curiosity about the ways of the world

Category: Diary (Page 1 of 17)

The warm heart of the Hidden Gardens

“Where would you like to start?”  The question, presented with a smile, is a good one. Looking at the map I’ve just been handed there’s plenty temptation. The Hidden Gardens of Kingsbarns offer no fewer than ten gardens open to visitors ready to explore nooks and crannies of this handsome village.  But the tantalising trail is just part of a remarkable story which winds a long way back.

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The Pond Garden in June

Blue skies again. Sunshine sparkling on the pond. A friendly breeze ruffles new leaves and turns the wind turbine merrily. What kind of killjoy would complain about the promise of yet another glorious summer day?

It does seem perverse. How often have I moaned about waking to endless cold, wet midsummer days? Now, we open the door to Mediterranean mornings – it feels heavenly but strangely disturbing. Heavenly if only it wasn’t for daily visions of hellishly soaring temperatures elsewhere. And is there another heatwave on our own horizon?

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Sunset song for the winter solstice

The winter sun just hangs over the ridge of the Coolags. Its setting will seal the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. At this season the sun is a pale wick between two gulfs of darkness.

So wrote George Mackay Brown, the observant eye of the great Orkney poet seeking out the touch of magic conjured up by the Neolithic architects who created Maeshowe with hard-hewn rock and a knowing eye on the heavens. Continue reading

Ghosts of census past and present

Thursday 17 March 2022.  Approaching Census night the old kitchen has the look of a Victorian museum, or maybe a low budget costume drama.  Granny’s white cotton nighties hang in front of the shiny black range. Crisp and cool to the touch, they are the very devil to iron.

These are things of impressive though now impractical beauty and I rediscovered them during one of those lockdown cupboard clear-outs of 2020.  On impulse, I dug them out again to spruce them up in time for our Scottish Census 2021 – postponed because of Covid.  Removing the creases and wrinkles from yards and yards of best cotton, tackling the finicky fine tucks and broderie anglaise round the neckline, I’m thankful for the steam iron.  A Victorian maid standing in the old scullery (more or less where I am typing now) would have been applying flat irons heated on the coal-fired range, and no doubt listening out for the bells summoning servants to other tasks in grander parts of the house. Let’s call on Elizabeth…

Ironing granny's nightie: Fay Young
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Origins, borders and vexed questions of identity

Who the hell am I? Neither one thing nor another, I realised three years ago, presenting my brand-new Irish passport at a border check for the first time.  It’s actually not a bad state to be in, but it highlights the terrible destructive carelessness of Boris Johnson’s Brexit and the awful harm a new hard border could conjure out of the boggy landscape of Ireland.

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Winter into Spring

It’s a turning point. For so long it seems a teasing fantasy, a few brave buds on some hopeful trees and shrubs, a cheery blackbird outside the bedroom window greeting an earlier sunrise. Then suddenly there’s no doubt. Whatever the weather, Spring is here and this year it brings an unexpected new season to Pond Cottage.

Video by Tommy Perman, music Paddy’s Burn by Tommy, Morgan Szymanski
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All will be well: songs and poems for covid-safe new year

It all went quiet and a vision appeared
With a rose in her hair and a ring in her ear
And she says “Buenos Dias boys, this looks like the place”

Doors open. Lights sparkle, glasses clink, friends laugh, music plays, singers sing, dancers dance. Fear not, this Covid-safe celebration is all in the mind.  

Well, how else would Frida Kahlo arrive in the Tay Bridge Bar?

One day soonish I’m going to get on the train across the silvery Forth and Tay, to Dundee, swing a left at the V&A and head for the Tay Bridge Bar.  I’ve wanted to visit ever since I heard Michael Marra’s song and read about the picture of Frida Kahlo that hangs in the bar.  Sadly I didn’t make it during the few years that my young family lived in the city and we sat with our grandchildren in a café right across the street from the bar.  Twenty twenty one will be the year.

But let’s not wait. Songs and poems can cross many thresholds of time and place, confront demons outside and within, tap deep wells of sorrow and joy.  Chosen on a whim and with a little chance discovery thrown in for good measure, here is the Sceptical Scot poetry selection for Christmas and New Year, slightly updated for my own blog. I hope you enjoy it . 

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