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

The Birks of Aberfeldy

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

One day last week we decided to drive up north of Perth to Aberfeldy, it’s definitely the Highlands. Well it was a lovely day, if a bit cold, but it was just so wonderful to see some blue sky and – no rain.

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

The Birks  of AberfeldyThe Birks  of Aberfeldy

I had been to Aberfeldy before but hadn’t been to The Birks of Aberfeldy, it’s a woodland walk, or maybe I should say climb as it is much steeper than I thought it would be. We walked up the right hand path, which turned out to be the correct decision as the walk is a big loop and on the way back down the other side it was a bit harder on the legs as there are a lot of steps which are really quite steep, I’m always happier going up than going down, you are much more in control on the way up anywhere I think. I had to hang on to handrails quite often as there was also quite a lot of snow and ice around. It was tougher going than I expected, but we’ll be going back in the spring or summer to see what it looks like then, with the deciduous trees doing their stuff, and it should be an easier walk then.
The Birks  of Aberfeldy
It’s a lovely area but to be honest there are lots of places in Scotland like this, trees, a steep hillside and rushing water and waterfalls, the difference with this one is that Robert Burns wrote a poem about it in 1787 and set it to a previous tune. He was a great collector of old Scottish tunes.

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

The Birks  of Aberfeldy and Robert Burns
Above is a grim photo of me, sitting beside a statue of Robert Burns, it was apparently his favourite spot.

Below is the view from that bench.

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

Below is the poem he wrote.

Now simmer blinks on flow’ry braes,
And o’er the crystal streamlet plays,
Come, let us spend the lightsome days
In the birks of Aberfeldie!
Bonnie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonnie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldie?

The little birdies blithely sing,
While o’er their heads the hazels hing;
Or lightly flit on wanton wing
In the birks of Aberfeldie!
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

The braes ascend like lofty wa’s,
The foaming stream, deep-roaring, fa’s,
O’er-hung wi’ fragrant spreading shaws,
The birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

The hoary cliffs are crown’d wi’ flowers,
White o’er the linns the burnie pours,
And, rising, weets wi’ misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

Let Fortune’s gifts at random flee,
They ne’er shall draw a wish frae me,
Supremely blest wi’ love and thee
In the birks of Aberfeldie.
Bonnie lassie, will ye go…

In case you don’t know and haven’t guessed birks are birch trees.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is one of those books that I was pretty certain I had read as a youngster, but recently realised that I hadn’t, so I rectified it fast. In fact my copy of the book is in a volume of Steinbeck which contains this one and Cannery Row. I got Cannery Row in the Classics Club spin, so more on that one early next month.

Of Mice and Men is a quick read, just a novella really, it was first published in 1937 and the setting is close to Soledad and the Salinas River, California. It’s the American Depression and is based on Steinbeck’s own experiences of being a bindlestiff in the 1920s, a sort of itinerant farm worker.

George and Lennie are travelling towards their next job on a farm, they’ve had to leave their previous one due to a misunderstanding involving Lennie and a young woman. Lennie is a big man who has the mind of a small and simple child and it gets him into trouble, especially as he doesn’t have any idea of just how strong he is.

George is really Lennie’s carer, trying to stop him from getting into trouble, no easy task. Lennie loves to feel soft things, and he had a piece of velvet which someone had given him to stroke, but sadly he lost it. A teeny mouse was fulfilling his tactile needs, but due to having no idea of the fragility of a mouse and what his manhandling it will do to it, it isn’t long before the mouse is dead. Lennie just can’t understand it.

When they reach the farm where they have some work, they’re looked on suspiciously, it’s unusual for men like them to travel around in pairs, they’re usually loners, and it’s thought that George might be taking advantage of Lennie and taking his pay from him. It’s not true of course, although they both share a dream to own some land and a home of their own. They have it all planned out. They begin to get to know the other workers and Lennie is ecstatic when he is given a pup from a newly born litter on the farm – oh dearie me!

This is a sad tale, you know it’s just not going to have a happy ending and Lennie ends up suffering the same fate as an ancient farm dog.

Of course, Steinbeck took the title Of Mice and Men from the Robert Burns poem – To a Mouse

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley. The best laid schemes of mice and men go often awry/askew.

Burns Night

How quickly Burns Night comes around nowadays, as usual it was a quiet one here but we did have the traditional haggis (veggie) neeps and tatties, which looked and tasted exactly like last year’s and as always tasted far better than it looked.

If you want to find out more about Robert Burns have a look here. That link is about one of his most famous songs, Ae Fond Kiss. Burns was one of those men who should have had dangerous to women stamped on his forehead, but as I’ve had experience of a few Nancys in my family I think that Agnes (Nancy) McElhone was probably one of the few women that gave Burns real grief!

There’s a list here of some of his most famous poems/songs and you can hear them being recited as they should be, in a Scottish accent.

Robert Burns, his parents and maiden names

Burns' parents' grave

The photo is of the grave of Robert Burns’s parents. It’s situated in the graveyard of Old Alloway Kirk, the place which inspired Robert Burns to write his poem Tam O’Shanter. If you want to see more of Alloway and the kirkyard have a look at a previous post here.

I was chatting with a friend recently about the Scottish tradition of women being known by their maiden names, particularly when they die. As you can see from the photo, the father of Robert Burns was William Burns and his spouse was Agnes Brown, Robert’s mother.

Officially I suppose married women are generally known as Mrs Married Name, but amongst old friends they’ll still be Somebody Maiden Name. In fact whenever I meet women for the first time I find that it takes on average about 10 minutes of chat before the words “of course, my own name is …whatever her maiden name is.”

Sadly I’ve noticed that the tradition seems to be dying out (pun probably intended). I’ve got to the stage in my life where the local newspaper hatches and matches announcements rarely come up with anyone I know. It’s the dispatches that I’m more likely to recognise, although happily those folks are often in their 80s and 90s. But I have noticed that the women’s announcements nowadays just have the name of their husband, with not a clue as to the woman’s real name. Let’s face it, some women have quite a series of surnames throughout their lives. I had a friend whose own name was rather unusual and began with ‘S’, then she married an unusual ‘H’, divorced him and married an unusual ‘D’. When her son asked why her names were always strange she told him that she was working her way down the alphabet of strange names. Husband ‘D’ gave her a poisonous look and not long after that he skedaddled! I wonder if she has reached ‘A’ yet!

Back to graves, on this Halloween – gravestones aren’t that common nowadays, my family has always gone for the ‘scattering’ option in recent generations, and in fact although I enjoy mooching around old graveyards reading the inscriptions, I wouldn’t be up for visiting family graves as I would find that quite depressing and pointless. It’s much better to have personal ways of remembering loved ones. But I’d hate to think that those who do opt for the more traditional burial in Scotland have somehow forgotten that if it’s a married woman then she should revert to her maiden name. Maybe it’s up to the stonemasons to educate them.

Scottish Pottery and Robert Burns

I can hardly believe that it’s that time of the year again – Burns Night that is. I’ll spare you the sight of my dinner this year, we’ll be having the less traditional vegetarian haggis, neeps (turnip) and tatties tonight. Not because we’re vegetarian but because it’s tastier than the offal/awful! version.

I thought it would be nicer to let you see some very old Scottish pottery, the sort which would have been recognised by Robert Burns when he was around and imbibing a fair quantity of whisky, which he seems to have been quite fond of.

toddy bowls 1

As you can see, it’s fairly chunky stuff, the large bowls are called toddy bowls and they measure about 10 inches across the top of them so they can hold a lot of toddy in them. Toddy is of course a mixture of whisky, sugar and hot water, for me it’s the only possible way of enjoying whisky, but I haven’t had it since I was a child when my dad used to make it for me if I had a bad cold or toothache.

I took this photo to try to show you that they are also decorated inside. The jugs are actually two different designs but they’re quite similar as you can see. One design is for wine and it has vine leaves on it, whilst the beer jug is decorated with hop leaves and flowers. The pottery is at least 150 years old but this sort of pottery was made for a long time, it could be a lot older, and the bowls would originally have been sold in pairs, people used to have one at each end of a long table or sideboard. The small two handled pewter drinking vessel is a quaich, the ‘ch’ pronounced the same as in the word ‘loch’. It’s a reproduction one.

Scottish pottery toddy bowls 2

The top left hand toddy bowl has very large pine cones in it which make the bowl seem really small. My favourite bowl is the bottom left hand one, I love the design but it has been in the family since it was new which makes it more precious to me.

Have a listen if you want to hear David Rintoul reciting the Burns poem: –

Scotch Drink

Well, are you any the wiser? Burns didn’t write many short poems, I know that because I looked for one when I had to choose one to memorise for reciting at a Burns competition when I was at primary school. The town’s Burns Society held a competition every year and all schoolchildren had to take part in it. I ended up reciting this one.

“John Anderson my jo, John”
By Robert Burns

John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw,
but blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo!

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither,
And monie a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo!

I didn’t win. Jack did win though, but he was in a different year from me and he recited To A Mouse. What did he win ? I hear you ask. A volume of the complete works of Robert Burns of course – he still has it.

Alloway, Ayrshire, Scotland

As I said before, by the time we got to Alloway, which is just a short hop from Culzean Castle, Robert Burns’s birthplace was shut. But here is a photo of it anyway, thatched roof and all. Hopefully the next time we’ll get there earlier.

Burns's cottage

This one is of the main street in Alloway, speed bump and all! You can just see the gable end of Burns’s cottage at the top right hand side.

Street in Alloway

If you carry on walking past the cottage it isn’t long before you reach the Auld Kirk which was already a ruin by the time Robert Burns was a wee boy (he was born in 1759). It’s this church and graveyard which inspired him to write his poem Tam O’Shanter, which you can read here.

Alloway kirk + yard

This sarcophagus is actually situated within the ruined kirk, it’s obviously very ancient.
a sarcophagus

Just along the road again a very short distance and you reach the River Doon. This is the famous Brig o’ Doon which features in the poem, with the witch pulling the horse’s tail as it gallops across the bridge to escape, of course witches can’t cross water!

auld Brig o' Doon

I took this photo actually on the bridge which is very steep and the garden beyond is the Robert Burns memorial garden, sadly it was shut but from what I could see it looks beautiful.
auld Brig o' Doon  and gardens 2

This is a view from the old bridge to a newer bridge which isn’t all that new really. The pretty area of planting to the right belongs to a local hotel, it looks like a good place to relax and watch the river.
River Doon

And this is the river from the other direction and yet another bridge.

River Doon

I must say that Alloway was never a place which featured high on my list of ‘must visit’ places, but I was very agreeably surprised. The River Doon is really beautiful, fast flowing and clear and having been to the Burns house in Dumfries, I think he must have been pining for his beloved Alloway all the time he was there. Maybe that was why he wrote this song.

Culzean Castle, Ayrshire, Scotland

Culzean Castle from garden

This is Culzean Castle from the front, the right hand side of the building is the oldest part, dating from the 15th century and the building has been added on to and redesigned over the centuries. The famous Scottish architect and designer Robert Adam made a beautiful job of the whole place, particularly the interiors, some of which you can see here. You can read about the building of the castle here and more about Robert Adam here. He was actually born in Kirkcaldy, not far from where I live but sadly his home, Gladney House, was pulled down some years ago. They’ve got rid of everything which would have been of interest to visitors to the town, including the economist Adam Smith’s home and Pet Margery’s home and the school which Thomas Carlyle taught in. Shame.

Culzean Castle sea view

The photo above is the view from the castle, over to the isle of Arran, on a very clear day you can apparently see down as far as Ireland, but not on the day we visited, despite it being a beautiful day.

Culzean Castle garden + fountain

Culzean is set in beautiful parkland with gorgeous trees but there’s plenty to be seen in the way of formal gardens. These are a couple of photos showing the fountain.

Culzean Castle fountain

At first we thought that this cormorant was a model but it eventually moved. I can’t make up my mind about it, it is a sort of mixture between comical and sinister, a wee bit vulture-like somehow. It was crouched over Swan Pond, we didn’t see any swans at all though.

Culzean Castle cormorant

The walled garden below is quite a walk away from the castle but it’s worth visiting and there are nice benches to have a rest on.

Culzean Castle walled garden gate

The top storey of the castle has ben turned into a very upmarket hotel. It’s handy for the golf course at Turnberry but I think it would be a bit too expensive for my liking. President Eisenhower was given a set of apartments for his lifetime, as thanks for his wartime contribution, but since his death it has been incorporated into the hotel.

This was a really enjoyable castle to visit, although here’s quite a lot to see, unfortunately they don’t allow you to take photos inside the castle. I can’t understand why the National Trust has this policy at all of their properties. They would get more publicity if people could see what the interiors are like. It costs £15 to get in but you can easily spend the whole day there. Joining the National Trust is the best way to go about it because at a cost of £64 or so for a double membership, we’ve already saved ourselves a lot of money just in the last month.

Unfortunately we didn’t realise that there was too much to see in this area in one day, otherwise we would’ve arranged to stay overnight. We could have visited Robert Burns’ birthplace and Souter Johnnie’s cottage too. Alloway turned out to be a lovely village, as you’ll see tomorrow.

Burns Supper

Did you go out to a Burns Supper or did you have a quiet one at home? It’s absolutely donkey’s years since we went to a real Burns Supper but I always have haggis, neeps and tatties on January the 25th. So feast your eyes. If you can see it through the steam!

Haggis for Burns Night

Well, maybe not. Haggis is not the most appetising of foods and it doesn’t do to dwell too much on the ingredients, but this haggis is a vegetarian one, much more pleasant all round and it tastes much the same as the real thing.

So we had a quiet night in. What about you, were you addressing the haggis – or just eating it?