Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Being a Kard-Kinda Person and also a Tea-Drinker, it was lovely to receive both from Mairi yesterday! The ledge to the left of my desk where the computer is mounted now has the Spring Sunshine pouring through the window every day!

The clocks have now been put forward an hour and the days are definitely warming up! Oh how I do like this time of year! No matter what I have bee doing, I always feel at this time of year that it has been "A Long Winter"!

This glass Whale's Fin sits on the ledge to my right. Light through glass intrigues me. I love the swirls in it! How do they make this stuff? Maybe some day I will go to Murano and find out!

In the meantime, I will content myself with exploring the colours which is the reason it caught my eye in the first place. (I don't recall where or when I bought it; it is not Murano!)

This bit of mosaic 'art' is a Mairi-Creation! This is the bath at Dunira and I love it! Look at its Clyde-built taps and the enormous vertical plug!

Mairi has a helpful note in place! And if, like me you get mixed up with your clockwise and your anticlockwise, you could always watch the water swirling down the plug-hole!

Sunday, 29 March 2009


John took this photo in Ayrshire last week. I am not sure of the location. Perhaps early morning on the River Girvan? I really like it! So different from his other outdoor photos!

It made me wonder "Is this not a fine example of 'chiaroscuro'?

I always understood the word to be related to light and dark. In English we use the Italian word to express this rather enigmatic term. It means light-dark. (In French it is clair-obscur.)

The word is mainly associated, and, indeed, comes from, the world of painting. It is to do with the artistic distribution of light and dark in a picture; how light (and dark) are used for dramatic effect.

I see that there is even a sub-category called 'landscape chiaroscuro'. This is by Jan Both called Italianate Landscape with Travellers (1646).

It was Rembrandt (and also Caravaggio* among others) who developed this special use of light in his painting. Indeed, there is a technique called 'Rembrandt lighting' which the above self-portrait illustrates.

There is an illuminated triangle under the eye, on the less illuminated side of the face. One side of the face is lit well from the main light source while the other side of the face uses the interaction of shadows and light, also known as chiaroscuro, to create this geometric form on the face.

In paintings dark subjects were dramatically lit by a shaft of light from a single constricted and often unseen source. The painting above is A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery' by Joseph Wright of Derby (1766). It depicts a public lecture about a model solar system using a lamp.

Film-makers (and photographers) use chiaroscuro to indicate extreme low-key lighting in order to create distinct areas of light and darkness, especially when working in monochrome.

And for my fans ... well one fan, at least:

Pioneering movie director Cecil B. DeMille is credited with the first use of the term chiaroscuro. He explained in his autobiography that while shooting The Warrens of Virginia in 1915 he borrowed some portable spotlights from the Mason Opera House in downtown Los Angeles and “began to make shadows where shadows would appear in nature.”

When business partner Sam Goldwyn saw the film with only half an actor’s face illuminated, he feared the exhibitors would pay only half the price for the picture. After DeMille told him it was Rembrandt lighting, “Sam’s reply was jubilant with relief: for Rembrandt lighting the exhibitors would pay double!”


* Why many of Caravagio's subjects were left-handed is looked at in light (oops... sorry about the pun ...) of his dramatic 'chiaroscuro' style of light and shadow. It was based on "a whole set of techniques that are the basis of photography"! Here.

All fine art photos are in the public domain.

Saturday, 28 March 2009


John took this wonderful photo last week when on the Ayrshire coast (Scotland). I love the colour of this wooden clinker boat which, on this side, is called Ballantrae. I think the boat name is actually Margaret and Ballantrae, from the BA253 port registration, is her home port (also in Ayrshire, south of Girven).

Ballantrae in Scotland is a very small town but the name for many people is known, and probably only known, because it is the title of one of Robert Louis Stevenson's novels, The Master of Ballantrae. Set in Scotland in 1745, it is a tale of 2 brothers who become caught up in many adventures as they feud over which one of them will be the first to join Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion. It is all about sibling rivalry and greed, and, to me, unreadable!

However, there is one small bit of it that interests me. I found the book on the internet* and there is a most interesting Dedication at the beginning:

"The Dedication

To Sir Percy Florence**[Shelley] and Lady Shelley

Here is a tale which extends over many years and travels into many countries. By a peculiar fitness of circumstances the writer began, continued it, and concluded it among distant and diverse scenes. Above all, he was much upon the sea. The character and fortune of the fraternal enemies, the hall and shrubbery of Durrisdeer, the problem of Mackellar's home-spun and how to shape it for superior flights; these were his company on deck in mnay star-relfecting harbours, ran often in his mind at sea to the tune of slatting canvas and were dismissed (something of the suddenest) on the approach of the squalls. It is my hope that these surroundings of its manufacture may to some degree find favour for my story with seafarers and sealovers like yourselves.

And at least here is a dedication from a great way off: written by the loud shores of a subtropical island near upon ten thousand miles from Boscombe Chine and Manor [P F Shelley's sea-side home on south-west coast of England]; scenes which rise before me as I write, along the faces and voices of my friends.

Well, I am for the sea once more; no doubt Sir Percy also. Let us make the signal B.R.D.!


Waikiki, May 17th, 1889."

Now this is the chap for whom the dedication is intended. This image* is a Vanity Fair cartoon of Sir Percy Florence Shelley in the ‘Men of the Day’ series. Headed ‘The Poet’s son’, part of the caption reads: ‘But he delights above all in yachting and in private theatricals...'.

My question is: what does the signal B.R.D. mean?

In this article from the New York Times, June 4, 1894, the circled sentence above states "...when the Atalanta cleared the point of the [Sandy] Hook the signal-code flags standing for the letter Q S D, indicating the single work "success" were hoisted. This was responded to from the natty craft, and a second signal B R D, meaning "good-bye" was hoisted. The Atalanta also answered this and spec on her course."

It refers to signal flags above. However I notice the following semaphore sequence: B is on the left, D is centre and F is on the right. I'm probably - forgive the pun - way off the beam here!

In fact, I might be better to call this blog Off-the-Beam ... as opposed to Off-at-a-Tangent!

* Book is here.

** Only surviving child of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley - Frankenstein author. P F Shelley died Dec 5, 1889; his wife Jane, 1899.]

*** Source is here.

Friday, 27 March 2009



I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield (1878-1967)

Photo by son-in-law, John, taken last week while in Ayrshire (west of Scotland). The view is of Ailsa Craig, a conical rock of an island in the mouth of the Clyde. Stunning photo!

Thursday, 26 March 2009


Things never happen for ages and then it all happens at once!

This is a letter - a card, actually - I am a kard-kinda person - and this photo* forms the front of the card.

I have signed up with a group of internet folk who are going to work together, following a book called The Artist's Way. (More on this anon.) On setting this up, I noticed that I started this blog exactly 2 years ago!

Now, I have been jogging along quite happily creating my bits and pieces and virtually never get comments (well, actually, my family occasionally do). However, things are now changing. Not only have I found a few folk of similar interests but they - well, one - has found me!

To that end, I have taken the step of putting my email address in the sidebar. Believe it or not, but I only figured out how to do it (i.e. in order to avoid spam) by writing and re-writing this letter!

I use a Mac and am never bothered with junk or spam. Maybe that will change but for the moment I am going to see if all of this works as smoothly as it has in the past.

To conclude:

[1] Thank you for your comments.

[2] I am now going to put place-names and locations in a bit more as I am aware that there are people reading who will not have read past posts. There's a thought: maybe I should get a map of Scotland and put it in the sidebar as well!


* I took the photo yesterday at Ross Priory, which is the University of Strathclyde's country 'residence' on the south end of Loch Lomond, near the village of Gartocharn, Scotland.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Time to touch down with the babes! Iain and I did a bit of Granny and Grandpa Duty and had a chance to spend some time with wee Alastair (13 months and walking) and Ishie (27 months).

It is great to have a built-in story-person especially when it comes to bedtime. I have been bringing along my Richard Scarry books but the kids are still a bit too young. Ah well, I have that to look forward to!

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star are the all-time favourites, closely followed by Jingle Bells. It is good practice for me to play things off-by-heart. I really must work on this some more as I very seldom do it (and therefore when it comes to ceilidhs it is a great handicap).

The best time of the day!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


This follows on from yesterday's post and it is about this man, Lord Melville, Baron Dunira. He was a very, very powerful man: a Scottish lawyer who rose to many high political posts during his life (1745 - 1811).

Because he was Treasurer of the Navy and then, later, First Lord of the Admiralty (1804) his name and his geographic associations (Dunira, Perthshire) have come to be used as place names around the world. All this was done in the early days of exploration when the British Admiralty were sending ships to navigate and chart the seas and coastline in far flung places on the globe.

None was more far away than the west coast of British Columbia! Yes, I know it now the centre of the universe, but in the late 17th and early 18th century these chaps went out - willingly! - to drop lead lines overboard and put little marks on large pieces of paper spread out on chart tables. (I note in passing that these marks were very accurate - like, I mean, the rocks don't move! - and remain in use today.)

Anyhow ... what interested me was not that there are Melville Islands in various parts of the world named after this fellow (e.g. Arctic, Australia), but that there is an interesting group of islands off the north-west coast of British Columbia with place names associated with Lord Melville.

These islands are 4 in number and are related to yesterday's post (see above or go back one day).

I guess unless you are a fisherman (see here) you wouldn't normally visit this part of the world.

Be that as it may, here is the story of how they got their name:

The island and its archipelago were named in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver in honour of the Rt. Hon. Henry Dundas (1742-1811), Treasurer of the Navy, 1783-1801, who was created Viscount Melville in 1802 and also Baron Dunira. The Dundas islands were originally perceived by Vancouver to be one island, named by him Dundas's Island.

Among the smaller islands of the group (south of Dundas Island) are Baron Island, Dunira Island, Melville Island and other small islands and islets on the west side of Chatham Sound.

Dundas Island is lat. 54°33'47" and long. 130°52'22" (W side of Chatham Sound just NW of Prince Rupert).

Monday, 23 March 2009


A very pleasant walk from our base at Dunira takes one to a prominent monument on the hill behind Comrie. Here it is midst the Forestry plantation which now surrounds it. (Ordnance Survey Reference NN7623.)

The inscription reads:


Died 29th May 1811

Aged 69

Upon reading some background about this chap, the building of this monument (erected in 1812) seems quite extraordinary! First there is the man, then there is the story, late in his life, of his disgrace by impeachment.

He was a Scottish lawyer and politician who lived from 1742-1811. From 1794 to 1801 he was War Secretary under Pitt, his great friend. In 1802 he was elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom as Viscount Melville and Baron Dunira. From 1784–1800 he was treasurer of the British navy. In 1804 he was First Lord of the Admiralty (for one year). Apparently he was of indispensable value to Pitt, and became his right-hand man as well as his friend and drinking companion.

However it seems he was "at it". Suspicion had arisen as to the financial management of the Admiralty, of which Dundas had been treasurer between 1782 [sic] and 1800. In 1802 a commission of inquiry was appointed to look into the "malversation" (which means misconduct in public office; corrupt administration) by Lord Melville.

A Google Book Search found this book in the Bodlean Library, Oxford. Lord Melville was impeached and this is the story. There is a Preface which doesn't mince words, followed by a full report:

The Trial, by Impeachment, of Henry Lord Viscount Melville, for High Crimes and Misdemeanors before the House of Peers in Westminster Hall, between the 29th April and the 17th May, 1806.

To which is prefixed A SKETCH of the Life and Politcal Character of his Lordship [etc etc etc], London, 1806.

Preface opens with: "In this volume the public is presented with the progress and result of an important enquiry into the conduct of a nobleman, who having held the most dignified offices of the state, was impeached by the House of Commons, for corruption in the administration of the public money."

It goes on: "At the period when... auditing the public accounts of the kingdom...it appears, that the sum of these accounts, unexamined and unexplained, composes an amount more enormous than the whole national debt ... [where] upwards of 150 millions sterling were circulated under the administration of Lord Melville....".

- Does all of this ring a bell?!!!! -

It makes interesting reading:

"When, in 1804, Mr. Pitt was called to the helm, his faithful friend and assistant, Lord Melville, received the important appointment of first lord of the admiralty; a post which, however, he was not long to hold. From his first entrance into public life, he had enjoyed without interruption the smiles of fortune, but now a political cloud, in the shape of the Tenth Report of the Commissioners of the Naval Enquiry, intervened, to throw a gloom over his future prospects.

This commission for the enquiry into abuses in the naval department of the public service, had been instituted at the instigation of his lordship's immediate predecessor, the Earl of St Vincent. It was composed of five gentlemen ... who found it necessary to call upon Lord Melville and the Paymaster of the Navy, Mr. Trotter, for information relative to various sums of money, of the application of which, during the treasurership of the former [Lord Melville] they could find no account....."

He was acquitted but was found to be negligent.

* * * * * *

In 1802 (following the erection of a statue to Pitt (by subscription) friends of Mr Dundas in Edinburgh raised £3,000 by subscription for the purpose of erecting a statue in his honour "and which sum was placed at interest to accumulate till his demise."

I thought that might be what funded this obelisk, but I now think it must be for the one erected in Edinburgh which I just happen to have referred to here (in another post) which refers to Jamie Stoddart's Clerk-Maxwell statue unveiling in George Street, Edinburgh in November 2008.
That is Viscount Melville on the plinth in St Andrew's Square in the background of the photo.



[1] There is a second post on this topic adjacent to this i.e. scroll up.

[2] The letter "BT" or "bt" in the inscription (after Baron Dunira) bothers me. I don't think I am seeing that correctly. Could it be "&c"?

[3] Thank you for comments! I do read (and post) them!

Sunday, 22 March 2009


We have now returned from a wonderful short break in Perthshire! Spring suddenly arrived mid-week and we were in the right place and the right time! We stayed here at Mairi and John's place and were joined by one set of friends from Inverness and another set from Burnt Island on the east coast.

We walked in the Lost Garden on the estate where the snowdrops are now going over and the daffodils are emerging. Iain prepared the evening meals and we spent the evening swapping stories in front of the fire. Previous photos of Dunira are here and here (on this blog). More photos in another post.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009


Tomorrow we are heading off to Perthshire (Dunira) for a few days to join friends. Thinking about provisions made me head for Ardgarten Farm (with shop and plants) which is sprucing itself up for the new season.

As soon as I parked I noticed that there is a polytunnel arrangement made for what could be called The Maternity Ward.

Here is the new mother with 4 (!) newborns. (I assume they are all hers.) Her offspring do not follow the Mendelian Ratio of 1 black, 1 white and 2 khaki. Come to think of it, I do not know the breed of the father.

Outside is bursting into spring. That field has the ewes awaiting their turn in the tunnel.

The upper field is the Nursery Area. The wee lambs were gambolling (frisking, frolicking) which I see comes from Latin gamba - leg; also Italian - to kick. (In Scotland ham is commonly known as gammon.)

And herself will probably produce lots of little piglets in her own good time. Meanwhile, she came over and said to me "Where's your friend Piggy, the Rocky Mountaineer? How's he - oink - doin' these days?"

Sunday, 15 March 2009


The next issue of the yacht club newsletter is finshed and ready to go to the printers. Being somewhat stuck for a masthead I cobbled this together using Photoshop.

Iain took the photo of the mountains behind Loch Leven, and the Ballachullish bridge. There was no boat in the original photo. I used a photo of this lovely ship, taken by D Beaton, a yacht club member, and scaled it down. Then I dragged and dropped it into the water placing it against the faraway shore. Wonderful fun this technology!

Saturday, 14 March 2009


The ceilidh was held in a Victorian building in Alexandria. Built to house girls who worked in the Turkey Red Dye Factory in the late 19th century, it was turned into a Masonic Hall in the 1920's and still functions as that. The original building is of red sandstone and has much fine stone carving, many of which are sayings exhorting women to lead a virtuous, hard-working life.

What is of greater interest are the murals. They line the entrance hall and are above the west (very large) fireplace. Here they are.

They were painted by this chap: Harrington Mann. He is a Glasgow born painter who studied art at Glasgow School of Art, and at the Slade School of Art in London. He lived from 1865-1937. I think the date below is 1891. He seems to have done a lot of portrait work later on especially of children. He died in USA.

I cannot find out much about him except that he figures in James McNeill Whistler's letters (another Glasgow artist) and that his (Mann's) mother tried to get Whistler to help her sell some of her son's paintings.

Here is the central part of her letter:

"I have taken in hand to raise 400 guineas by the sale of an album of sketches - & I fear that I won't succeed unless I get a few very important names - Will the Master deign to give me a few [p. 2] strokes from his magic pencil & then I will be safe?

I take the liberty of sending you by same post, a booklet - newly published - the joint production of my son & myself. It takes only one hour to read & tho' the Scotch may puzzle you, even tho' you be a McNeill, I hope it will amuse you, sometime [p. 3] perhaps when travelling."

Monday, 9 March 2009


Today is Monday which means it is Granny Duty Day. Having arrived at 8:15 am I parked my car in its usual place on the hard standing.

However, just before 10 am Ishie and I had a visitor: this 'runaway' white van rolled down the hill from its parked position up at the top of Carseview Drive where building work is going on, and lodged itself on the fence between us and the next door neighbour!

I was inside the house sorting Ishie's hair when heard what I thought was a ladder falling. I looked out to see this van in extremely close proximity to my car!

That it did not roll farther, i.e. into the front door of No. 14 is due entirely, it seems to me, to the fact that the fence, designed by Iain and built by Mast and Rigging, is 'Clyde Built' and did the business!

A tangled mess of horizontal rigging but not a scratch on the car! With some difficulty they extricated the van and cut away the damaged stainless steel.

The bang and the mess didn't shake me; what might have happened did. Ishie and I were all dressed to go out to Tesco's and the library. I got as far as the porch when - the hinge of fate? - I turned back because I decided to tidy Ishie's curls which were falling in her eyes. I did not go up to the car at that particular moment .... I try not to think about it.

So how was your day?

Sunday, 8 March 2009


We had a great night in the Masonic Hall in Alexandria on the occasion of the Scottish Mountaineering Club Burns Ceilidh. Curly Ross is crucial to the staging of this event as well as to the culture of it!

He and his band - Glenhoulachan Midgie Club Ceilidh Band website here - were in great form and are on the stage in the background. (Unfortunately photos of Curly & Co. are unusable!)

The pick of the bunch is Andrew and Louise half-way down the hall in the Orkney Strip-the-Willow!

The Canadian Barn Dance with Iain and Maggie in the right foreground. May I say, in case you didn't know, this is a dance that has never seen the light of day in Canada. Why the name? I have no idea, but it is an all-time favourite. (It is very embarassing for Canadians, especially Canadian visitors, as they get dragged on to the floor, absolutely clueless as to what to do!)

There's no show without Punch, as they say, and here he is in the hall warming up his pipes for an Eightsome Reel as the penultimate dance of the evening.

This Eightsome circle, with Iain on the stage in the background, has one figure in it of interest to me. It's the young lad in the pink tie. As a kid he was always brought along on weekend meets by Mum and Dad. He was the youngest of 4 (I think). Anyhow, my memory of him is on the occasion of Iain's last Munro in 1993. He was about 9 years old. As usual, our Intrepid Leader (and on this occasion, everyone else) were ahead. He and I found ourselves as Tail End Charlies approaching the top of Ben Fhionnlaidh. [See here. Click on the blue mountain symbol and also the satellite link!]

Anyhow, where was I?! The others (50 or so) must have been near the top as this lad and I made our way up snow steps. More's the point: there was not a soul in sight. (That is a situation I do not like...) And, as usual, my thoughts were once again ... "Don't think about it .... Just one more - or maybe a hundred? - 'steam pudding' hump(s) to get over; the top had to be up there somewhere!"

Saturday, 7 March 2009


Louise, Anne, Maggie and I had a wonderful Ladies Who Lunch get-together today. Ann was chauffeusse and drove us to Braidwoods in Ayrshire. Oh my, what a lovely, serene, discreet luncheon venue! As I was disinclined to snap photos of the white table cloth which held sparkling cyrstal and a glass vase of fresh freesia sprigs, the website reference will have to do here.

It is owned and run by husband and wife, Keith and Nicola Braidwood, and is One Star Michelin rated. It has been like this for a while and I can see why. Spotless in decor and on the utilitarian side, flawless in service and, last but not least, the food said it all - 10 out 10! They use local ingredients of which there are many in Ayrshire and the outer reaches of Scotland. We quaffed a bottle of Chilean Carmeniere and drove home happy, resolved to do this sort of thing again!

Meanwhile back at the ranch, these photos give a little of the local scenery.

There are roadworks going on along the link road to Loch Lomond. While sitting in the queque the other day I watched the sun setting on this farm on the brae. Glen Fruin is behind, to the north.

David Deans drives his fish van all the way from the east coast every Thursday. We are therefore doubly served in Helensburgh both with his mobile service and the local fish shop.

However, what tends to happen on Thursdays is that the various neighbours emerge, especially if it has been foul weather, and congregate at the van. Here is Barbara, from upstairs, getting fish from David's son who was 'helping' his dad today.