Daddy wouldn’t buy me a bow-wow – which is a variation on the theme, and sure enough she did go on stage holding a little cat, which according to the song she was very fond of. I doubt if it was a real cat though as they’re not well known for behaving themselves and staying where they should. Now every time I look at that print I’ll hear her singing.

On the way out of the National Gallery we had to make our way up the steps at the Christmas Market to get on to Princes Street – nightmare!

Victoria Crowe – Beyond Likeness – Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

Another art exhibition that we visited recently was at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh’s Queen Street. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Victoria Crowe before, portraiture isn’t my favourite sort of art but her Beyond Likeness exhibition is impressive, and it’s free to view. It’s on until November 18th, so I might even go back for a second look.

Most of the subjects are successful in their own field, but I hadn’t heard of many of them – which says more about me than anything else! Lots of her paintings are the sort that you could look at for ages and still see something new in them the next time.
You can see more images of Victoria Crowe’s work here.

Edinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

Edinburgh cover

Edinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1878 but my copy is a lovely edition published by Seeley and Co in 1905. It’s leather bound, gold edged with thick cream pages. Obviously this one comes under his travel writing, not that he had to do much travelling to write about his home town of Edinburgh.

In Chapter 1 Stevenson describes the beauty of Edinburgh and there’s no doubt it is beautiful, as well as being unique, in fact I’ve witnessed tourists’ jaws actually dropping when they see the castle rock from Princes Street.

The ancient and famous metropolis of the North sits overlooking a windy estuary from the slope and summit of three hills. No position could be more commanding for the head city of a kingdom; nor better chosen for noble prospects. From her tall precipice and terraced gardens she looks far and wide on the sea and broad champaigns. To the east you may catch at sunset the spark of the May lighthouse where the Firth expands into the German Ocean; and away to the west, over all the carse of Stirling, you can see the first snows on Ben Ledi.

But it’s not long before R.L.S. goes on to describe the downside of living in Edinburgh – and it’s hilarious.

But Edinburgh pays cruelly for her high seat in one of the vilest climates under heaven. She is liable to beaten upon by all the winds that blow, to be drencched with rain, to be buried in cold sea fogs out of the east, and powdered with the snow as it comes flying southward from the Highland hills. The weather is raw and boisterous in winter, shifty and ungenial in summer, and a downright meteorological purgatory in the spring. The delicate die early, and I, as a survivor, among bleak winds and plumping rain, have been sometimes tempted to envy them their fate.

So there you have it, R.L.S. obviously had a love/hate relationship with his place of birth, and no doubt Edinburgh’s atmospheres of genteel civility on one hand – and dark and menacing on the other played a huge part in his writing, particularly of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde.

The contents of this book include chapters on:

Old Town – The Lands
The Parliament Close
Legends
Greyfriars
The New Town – Town and Country
The Villa Quarters
The Calton Hill
Winter and New Year
To the Pentland Hills

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine

 Madame Doubtfire  cover

Madame Doubtfire by Anne Fine was first published in 1987 and I can’t remember where I got our copy from (I think it was Jack who bought it) but it’s signed by the author. This is of course the book which inspired the film Mrs Doubtfire which starred the talented and much missed Robin Williams.

It’s a long time since I watched the film but I think the book is a bit more serious than the film was, but no doubt a comedy was better for the box office.

Daniel is a father of three children and he and his wife are recently divorced, but that hasn’t stopped the animosity, in fact things are getting worse between him and his ex-wife. He’s an out of work actor, living in a town which only has one theatre, so he has very little opportunity to find stage work. His ex-wife Miranda has a very well paid job and it’s because of her work that they’re living in the small town instead of London where Daniel would have a better chance of finding work.

Miranda is determined to keep Daniel away from the children as much as possible, and constantly flouts the judicial access agreement despite the fact that she really needs help with the children. When Miranda decides that she’s going to get a nanny/housekeeper Daniel decides to use his acting skills to pose as an elderly lady and applies for the job. Madame Doubtfire is definitely a one off, but the children very quickly realise who she is but they miss their father so are happy to play along with the situation. So begins a sort of double life for them all, duping Miranda who it seems is having to work such long hours and is always dashing off, she never really pays much attention to anyone.

This was a good read, the first that I’ve read by Anne Fine. It’s probably aimed at children of about 12 but is entertaining for any age. In the film Mrs Doubtfire is Scottish which I think worked really well but Anne Fine didn’t write her as a Scot, it was probably Robin Williams’s idea to do that. However Fine did live in Scotland for a while and I recalled that she got the name of Doubtfire when she spotted it painted above a shop in Edinburgh. You can read about it here.

Sadly this was before my Stockbridge visiting days as I would have loved to have a rake around that shop, if I could have withstood the cat pee smell!

A New Era – Modern Art Two – Edinburgh

We’ve been to the New Era exhibition at the Modern 2 Gallery in Edinburgh and I’ve blogged about our first visit here. This time I’m showing one of the sculptures. Below is a model of a brass head by J.D. Fergusson who is better known for his paintings. It’s called Eastre (Hymn to the Sun) and was created in 1924. It’s very much of its time I think, it looks very futuristic and reminds me of Princess Leia. You can read more about it here.

brass head

Below is The Hunt by Robert Burns, created around 1926. When I first saw this one I really didn’t like it, it seemed too gaudy, the gold paint really stands out, you can read about it here. This one originally decorated a wall in an Edinburgh tearoom in Princes Street. The artist was commissioned to design everything in the tearoom, including the cake stands.
the hunt This one really grew on me and the amount of detail in the painting is wonderful. Very un-Edinburgh especially for the 1920s, evidently it was a far more exciting place than I had imagined.

Finally, The Sensation of Crossing the Street by Stanley Cursiter.

the sensation of crossing the street

Book sculptures in Edinburgh

When we visited the Muriel Spark exhibition at the National Library of Scotland last month I was disappointed that they weren’t allowing people to take photos of the exhibits, but I was allowed to photograph the book sculptures that are on display in the foyer. An anonymous female sculptor made these lovely things and left them at important cultural locations.

Artist work  book sculpture

book sculpture

The first sculpture was found in 2011 and nine others appeared at various locations in Edinburgh. In 2015 the artist decided that her project was coming to an end and she announced she wanted the public to help her with the last one – The Butterfly Tree and Lost Child. People sent in butterflies to be included in the design. The artist has remained anonymous. You can see some images here. It’s obviously much bigger than the others.

The International Style of Muriel Spark at the National Library in Edinburgh

Light show

Yesterday we went up to Edinburgh for several reasons, the first one being to visit the Muriel Spark Exhibition on at the National Library of Scotland. It’s the centenary of her birth. When we got there I was disappointed to see that although they usually encourage people to take photographs they weren’t allowing it in this exhibition for copyright reasons apparently. She was born in Edinburgh but of course spent many years living abroad, mainly in Italy. Well the weather there would have been enticing apart from anything else.

Light show

It’s such a shame that you can’t take photos as Spark seems to have been a hoarder from an early age so there are even jotters from her schooldays of poetry she had written and a school magazine that she had poems published in. She saw herself as a poet despite writing so many novels.

She was a bit of a party animal and corresponded with lots of famous people that she had made friends with including Graham Greene, Doris Lessing, John Updike, Christopher Fry, Miriam Margolyes, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave and even the then Prime Minister Harold MacMillan. There are letters or telegrams from them but the typewritten letter from Marie C. Stopes (the famous contraception for women pioneer) who wrote the book Married Love is a scream. Stopes was vice-president of the Poetry Society and she was incensed at Spark being made president. In her letter Stopes describes Spark as being impertinent to her and she demands to know if Spark had been divorced by her husband. Presumably Stopes didn’t think such a person was fit to be the president. Spark’s reply says that she has no intention of giving her any details of her divorce, implying that Stopes is a dirty old woman for wanting to know what she hopes are salacious details.

If you click on the link above you’ll be able to see some of the things in the exhibition, such as her ration card. There are a couple of her dresses, one a long dark grey silk dress and a lovely blue velvet dress which apparently features in one of her books, I can’t remember which.

If you’re keen on Muriel Spark it’s well worth visiting – if you’re not too far from Edinburgh anyway. There are lots of early copies of her books on display and I just realised that I have far more of her books to track down than I thought.

I think that like many writers Muriel Spark was odd, it’s hard not to feel for her son whom she seems to have abandoned at a very early age, later she was incensed by his devotion to Judaism as an adult – she had ditched that religion and opted to become a Roman Catholic. It looks like she had no maternal instincts which must have been painful for him.

Light show

The photographs are of images that were being projected onto the front of the National Library of Scotland.

Happy New Year!

Like many people I’m fairly glad to see the back of 2017, but given the MAYhem that has been unleashed on us in the UK – I’m trepidatious about 2018.

But heigh-ho – onwards and upwards. I hope that 2018 will be a good one for us all, so Happy New Year to anyone who drops in on me at Pining.

Every year there’s a torchlight procession down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on the 30th of December. I think we might take part in it next year – I’m told it’s good fun.

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Modern One

Some years ago I blogged about the art installation that has been added to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. I thought it was just a temporary thing, a reaction to the financial melt-down of 2008 but obviously it isn’t. In Alexander McCall Smith’s recent Scotland Street book The Bertie Project he mentions this installation. He’s not happy that the word ‘alright’ is there instead of ‘all right’. He has his character Domenica complaining of the use surmising that it must be deliberate as Kingsley Amis desribed ‘alright’ as ‘gross, crass, coarse and to be avoided,’ and Bill Bryson, hardly a fuddy-duddy describes its use as ‘illiterate and unacceptable.’

Domenica admits that she feels very old-fashioned in expecting people to be able to spell. It’s one of McCall Smith’s meandering conversations that often bring in modern morality or ethics.

But a more recent installation in the gallery across the road and several years on from the melt-down is taking a much more pessimistic and possibly Calvinist attitude to our situation.

View from Dean Gallery

It seems we’re done for!

View from Dean Gallery