Monday, 27 August 2012


Some books are to be tasted, some digested, some put aside after only a few pages.  However once in while a book along comes that demands immediate re-reading... and this is definitely one:  The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Wall.
Having just finished it I now want to take my time and go through it again.  There are many levels of interest (which is what I like in a book).  The book is basically a memoir - it is not a novel -  of one man about his family.  It reads easily which is surprising as the subject matter deals with big topics of history and emotional upheaval.

The title is taken from a small figure carved out of ivory.  What is it? Why was it made and by whom?  It is a piece of Japanese netsuke or carved figure used as a toggle on a cord to hold household keys or perhaps a purse of money.  But that is just a detail.  A collection of these little figures forms the basis for this story, i.e. the writer inherited a collection of these and in the book he follows the trail of where these figures arrived in his family and by what means and what happens to them.  The trail goes to Paris, Vienna and Tokyo and we are taken through periods of history as seen through the fortunes (and there were vast fortunes) and misfortunes of this wealthy family.

Netsuke I do not have nor covet. Things Japanaise have never attracted me as they did Europeans in mid to late 19th century Europe.  However looking at my dish that is a repository for my keys I am aware that I can make one small nod in the direction of a netsuke-wannabe by way of a chestnut ("conker" as they say here) which I made as a sort of key-ring.  I made a hole in the conker and put a piece of string through it to attach the front door key. My 'netsuke' is shiny from use and is about the size he is talking about.

So on one level that is what the story is about ... but that is just handle on which he addresses many other themes.  One such theme is aesthetics.


The original collection of netsuke the author inherited was started by one of his relatives a few generation back (i.e. his great-great-uncle Charles Ephrussi) and, as the story unfolds, we learn that he is the man in the black frock coat and top hat in this Renoir painting called Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880.

The first part of the book is about Paris salon life in 1880s as seen through this man's role as a leading art collector and editor of Gazette des Beaux-arts.  (Furthermore, it seems he was the model for Charles Swann in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.)

The book is full of these sort of references and relationships, i.e. artists and paintings that we can recognize. Therefore in the book we are given one particular point of view which relates to the stories surrounding these artists. 

So I am going to take my time with my iPhone handy to look at images of the paintings referred to and also look up words!  The web has lots of material relating to the subject matter in the book. I even discovered the National Gallery has produced a rather large version of this book which includes images. The Gallery shop that sells it is  here.    

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


Our broadband router box has packed up so as I cannot use my computer to do a post for today I am going to use my iPhone by way of a test.

This photo of Alastair happens to be on my iPhone.

Iain had a laugh yesterday with Alastair. Iain gave him my broken kitchen timer to take apart. He told him to take out the 4 screws holding the inner bit. Alastair said "No. You do it and if you have any trouble come and get me." !!!

Monday, 20 August 2012


I finally finished painting the garage door.   Given my first choice I would rather make a bold statement in the form of a Marimekko print like this:

However I curtail myself to doing a Farrow and Ball paint swatch selection.  So here it is: 5 colours ... and I rather like it.  (This is my Mark II garage door, i.e. years ago I painted our CVD garage door 4 shades of green.  I got the idea for that door from a wind turbine I saw when in Denmark.)

Of course, it raises the more interesting question: is it art?

Well if you take one definition of "art" as anything with a frame around it, it could be, indeed, a work of art!

Sunday, 19 August 2012


The boat is back!  Iain has been away for a week with Alec in the Outer Isles.  They returned to Crinan Basin after a good week's sailing having locked in early this morning. As we keep the boat in Bowling Basin we are allowed to have her berthing in the canal as the two canals are all part of British Waterways.

I collected them this morning after a lovely drive along Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne.

A couple of shots here of Seol na Mara otherwise known to us familiarly as 'The Banana'.

 Here is the winding gear, still there after many years.  I have memories of this piece of equipment: Alastair, aged about 10 years old, got his finger caught in between the small and large gear (right side).  His right centre fingernail still grows with a dent in it!

Friday, 17 August 2012


When we were on holiday in Orkney this summer the children greatly enjoyed having bunk-beds to sleep in.  It was Ishie on the top and Alastair on the bottom.

Occasionally if they woke early I would get up and go into the kitchen where we could close the door and let everyone else get another hour in bed.  Being an early riser I am quite happy sitting with a cup of tea while they play.

On one such morning in our accommodation at Bisgeos, Westray I was in the kitchen making porridge...

Thursday, 16 August 2012


Alastair and Dawn celebrated Indy's first birthday earlier this week.  Although he was born August 4th last year they delayed a wee birthday party in order to give him a better chance to enjoy all the cake and one candle (which he is holding in his hand).

He is now cruising around the furniture, exploring all around him (including the dog's dish when he gets a chance) and starting to say a few words.

Born with a retinoblastoma in his left eye (which was removed last November) he is still fighting cancer which is in his right eye.  The tumor is small, not getting bigger, but not going away.  Although  he has had it zapped using laser treatment it was decided to start some chemotherapy. To this end he had the first session in July (photo above) and has just finished his second. 

In the sidebar there is a photo of him which, if you click on the "Indy" photo itself, takes you to his website giving a diary of his progress.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


School has started again in our part of the world.  This is earlier than most other countries.  Also children start school aged 4 years old.

Here are Ishie, aged 5 and a half going into Primary 2 and Alastair, aged 4 and a half, starting for the first time in Primary 1. He has already had 2 days of orientation visits earlier this year.  Also he has been to Nursery and Playgroup so is very familiar with group drills and activities.  (It is harder for children perhaps in rural areas who haven't been through the pre-school forms of collective 'education'.)  Also their little friends from either Nursery or Playgroup are there in the playground waiting for them.

Mairi, who accompanied Alastair on his first day (actually it is half days for the first 6 weeks), took this photo on her iPhone.  He seems to have settled in OK; eventually he turned to her and said "You can go now Mum"!

Monday, 13 August 2012


Fifty years ago this past week, at the Edinburgh Festival, the Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson presented Dmitri Shostakovich with his large scale piano work entitled Passacaglia on DSCH. [1]  To mark this anniversary there was a concert held last Friday at the Cathedral of the Isles in Millport (an island in the Clyde opposite Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland).

The composition is 80 minutes long and there are no breaks.  It is often dissonant and very percussive, i.e. at one point the composer states that the fists should be used on the keyboard.  Not for the faint-hearted ... but fortunately I was able to learn all about the piece before the performance.  Richard Black had the stamina for the job and Alastair Chisholm, the organiser of the programme, turned the (141!) pages. The whole thing, of course, was terrific! 

Passacaglia means, literally, to 'walk the street' - pronounced 'passa kal eya'.  It comes from Spanish. (More familiar is pasodoble, the bullfight music meaning to 'walk double'.)   It is used as a piece of music which starts with a ground bass and then makes lots of variations using the original motif.) [2]

There is a full video performance (71:17 minutes)  by Mark Gasser on UTube here.  It gives full sound as well as page by page sheet music. Then there is information about the composer on the Ronald Stevenson Society website here.


 [1] The letters DSCH stand for Dmitri Shostakovich to whom the work is dedicated.   When using German notation the DSCH letters become  D, E Flat, C and B natural.

[2] Lower photo is John Albiston's photo of the Cloisters at Glasgow University taken August 2012.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


A new word has come into the family vocabulary.  The story is this: when we were all on holiday in Orkney sometimes one or other of us took Alastair, or possibly Ishie, out for a wee walk usually by way of diversion to give us all peace!  It was never a very onerous task as this often meant simply wandering along some path turning over stones looking for creepy-crawlies or collecting shells and the like.

One feature of this activity when I was heading off with them was that we never knew where we were going to go.  And as often as not I would engage them in the decision, e.g. left or right? over a fence? through a gate? etc.  Invariably we were away for ages and came back from these "adventures" full of stories of what we had seen.

Well, on this particular day in Westray Alastair and Ishie were fretting so John suggested "Right.  Let's go on an adventure! We'll all walk down to the castle (about a mile away)". This was met with absolute outrage from Alastair!  He howled and howled and finally declared "But that's not an 'inventure' because you're telling us where we are going!"

I had to stop and think about this!  Yes ... quite right!


Mairi, Alastair and Grandpa heading off to Noltland Castle in Westray.

 Rackwick Beach

 Scapa Flow museum moving ships on the battle planning table in the museum.

 Rackwick in the tidal pools.  Check the blue crocs on his feet!

 Grandpa showing him the working of a steam engine in Scapa Flow museum.

Monday, 6 August 2012


I had a chance meeting whilst on holiday in Orkney. One morning in Pierowall I had to kill some time while I waited for the shops to open.  When I alighted from the bus that was taking everyone else to the ferry I fell into conversation with a lady standing at her gate saying goodbye to her guest boarding the same bus. "Where could I go for an hour?" I asked her.  "Come in to our house and wait" she said.

Pierowall by the harbour.

She and her husband very kindly offered me a cup of tea and some of her home-made oatcakes (very impressive as I have tried making these and never had success).  

I spent a very pleasant hour with them before heading off to make enquiries about someone I was trying locate in Peirowall.  They were very helpful in my search and I .... eventually ... made contact.

However, as we chatted I learned that these good folks are involved in writing and performing music.  Their style is sometimes gospel, sometimes country and western in flavour and sometimes rock music ... or a combination of all three.  They had recently produced a CD "Hardship and Hope" which can be seen on their website here.  This Orcadian singer/songwriter on the CD is Michael Harcus. The harmonies are done by his wife Teenie and/or a friend Mairi Warren, from Glasgow, who also plays piano.

As this CD was recorded both in Westray, Orkney and Nashville, Tennessee I have pulled together a couple of my photos that show the Orkney side of the one thing Orkney and Tennessee might have in common: fences!

Sunday, 5 August 2012


Papa Westray in the northernmost latitude of the Orkney Isles happens to be well-known because there is a small plane service to this little island. The airport in neighbouring Westray, the bigger of the two adjacent islands, is a couple of minutes flight away.

We visited Papa Westray on a day trip using the regular twice a day ferry.  Don't try to book a flight, even in advance.  There are only 8 seats and you will find they are taken by the dentist, the nurse or the nice young lady from the Kirkwall Bank who are taking up the seats.

These are the Knap of Howar stone houses. Historic Scotland states: they are "probably the oldest standing stone houses in north-west Europe, dating from the early Neolithic period.... are approximately rectangular, with stone cupboards and stalls. Contemporary with the chambered tombs of Orkney.  Grid reference - HY 483 519."  John, Mairi and Ishie are standing inside.

This cairn is on the shore on the northwest side of Papa Westray. It forms one half of a leading line for mariners.
These waters form the north end of Papa Westray and it is here that the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.  Next stop is the Shetland Islands.  The turquoise water on the western side was stunning!

Watching us watching him was a grey seal as we walked along the beach here.  John's photo.

On the cliff edge it was easy to spot the puffins on the ledges below us. John's photo.

There was plenty of archaeological interest on Papa Westray but none more so that this Russian truck! Purchased in Poland it was loaded up with household goods and driven to Orkney from south of France in a flitting (moving house).  It was cheaper than hiring a moving company.  That there is no roll-on/roll-off ferry to Papa Westray proved not to be a deterrent.  Everything comes off by crane including long-range lorries!

Friday, 3 August 2012


On the north coast of the Orkney Isles is the Noup Head Lighthouse.  We stayed a couple of miles from it and enjoyed fine weather with multiple opportunities to get some great photos at various times of the day.

As the light began to go the the late summer evening John went along to the lighthouse and took these absolutely stunning photos.


(Very Turner-esque! Note that the lighthouse is visible in the bottom right corner.)

This last shot is mine ... just to give the idea of the structure.

Thursday, 2 August 2012


Of the group of islands comprising the Orkney Isles, Westray (and Papa Westray) are the most northerly. We spent a week there and were greatly taken with the island.

We stayed at a very well-built holiday accommodation called Bis Geos which was a couple miles north of the main harbour town of Pierowall on the road to Noup Head lighthouse.

The vista was stunning as we watched the weather systems rolling in.  The large conservatory in the front of the house was well appointed and cosy. The garden at the side and back was also nicely planted and cared for.

Everywhere you go in Orkney there are tractors. Here is the man from Noup Farm plowing the field in front of the house.

Bis Geos  is a rock formation on the coast where there is a deep cleft in the coastal edge.  These are John's photos above showing the geological formation down at the water's edge.