Friday, 19 May 2017

OF MICE AND . . . BIRDS

If there's one thing I really enjoy every day it's feeding the wildlife in my garden. This week has been particularly fun with an abundance of sightings, but not just in the garden.

We're just getting into warmer temperatures now, and on Wednesday of this week it was warm enough to sit out in the garden and have breakfast. So I purposely fed the birds before sitting down to quietly eat my muesli. I never have to wait long. Sometimes I don't even make it up the back steps into the house before the Starlings descend. Energetically they hoovered up the mealworms in just a few seconds, pecking each other out of the way, before moving on to my neighbour Pauline's garden for a second course. We have one particular Starling, which I've noticed perches on a particular branch, which is a perfect mimic of other birds, and even the crying of a neighbour's baby!

Then came nature's announcement that summer had arrived, as several screeching birds swooped down through the garden at unbelievable speed. The Swifts had returned!

The Sparrows are comical, almost like unruly teenagers, lazily hanging around my garden all day, making a racket that seems like they are gossiping with each other, whilst enjoying the safety of cover, usually in the dense ivy or fir tree. The ivy though is starting to get quickly out of hand as it has literally burst into rapid growth in need of a slight rim I think otherwise I'm soon not going to be able to get down to the garden to feed the wildlife.


Most of the birds are now starting to perch inside the birch as it reaches full leaf, so that provides a better opportunity to see them. On this particular morning I realised there were more than the usual number of Sparrows, when it dawned on me that I was watching new fledglings. That was a great treat.

The blackbird hangs around most of the day as well, and his song is a joy at the end of every day. Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Crows, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Magpies; all visitors in that breakfast time period.

The other "wildlife" in my garden habitat are two field mice. The have their own corners and are quite bold. Unusually they are out during the day, and one very small one, a picture of who ends this blog, seems unphased by my presence, and sometimes even sits atop a pot while I put food out, patiently waiting. I do worry about him, as though I have a pretty good fence all around, a persistent cat of a neighbour occasionally gets in. On Thursday this week I spotted it, slinking away slowly. Slowly that was until it heard me thundering down the stairs in hot pursuit!

Pauline also has a field mouse in her garden, which occasionally pops through to mine to steal food, and I noticed during the day that it's food had not gone. I checked a few times and it remained there all day. I was getting concerned that the cat had found its prey. Later that night, after dark, I decided to take a torch for one last check. Maybe it had been spooked by the cat and decided to return to nocturnal activities. To my relief, not only was the food gone, but he was there, on top of Pauline's narrow, thin, metal, six-foot bird table, shimmying down one of the narrow legs, upside down. It was very funny to watch. Pauline had seen this once before but I never had, so I was very lucky with my timing.

Away from my garden earlier in the week, whilst walking home late one night along a local lane, I was swooped by three bats out catching bugs. But the best siting of the week was driving home late one evening from seeing a friend in the country. On a long straight stretch of road, up ahead, illuminated by a trucks lights going the opposite way, was the white underside of a large owl, gliding through the air, across the road, to a small wood on the opposite side. I pulled over into an adjacent layby, switched off the lights and engine, and waited patiently. It didn't reappear, but it hooted several times. A very spooky but fabulous sound.

Pauline has topped all these encounters this week though. She is away up north on holiday and witnessed her first enormous Sea Eagle. Very jealous. Can't wait to hear all about that.

Meanwhile I'll be quite content with my Sparrows and mouse.



Friday, 12 May 2017

LIVE YOUR DREAMS

One of the best films of recent times is a Ben stiller movie called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I'm in the process of looking more closely at this film, deconstructing it, with a view to teaching my young students about it. It deals with a number of issues that may affect the majority of us, and it is this that makes the film so good I think. It is no coincidence that it is set at Life magazine.

If you haven't seen it, basically it is a quest movie about a daydreaming, boring photo processor, Walter Mitty, working at Life magazine in its last days before going online. He loses a negative, a first for him, for the last issue's cover, sent by one of the photographers, Sean, twho is the only person that recognises Walter's skills. The film takes us on an epic adventure from shark attacks in Greenland, to volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Snow Leopards in Afghanistan.

To mark the beats of Walters quest throughout the film, he regulalrly gets calls from Todd of eHarmony, asking what else he can add to Walter's profile to make him more interesting, to increase his chances of finding a partner. Part of what makes Walter so boring, is his scrupulous accounting of his finances, which stays all the way through. A sort of count down to oblivion for him, down to zero dollars. His first job had been in a pizza restaurant called Papa John's, and he finds himself in one on Iceland. As he studies the plastic cup, after first checking his dwindling finances of course, he suddenly has an urge to get out of there. Away from the superficial plasticity of an international food chain, a metaphor for the world. This marks the point where Walter starts to change. Working for money and counting every bean is a waste of a precious, short life. This is reaffirmed by Life magazine's motto all the way through the film:

"To see things thousands of miles away,
things hidden behind walls and within rooms,
things dangerous to come to,
to draw closer, to see, and be amazed"

Though Walter had worked at Life magazine for a long time, his role was obscure, and a bitter sweet reminder that modern technology is changing everything, including the security of all our jobs. In essence, if you aren't creating something new, you're replaceable.

We're not here long at all, and we're really good at excuses, busy living up to what other people think we should be doing. But the bottom line is, stop doing what you hate and go out and live your dreams.

At the end of the film Todd from eHarmony appears and ask Walter if he is zoning out still, daydreaming. Walter pauses a moment, reflecting on what he's experienced, before he answers . . .

"Not so much"

Friday, 5 May 2017

DISCO DIVA

A couple of weeks ago I was in Carlisle for a wedding. I wasn't able to make the actual ceremony, and arrived just in time for the evening celebration. It's been a long time since I've been to a wedding reception, and on this occasion I thought I'd dropped through a wormhole, back in time.

As people gathered, the DJ, incomprehensible on the microphone, started his play list for the evening. Someone leaned over to me and told me that the same guy had run all the hotel's disco needs since 1979.

Well, I don't think he's bought any music since then either!

However, 1979 was a great year for music. I was 16 at the time, and on a Friday evening I would travel into Edinburgh to Cinderellas, an enormous disco at the bottom of St Stephen Street. I recall I wore black trousers that had a thin white line down the seam of each leg, that I had to lie on the floor to squeeze myself into.

Most of the other young people there were busy sneaking in bottles of vodka in their handbags, and so on. But for me, it was straight onto the dance floor. Many of my friends knew how much I loved to dance, and I was pretty good, though I say so myself, and they would follow me onto the floor. The DJ must have loved me too, because I was regularly the first on, and rarely left.

It was probably a subliminal influence of the disco at the wedding reception, but in the middle of this week I found myself researching hits that I remember from the charts around that time. How many of these do you recall:

Le Freak - Chic: Loved this one, sitting on the floor doing particular moves, and I always led from the front.
YMCA - The Village People
Don’t bring me down - ELO
Tragedy - Bee Gees
Video Killed the Radio Star - The Buggles
Pop Muzik - M
Light My Fire - Aimii Stewart
Rivers of Babylon - Boney M
The Shuffle - Van McCoy
Crazy Little Thing Called Love - Queen
Funky Town - Lipps Inc

Then there were others I came across, which though not dance music per se, brought back fond memories:

Monster Mash - Bobby Pickett and the Crypt Kickers
Walking on the Moon - Police
Enola Gay - Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark
Another Brick In The Wall - Pink Floyd
Oxygene part IV - Jean Michel Jarre
19 - Paul Hardcastle

Unfortunately there wasn't a single one of the dance tracks above that the Carlisle hotel DJ played that night, otherwise I would have been first on the floor, and would most likely not have left.


Friday, 28 April 2017

IT'S A SIGN

I found an excellent article recently online which I thought I'd share with you this week.

It centres around how the majority of us are making things harder for ourselves than they necessarily need to be. I must admit to feeling I fitted most of the categories.

It started with a fairly common one; taking offence at something when in actual fact there was most likely none intended. An example given was of another driver on the road cutting you up, but from my own perspective I could see how I "ascribe intent", as it was headed, when a friend will make a trivial comment or observation. At times I can react as if it's a personal slap in the face, which it mostly never is (some who know me well will be nodding their heads right now!)

If you read my blog regularly you'll know I make and teach film. Another situation described one as, being the star of your own movie. You wrote the script, and therefore you know how you want it to unfold, and even end. But, like most of my writing, no one else has read the script, then when someone screws up their expected lines, or fails to do something, you feel that the movie is ruined in that instant.

Hmmm, this was becoming eerily familiar! But I'll bet I'm not alone in all this.

As I look back on my life, and some of my closest friends make observations, it is clear I am a "glass half empty" sort of person a lot of the time. Which made me fit the next paragraph in the article very easily; I fast forward everything to its worst possible outcome in my mind when a problem appears, when the actual outcome is usually better than utter disaster.

Others need very little explanation, but rang similar bells, such as, refusing to let go of things; comparing my life to others in a negative manner; having unrealistic expectations of situations or others.

I would say that over the years, on average, I have been a believer in "fate". Some things have happened in my life that cannot be explained in any other way, and I'm happy to say, against my glass half empty personality, have been rewarding moments. A close friend of mine though, dismisses fate 100%. It is, he says, like waiting for "a sign" before acting.

Well, that brings me rather neatly to the last item on the list.

Over the past year I have been contemplating making some pretty big changes. But that is as far as it has progressed to date. Contemplating. But the last paragraph in the article made me sit up and take stock, and has actually made me start the process. It's heading was; You let other people steal from you.

This wasn't in the sense of material items or money etc, but referred directly to Time. For me, time is way higher up on my priority list than money. However, for a long period of time now I have been giving away my time, mostly to people and situations that will never recognise the full extent of what I give. In fact, I can easily go as far as saying, it has raised an expectation in those people. The big changes will put pay to this.

I must apologise to my good friend, because for me, finding this article, and particularly that paragraph, was most definitely a sign.


Friday, 21 April 2017

A GRAND ADVENTURE

I'm pretty hopeless at knowing the titles of my different relations. The easy ones are auntie, gran etc, but beyond that is confusing. This weekend I'm off to "my brothers son's" wedding, as I refer to him. He is, of course, my nephew. I'm not big on weddings or the whole social chit chat with strangers thrown together, but I'm looking forward to catching up with my brother, which I haven't done for a very long time, and brainstorming a little on a trip we're going to take into the past together in July.

In 1971, as a little boy of eight, I lived not far from Glencoe on the outskirts of a village called Ballachulish. I have few memories of childhood, but the ones from there are happy ones. One such memory was of the turntable ferries that used to transport six cars at a time across the water before they built a bridge in 1975. One of those ferries was called the Glenchulish, and it survives to this day as the Glenelg ferry, making the short crossing from the mainland to Skye. Just before that it continued to ferry cars back and forth right up until the bridge was opened.


The rest of my memories are a little unclear, but because my brother is eight years older than me I figured he would be the perfect travel companion to try and recall the memories clearer while we are there.

That eight year old boy spent the summer holidays with a small leather pouch collecting money from the waiting cars before the boarded the ferry. I would then make the crossing back and forth with the ferrymen. It was a recent picture online of the Glenachulish that made me wonder what had happened to the other two, the Glen Loy and Glen Duror.


To cut a long story short I made contact with a community group in Ballachulish, and they have given me directions to the locations of the abandoned, decaying hulls. So my brother and I are on a quest to find them and document them at the end of July. We'll also walk the old railway tracks, long since decommissioned, and reminisce of a time now lost. We're hoping to capture most of it on film and edit a short film together to gift to the community group in Ballachulish to the new museum they are planning.

It's starting to shape up to a grand adventure.


Friday, 14 April 2017

THE THREE BRETHREN

It's been a while since our little hillwalking trio, myself, Andrew and Pauline, had an overnight outdoor adventure. Recently we had enjoyed a one day walk to the Eildon hills of the Borders, taking in the Roman settlement of Trimontium, and the Borders countryside was to once again provide us with a destination, this time for an overnighter in our tents. With the Easter holidays in full swing, and sunny skies forecast, we set our sights on a small section of the Southern Upland Way, starting out from Innerleithen and finishing at Galashiels.

Access to the start of our walk was a mile and a half or so along tarmac, across the River Tweed, and then onto the route proper. The path we followed for the entire walk was great, and skirts an area called the Minchmoor.


The first day was a long pull gradually upwards, under hot, cloudless skies, but it was a fabulous, leisurely wander. The Southern Upland Way is the longest route of its kind in Scotland, some 212 miles, from Portpatrick in the west to Cockburnspath in the east.

The Minchmoor section we were walking has evidence to date it back to pre-Roman times as a Pictish Road, and was the main highway well in to Medieval times between east and west.

It is said that the Marquis of Montrose used this very route to flee from the battle of Philiphaugh in September 1645. He was eventually captured and hung in Edinburgh, and his head was displayed on a  spike in the Tolbooth. Lovely. It is said that as he was fleeing he buried a stash of money somewhere along the route, so we were keeping our eyes out for buried treasure.

A couple of hours in we came upon The Cheese Well. It is a natural spring and provided refreshment for thirsty travelers along the route, as it did for us this day as we filled out water bottles. It can be found marked on maps going back to the 1600s and derives its name from leaving small presents of cheese to thank and placate the fairies. These days people leave a coin or two on the engraved rock, so when in Rome, as they say.

A little further on, and a short few hundred yards detour, we came to the summit cairn of Minchmoor. A number of mountain bikers were already there, and in the short time we stood on its summit a number of others arrived, such is the popularity of the area with bikers. We had just come down and back on to the Southern Upland Way when Pauline found buried treasure. Well, actually, commemorative coins stashed in a hole in the wall to anyone who wants one. You'd have to know they were there mind you. There were only three left, and all a little corroded, so we only took one.

As I said at the beginning, we had walked the Eildons a few weeks back, which were now visible in the distance. On that walk we had enjoyed a treat of visiting the ancient Roman site of Trimontium. There we marveled at depressions and lumps and bumps on the ground, showing evidence of a once mighty settlement. As our walk along the Minchmoor progressed we came upon a man-made gouge called Wallace's Trench. This was a purpose built defensive ditch some 4 to 6 feet high, clearly made to defend one area from an approaching force of some size. As our small band of three got closer and closer, it looked from a distance like a slightly raised line of ground. More lumps and bumps of things long buried. But when we finally reached the actual site it was astonishing in its scale and preservation, still perfectly formed as a trench many hundreds of troops could have easily concealed themselves in.


Near to the end of our day was the third highlight of the route, and the title of this blog, The Three Brethren. When Pauline had first mentioned them I thought it referred to three slightly rounded hills next to each other, but in actual fact they are three giant cairns atop a hill at 465m.


Beautifully constructed, and standing some ten feet tall, they mark the intersection of the estates of Buccleuch, Yair and Selkirk. Originally there was only one cairn, built by Alexander Pringle in 1512 (of the wool jumper fame) and owner of the Yair estate.

This was to be our cut off point to drop down on the southern side of the route to camp for the night. As the sun was setting we tucked into our evening meals among the heather, relaxing after a rewarding day.


The sun shone again for us the following morning. This was to be a much shorter day as we made our way to Galashiels, but the walk was through some of the prettiest woods, along fabulous little paths dappled in sunlight, that I have ever walked.


As we descended toward the mighty River Tweed once more, the path was lined with great stands of Douglas Fir. It was popular in Georgian and Victorian times to plant Rhododendrons and Douglas Fir in the extended gardens of large estate houses.


So I started to think we may come upon just such a house. And we did. A beautiful, and grade 1 listed, Georgian mansion, built of red sandstone, the seat of Yair estate and Alexander Pringle that had built the first of The Three Brethren. A long time back the estate and house had been sold to pay off debts, but Pringle went to India, made a fortune, and on his return bought back the family estate.


We now ascended for one last time, across rolling farmland manicured by munching sheep, across well made dry stain dykes, past estate workers burning heather to create new and fresh habitat for red grouse, to eventually sit upon a small rounded hill overlooking the town of Galashiels.


The trip ended as it had begun, with coffee and cake. Of course.



Friday, 7 April 2017

COMMUNITY RIGHT TO BUY

I'm very proud of my community right now. Over the past few years three out of four churches in my neighbourhood have closed and the congregations amalgamated into one church. This then led to the Church of Scotland selling off the churches and adjoining properties now closed up.

Normally these fabulous buildings get snapped up by developers, and are either demolished and some collection of apartments, supposedly "designed" by an architect, are thrown up and sold to the highest bidder. Well, under new Scottish law passed a year ago, any such building put on the open market has to be available to the community it resides in under the "community right to buy" legislation. We have history of such an undertaking, albeit for island communities, but never in an urban setting, but since April last year this right was extended to cover the whole of Scotland.

It is a long process, but basically, if there is support in the community for it to happen, then things move on. To cut a very long story short, the last step is that the Scottish Government issue ballot papers to all registered voters. Somewhere in the region of 60% must vote in favour.

Well, on the 5th April a whopping 98.7% of this community did just that!

Now the purchase price will be provided by the Scottish Government once the Government minister upholds the legislation. This will be published on 26th April, but it would seem to be just a matter of ticking that box. So off we will then go to develop the space for the good of everyone.

Exciting times. Here's the action groups website in case you're inspired and want to do something similar: https://www.bellfield.scot/news/