Monday, 31 December 2012


Made it! Away from home but managed to get a poem in a shop for IPYPIASM! See here for more poems in shops. This poem is an old one...

Happy new hope

Years have to start with hope, this is essential
We have to feel that good things are to come
A lack of hope can be most detrimental
It can stop New Year’s Eve from being fun.
No, seeing smiles ahead is fairly vital
We should see triumphs and tranquillity
We listen (hark) for fanfares by the skyful
Between them sighs contented, full and free.
We need to feel our hearts are in it with us
That hope has made it, somehow, through and through
Life’s switches may be always out to dim us
But we can think of ways to glow anew.
This New Year’s hopes might be the ones to make it
The outstretched hand - we see it, match it, take it

RF... years ago!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Holiday highs

The sea at Usan, yesterday.

So the run-up to Xmas in this house has been about one thing for the past few years. Is it the food preparation? No. Is it the Santa factor? No. Is it getting round and seeing friends and swapping presents? No... though all those things are happening... the main focus is, of course...

Every year I think our girl will go off this TV show but every year she loves it more and more. There's just nothing we can do about it (it's watch it with her or lose her for 3 months) and anyway, this year it really was quite good (even with the continued plague of spoken clichés... "raising bars", "journeys", "pulling things out of bags", things "not getting any better than this" etc.). This weekend another year's worth of Strictly came to an end and 2012's champions are Olympic gymnast Louis Smith and pro dance Flavia Cacace (nice interview with Smith here). They even managed to do a slow and thoughtful show dance (and the show dances are usually all spins and flings) and I enjoyed it even though (and this is HUGE) they did it to a song by Take That (possibly my least favourite band ever!). So here it is:

And to make up for the Take That (though obviously on the clip above it is the Strictly band and singers' version) here is a Gillian Welch song I heard on BBC Radio Scotland the other day... lovely toon (and even better because it is NOT a Xmas song!!):

Happy holidays... if you're lucky enough to have them.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

A different type of tree

Novar bounday beech #1 
Charcoal on Canson C à Grain paper
72 x 53cm

So, the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the above is not a Xmas tree.  Not at all. And that's quite a relief by this point perhaps (and Xmas still a week away... or more!). Neither is it anything to do with all the sad, sad news stories with us currently (suicides, mass murders of children...). It comes to something when watching "The Killing" is light relief from real life... heavy sigh.

No, the above is the work of Tansy Lee Moir (cue quote from her website) "an Edinburgh based artist with a passion for trees". I saw her work (two examples of it, in fact) in the huge Xmas exhibition that our county's main gallery, the Meffan in Forfar, holds every year around this time. There is always a competition element to the exhibition but, as happens with these things, I rarely agree with judges. My favourite pieces this year (and this is perhaps unwise as I know lots of artists around here and I'm not mentioning any of them today...) were a fabulous ceramic sculpture by Linda Masson (can't find her online at all... hence no link) and a mixed media kind of a picture by Gwen Black. And then there were Moir's charcoals... 

It was my friend who drew my attention to Moir's work first... and after close inspection we agreed that the pictures were a bit disturbing (I could see a pig snout breast in there somewhere) but also really good, quite compulsive-viewing and certainly memorable. "I bet they're the ones we'll remember", I said... and indeed that's certainly turning out to be the case. Interesting too that it was National Tree Week recently (I wouldn't have known but there were lots of radio programmes about trees etc.) and because of one of these programmes I ended up posting my tree poem/postcard to someone last week too (that poem's been online here and, for 2009's IPYPIASM*, here). And yes, I will get to this year's IPYPIASM but it might well be the end of the month (others are busy, busy, busy over here).

*International Put Your Poem In A Shop Month, of course!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Xmas post - early!

Up the road, yesterday

I may have mentioned before that I'm not exactly what you call a Xmas person (never have been really). I'm at least partly with Sheldon Cooper on this (click on name for the clip, it won't embed). But, of course, once you have children in the house it's not really up to you what you like and don't like... well, not all the time anyway... thus I have learned to have (at least a bit of) a Xmas face. And it's pretty when it snows (outside, not my face) and it has snowed this week (bit early for Xmas really but what can you do... it snows when it snows...).

More up the road, good depth on this one (or something).

A couple of weeks ago I even wrote a Xmas poem... about the 'trying to be cheery and in the Xmas spirit' business. It's not as good as the O'Hooley & Tidow Xmas song (posted before ages ago, sounds like this, and yes, they were EXCELLENT at the folk club this week, thank-you very much, really magnificent performances!) but I've read the poem out twice now (in Brechin and at folk club this Tuesday) and it's not the worst Xmas item you'll experience this year, I'm sure. Its title keeps changing... as does a bit of the last line... but for now this is what it looks like:

Season's bleatings

“Are you excited about Xmas?” the young ones all say
"The snow and the tinsel, the bells and the sleigh?"

Well... we older and wiser know what lies ahead
The ups and the downs, the emotional spread

So we smile half a smile and we sigh half a sigh
And we think to ourselves “My... doesn't time fly?

Xmas again and it's come round so fast...”
And we look in our file labelled large “Xmas past”

And we see many entries, not all of them glowing
With happiness, cosiness, carols and snowing

Instead family dramas, the trials we've had
Our own soapy operas, good stories and bad

Silent times too, lonely days, plans gone wrong
Times when the holidays really dragged on

So we give back our answer – a “yes” and a “no”
And a guide to our yuletide follows below.

At Xmas expectations are sillily high
From immaculate beginnings to the perfect mince pie

So we're on to a loser from the start of the game
But we try to ignore that, not focus on blame

And we sing all the songs, even angels and kings
And shop till we flop, wearing out our best wings

And we cook and we stew, and our memories bake
And the telly works hard to keep spirits awake

And we sink now and then, maybe after a sherry
And we try not to tire of the word that is “merry”

And we miss special people who've left us and gone
And we try not to cry but the tears still switch on

Like the lights, that at Xmas, are pretty and bright
There's a positive note, hark, an ending's in sight

For the yule, this is all, it comes round, has its slot
And we wade our way through it, excited or not.

RF 2012

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Random poems and a calling

So last week blogger A Cuban in London asked readers to take part in a poetry game/task. We were to grab a book (of poems) and offer a contribution to share with others. The post full of poems is up now (here) and the poem I ended up giving is Edwin Morgan's "The Video Box: No. 25". You can also read it here  (and hear him read it) but beware as there are a couple of typos on that version (and yes, I have emailed the provider in question...).

Other poetry news... International Put Your Poem In A Shop Month (IPYPIASM) is upon us (details here). I can't say I have any inspiration for that event just yet but it is only the second day of the month so I guess I have some time to get ready for that!

Finally I am really looking forward to our local folk club this week because on Tuesday night (4th December) our guests will be the duo O'Hooley and Tidow. Here they are singing one of their slower, moodier songs (they do all kinds). Enjoy.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Other people's poetry - Sharon Olds

This week I gave a poetry reading at a local "social club". "We're just all old ladies", the organiser said to me on the phone at one point (or something like that). "No 'just' about it", I replied (or a more stumbly version of that sentiment) — she obviously didn't know that any audience is a good one for a poet and if it's forty good souls, sat there patiently and politely and offering you tea and biscuits at the end, well better still! I had a great time... and I think some of them did too. I talked about life and poetry for an hour and even sold some books (hooray — buns for tea!).

I'd decided that, for a change, I'd read a few poems by other poets as well as just my own work this time so I spent quite a while looking through some of the books and pamphlets and bits of paper in my possession in the past couple of weeks. In the end the 'poem by someone else' that I most enjoyed reading was "I could not tell" by North American poet Sharon Olds (you can read it here, it's from her 1980 book "Satan Says"). I'd given the whole event the general theme of "all the things a poem can do and be" and Olds' poem went into the "say the unsaid" section. It is one of the things I like most about poetry, I think, that it can sometimes say things we might not feel we can say in other ways or places. This poem is really about responsibility and the complications it involves and that's a subject I think about quite a lot anyway so the poem has kind of hung around me since I first read it years ago (the copy I have is just a photocopied one from a library anthology... I don't even own any of Olds' books... maybe I'll change that some time soon). After I read it yesterday and watched the reactions I had that "wish I'd written that!" feeling that a person gets sometimes. It makes you work harder if you channel it right, I suppose.

Olds' poetry isn't to everyone's taste... she makes some people uncomfortable I think and she writes a lot of what you might call personal poems. Indeed I certainly haven't liked everything of hers that I've read but then I'm not sure I like everything that anyone has written. I'm not sure writing works that way, if we're really honest with ourselves about our reactions. I have mentioned Olds on blog before though — when this poem appeared in the film "Into the Wild" for example — and if you're interested there is an online interview with her here. Plus look at this photo... I'm sure I once read some nonsense about how "women over a certain age" shouldn't wear their hair in bunches... well, Sharon Olds laughs at your stupid rules, fashionistas (and so should we all!).

Sorry! Photo had to be removed. It was the one you can see here. Great pic!

And, to finish, some interesting quotes from the interview linked to above:

"I suppose the mission of every poem would be to be a better poem than I am capable of writing."

"it’s fine to make things that aren’t okay"

"As a child I was a very successful liar" and

"My first really vicious review I believe I cried, threw up, slept, woke up, and started writing again. But I took the hit. Someone wanted me to stop doing what I was doing, but it didn’t work."

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Another Sunday

So just last week it was that thing called Remembrance Sunday... much talk of peace, the end of war, remembering the horrors... and then already, just a week later, war is back on the news agenda, big time (not that it really went away... of course... does it ever?). And in this case the war in question, the Palestine/Israel conflict/situation, is one of those subjects where feelings are so strong that it's hard to see any way-out to anywhere... as far as the outside observer is concerned. In fact I remember back in the late '80s when I was at university and quite involved in politics (student cliché no 732) there were two issues that caused the most heated, never-ending debates and one of those was Palestine/Israel (and the other was abortion rights... also back in the news this week, thanks to that horrific incident in Ireland). As women's officer for the student union I was much involved in the latter debates (and got used to arguing, fairly pointlessly, with glassy-eyed young men who knew they were right because Jesus told them so... or something) but I was less involved in the Israel/Palestine debates (mainly because there were large, heavily-informed teams on both sides so I wasn't really needed). I sat in the room for many of those debates though and boy, were they going nowhere towards workable solutions then (and, on the whole, nothing seems to have changed... ). Maybe I shouldn't write about it at all. Probably. It is one of those subjects people really fall out over.

So anyway, the photo... the photo at the top of the post is a war memorial in the grounds of the now-closed mental hospital at the top of our street. I walked past it last week and was interested to know if anyone had visited it to lay any poppy wreaths or anything now the hospital is out of business. There were no wreaths but there were a few paper poppies stuck into the stone. Here are the close-up shots:

and finally... even closer... and almost too packed with meaning...

Who needs poetry?


Monday, 12 November 2012

Talking pish

St Cyrus beach, Aberdeenshire, 7th November 2012

I omitted to mention on here the other week that there is a series of short interviews with poetry folk on the Passionate Transitory right now. Mine is here but there are lots of other friendly blogging types on there too. I think I win the prize for being "least enthusiastic about poetry" (doubt there is one...) and I am aware that it really isn't my first love at the moment. It doesn't really bother me too much... it will probably be back... and currently I'm not even reading prose very much (which is very unusual). Other stuff afoot... just the way it goes.

I did however fall in love with this song this week. It's a straightforward, maybe even resorting to country clichés kind of a thing. Still, I liked it... must be getting old.

And the post title today? Just one of my favourite Scottish phrases... and I suppose it could refer to my interview!


Monday, 5 November 2012

From the onions of Dundee... to the daisies of Fife...

Awaiting Onions...

So, this weekend I went to not one but two music events! Hurray for live music! Hurray for getting out of the house even though it feels like winter! And hell, while we're at it, why not mention a hurray for having power to the lights and amps when our American cousins in New Jersey (literally, they are our cousins) are still sat in the dark and the cold waiting for the power to come on... (added later - power just back on, 8th November).

The first event I got to was the much anticipated first showing for Pauline M Hynd's new project The Onion Club in Dundee on Saturday night. Pauline has been mentioned on blogs of mine before - she took part, for example, in an event I organised in Edinburgh back in 2008 (Postcards from the Song). She stole a fair amount of the show on that night in '08 ("who's she? She's brilliant!" said McMillan and other poets after her set I seem to remember) and it's true, she is pretty brilliant and she proved that again this weekend with a marvellous night of music. Here she is at work (photos by Mark but apologies that they're not up to usual standard... broken camera + dark + sitting right at the back because that's where the disabled seats were and one of our party that night uses a wheelchair = not the best shots ever... also he wants a new camera for xmas...):

For the Onion Club Pauline is working with pianist Stephen Lee on what they describe as "a theatrical event through which we re-imagine the songs of iconic artists such as David Bowie, Nick Cave, Brecht & Weill, Lou Reed, Goldfrapp and Billy MacKenzie and set them alongside original work within a 'dark cabaret'". And the event (this presentation entitled "Adieu Mon Coeur" anyway) was pretty much as promised... some props, some costume changes and a lot of very dramatic, moody songs matched with dramatic moody lighting and art... 

Except it was a whole lot more than that too. Anyone can have a go at dark cabaret (and many do) but not everyone can pull it off as well as Pauline and Stephen Lee did in Dundee this weekend. Split into two halves the show consisted of, firstly, the more stylized performance part of the event and then, secondly, Pauline back with her beloved guitar singing a few original compositions and a few local favourites. Here are just a few good things about it (for me, especially the first half):

The piano playing was superb (I didn't hear a bum note and Lee gave off more than a hint of that winning combination — the unassuming genius...). 

The singing was delightful, playful, passionate, professional. 

The humour was subtle (easy to go the other way in cabaret...). There wasn't a lot of talking but what there was worked perfectly.

The slides/backdrops were truly quirky and well-chosen (especially one chosen to honour Dundee's recent loss, Michael Marra, see last post). 

The songs showcased were an interesting choice of new and old. There were ones I already know and love (by Antony & the Johnsons and Bowie...), ones I know and like (Weill/Brecht's "Alabama Song"... though of course many of us know it best from the Doors version...) and then ones I've never really taken notice of or almost disliked before (Goldfrapp, for example, have never been favourites of mine and the show opened and closed with their songs...) but somehow it didn't really matter what you or I liked or didn't like... because they all made perfect sense in the setting of this show (and it was a show... in the proper sense of the word). The whole presentation was just... magnifique really. And I suspect Pauline was a little disappointed that the venue wasn't full but really we were quite a big audience it's just that the venue was bigger! I did wonder if another venue might suit the Onions better for future shows (the pluses of the Gardyne Theatre being accessibility, bar, big stage and proper lights/sound, the down side being the rows of seats when really every cabaret needs tables und chairs, darling, don't it?). But that's for them to decide and really what I'd like to say most of all is just "bravo, brava, bravo". Well done all round.

Particularly well done because I know this must have been a tough time for Pauline of late. Not only have she and her family not long since lost her own Mum but the recent death of Marra must have hit everyone hard too (he was a friend and inspiration to so many in Dundee). Here's a pic of Pauline, later in the evening, singing Marra's song "Alphabet" (a new song to me, online version by some Marras here):

No videos of the Onion Club online yet that I know of but I'll post some up here once there are. I should also mention that there was a support act on stage before the Onions themselves — an "alternative" Irish drag act from Sligo called Claudia Shifter ("alternative" was her word and it indicated more Leonard Cohen than ABBA in the routine, amongst other things, so she told us). I did enjoy this part of the night (quite funny, couple of good songs, nice wig, good audience teasing) but it was a little... rough round the edges compared to the star turns later on (sorry, Claudia... don't hate me...). Was it her first time performing out of Ireland (she didn't seem sure what material to use)? Was it the big venue... the giant stage... because Claudia did seem happier when joined by a member of the audience on the maracas (I mean, aren't we all?). Was it that I've seen material by other alternative drag acts (some who wouldn't even thank you for the name "drag"...) who would eat the poor love for breakfast (Chloe Poems... David "scare the bairns" Hoyle, once the Divine David). Anyway, maybe a bit of gentle drag is better than eating others for breakfast, what do I know... Here's a pic of Claudia:

And I must share this with you — when I put Claudia's name into a search engine it mentioned a competition she'd been in where other contestants were called Cher Guevara and Tyra Wanks. Don't you just love drag names.

So that was Saturday... and then on Sunday I even managed to get out to the almost local boozer here to catch a set by Fife's Coaltown Daisies (I posted a song of theirs not long back here). Again there was fine singing, good playing (some lovely guitar solos added in by Montrose's own Gary Anderson too) and strongest of all for me, from Vivienne Bern and Lynzy Moutter (for thems the Daisies), an impressive standard of songwriting (theirs are guitars'n'feelings songs... but of a much higher quality than your average gigging band/songwriter). At one point Bern called a song of hers, "Fly by Night", her least favourite/worst song and all I could think was "well, if that's your least good song... then that just shows how good the rest of the songs are!"

And then it was home... home to reflect... home to get the bairn to bed... home to sleep.


Monday, 29 October 2012

Music lives on

 Out walking last week

Getting on with this and that last week I was shocked and upset to see a headline on a local paper in our corner shop that shouted out just three words: "Michael Marra dies". Some of you may not know Marra - he was a very local hero in some ways (born in Dundee, died in Dundee) - but he was an absolutely brilliant singer, songwriter, musician and entertainer. I have written about him on blogs before and even once wrote a poem celebrating his genius (that's here). I saw him perform live 3 or 4 times (even got to introduce him at a benefit gig in Dundee once) and he was really a cut above most performers (and songwriters). He was only 60 when he died and there are a host of tributes in online newspapers (a good one in Dundee's Courier here, for example). He had so many good and varied songs that it's hard to know which one to pick to post here but this video gives you a taste of what his live shows were like (some of you outside Scotland may not get all the vocabulary but I'm sure you'll get the drift...).

Good-bye Michael Marra and thanks for sharing your talent with the rest of us. We really appreciated it.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Winding up the time away

Sculpture by Edouard-Marcel Sandoz at Vevey, Lake Geneva, Switzerland

So on 9th October we drove into Switzerland and Geneva via small roads and a very quiet border crossing. We had arranged to stay one night in the city of Geneva (it is VERY expensive in Geneva.. and indeed in most of Switzerland... so one night was the limit). Rain was forecast but in fact the sun shone and the day was lovely so we managed to walk around and see things like the famous jet d'eau... well, I say famous... I'd never heard of it before I read about it in the guidebook. It looks a bit like this:

Geneva is one of those cities that looks amazing in all directions with the mountains, lakeside and striking buildings. It is a business city for the most part and so it does feel a bit heartless somehow (says us after being there for all of 24 hours...) but still I liked it. How can you go wrong with all that water really? We had the cheapest dinner we could find on northside of the river Rhône and then took one of those little yellow taxi boats/mouettes you can see on the photo above back to our place on the other side. It was dark, the ride was free (hotels hand out free travel passes) and the boat's "captain" was a very laid-back individual. It was fun - h loved it!

Next day we wandered more around the old part of Geneva, then called in to see the UN Office on our way out of town. It has a big broken chair sculpture outside that looks like this (info on the sculpture here):

Then we drove on to Nyon on the lake and took a short boat trip over the water (to Yvoire in France, as it happens). Really we just wanted to be on the water... well, I did... I love being on water. One of my favourite photos from this holiday set is this shot of a swan that Mark snapped as we approached Yvoire (there are a lot of swans on Lake Geneva). Why do I like the picture? I suppose I am very childish...

After the boat trip we stayed a night just over the border from Nyon in Divonne-les-Bains (cheaper) and then headed back into Switzerland to Lausanne for most of the next day. First we went to the Collection de l'Art Brut (usually translated as Outsider Art) and I think we were all pretty blown away by some of the work in the gallery there. I have been interested in the subject on and off for a while but this visit gave me some new nudges in artistic directions I think. After that we called in to the Musée de l'Elysée (Lausanne's photography museum) because we're also interested in photography and they had an exhibition on show just then which featured some very famous American works such as Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother"(the whole set is called the Howard Greenberg Collection). Probably the photo that struck me the most from the collection was this one called "Butterfly Boy" (1949) by Jerome Liebling:

We ate a picnic in the grounds of the museum overlooking the lake and then drove further east to Vevey. Vevey is about as pretty as a town can ever be - lake, charming buildings... no wonder people like Charlie Chaplin chose to live (and die) there (o.k., they have the Nestlé HQ too but you can't have everything). The sun shone for us again (we were lucky... just a couple of days rain all holiday) and we made friends with the seahorse sculptures down at the lakeside. One is at the top of the post and the other is here:

Near Vevey we stayed with a childhood friend of mine and her family for a couple of nights. Whilst there we also went a little further north to Gruyère to see where cheese and chocolate are made (all good, all tasty) and then on the 13th October we drove the other way round the lake, back into France, through Evian and back to Lyon to leave the car and (gulp) fly home (I did it.. not easily... but I did it). 

I'll leave you with the Lake Geneva photo that seems to be winning in the facebook "likes" category so far (also taken at Vevey). Like many of the striking pics on here Mark took it.. but then he knows a good thing when he sees it... (hah!):

Friday, 19 October 2012

More time away...

So after Paris we took one of those speedy double-decker trains down to Lyon. Why Lyon? Partly just because it's a part of France we've never been to before. We arrived in Lyon on the Saturday afternoon (6th October) and it was hotter than a Scottish summer's day and busy and really very lovely as cities go. We walked, saw the new town, the quite old town and then very old town. Then we got the funicular up the hill to see the views out over them all... and then we went back down again to eat a very nice meal indeed (guidebook said the food in Lyon is some of the best in France - quite some statement - and it seems the book was right). Young one had such a nice chocolate dessert that she went quite giddy...

whilst Mark pronounced the white wine I'd ordered (some Mâcon) the "best he'd ever tasted" (we were, fairly evidently, high on life... or wine and chocolate anyway). For me it was just nice to be outside and not fighting off pigeons (as in Paris). I do not like to eat with pigeons round my ankles!

Anyway on the Sunday we made our way to the Institut Lumière for it was here, in Lyon, that the whole business of cinema/film really started (and remember we have young film fan on board). The Institut, as you might expect, is not the most kid friendly tourist attraction in the world but she still enjoyed it (all worship the audioguide!) and we did too (it was quite laid-back, old-school...). The photo at the top is just one of the rooms in the museum... there was a film showing... there was no-one else in there... I liked the shapes.

After this we took the bright and shiny Lyon metro back into town:

ate more, even went to the cinema (in French... mais bien sûr!), ate ice-cream, took another metro...

And then on the Monday we picked up a hire car and headed, quite literally, for the hills. First Chambéry (lunch break - nice fountain full of elephants) and then Annecy (to see the lake, to eat more...). Annecy, for most visitors, is picture-postcard-pretty:

and judging by all the restaurants it must be HEAVING in the summer months. We stayed in a place just on the edge of the town (quiet, up in the hills really) and then the next day headed for Switzerland. But that will be next post.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Some time away...

So, we went on holiday (Angus schools get first two weeks of October off, remember?). Full photos are going up on facebook for those who are interested but for the rest of you there will be a quick round-up in a few little posts.

We left home on 2nd October and took the train down to London (family railcard cheapo travel) and then the Eurostar to Paris. It was my first ever time in the Channel Tunnel (and it's been open for 18 years!) and I only needed one small beer from the bar to take my ever-anxious mind off the slight strangeness of being in an underwater train for over 20 miles. Daughter (now 12 but still delightfully wide-eyed) was surprised (and no doubt a little disappointed) not to be able to see the water of the Channel while we were in there. Mark did the technical explanations (but she probably didn't listen... we are not very interested in real things still...). For those of us who grew up taking slow trains and ferries and then more slow trains to get to the city of love it does make the whole business very easy! Arriving quite late in Paris we took a beautiful cab ride to kind cousin's place over near the big famous tower, drank some wine and then collapsed into beds.

Day one of serious tourist activity included a trip up the big famous tower for the braver members of the party (i.e. not me!) and then a walk over towards the Arc de Triomphe and along the Champs-Élysées before a cup of very fancy tea and then a trip to the late-night opening Louvre. It was a cloudy day with some rain but full of highlights just the same. The Louvre was looking fantastic - there's a lot to be said for a late-night opening...

Day two dawned sunnier and shinier and included a special exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville called "Paris - vu par Hollywood". Daughter being such a movie fan we had to go (plus it was free). Posters looked like this:

Then it was a quick nip by the Centre Pompidou, a wander over (and into) Notre-Dame Cathedral, a nosey into Shakespeare and Company bookshop, a coffee break and then another late-night museum trip (this time Musée d'Orsay - and it was just fabulous... photo at the top of this post taken on the top floor there). The Van Gogh room just about took my breath away... certainly made my eyes open that bit wider.

Day three (another sunny one) we took a bus up to Montmartre, partly because I'd never been there before. 

There were gorgeous views and gorgeous food aplenty, a moody cemetery and, of course, a rather tired looking Moulin Rouge down amongst the sex shops and fancy-seeing-some-breasts-and-bums bars. After that it was bus back to our base, more food and then a walk out by the river and the tower (and they'd switched the twinkling fairy lights on it  by then - very pretty and they can be seen on tiny video here).

Day four we got up and took the train to somewhere further south... but more of that next time.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Save it for your blog, Howard

It's been an odd couple of weeks... quite a few deaths (friends of friends, family of friends, family...) and some changes afoot too. Partly because of that I'm not going to be around here much for the next couple of weeks... but I hope to make contact with you all again before too long. You don't get away that easily.

In the meantime please enjoy some of the first episode of the marvellous comedy series "The Big Bang Theory" (won't embed - go here and today's post title comes in at about 5 minutes 40 seconds... can't believe it started in 2007!). We are watching the show again and introducing it to a new audience. So why is it so good? Because it celebrates intelligence in a world that seems ever stoopider? Possibly. Or does it mock intelligence in a world that is ever brighter? We could debate... though I might not be here to answer much... possibly a good thing...

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Bones of the past

Chapel of All Saints, Kutná Hora, Czech Republic, mid '90s (me in huge jacket for some reason!).

So I have travel on my mind once again (though not at as much as this)... and that reminded me of a fairly bizarre holiday some time back in the mid 1990s (sorry, exact dates not a speciality in the 1990s for me... whole years are blurred...). For the holiday in question I went to the Czech Republic with my Mum (who must have been about 70) and, partly because she never went by plane (ever – she suffered high anxiety about all kinds of things... though you wouldn't necessarily know it even if you'd met her), we went on a bus trip. The bus looked like this (it broke down in Germany once or twice...):

Whilst in Prague, we stayed with a "local host" – the man on the far right in the above picture in fact. His wife had left him so he had room. It was a great holiday in many ways – lovely weather and wanderings – and especially good day trips to places like Kutná Hora – home of the famous "bone church" (real name – Sedlec Ossuary) in the first picture. I'm not normally one for churches but this is possibly my favourite one ever. The bone decorations didn't spook me out at all... I just thought they were amazing... but I only seem to have that one photo now (you can see many more here).

Some time after the holiday I wrote a simple little poem about the trip. It's not the kind of piece that's ever going to go on any grand adventures itself (not magazine or competition worthy, I don't think) so I'll put it up here instead. Hope you like it:

Prague on the Cheap

We drove across kingdoms in a purple bus
with an onboard loo, no mess, less fuss.
We stayed in a house with a lovesick knight
and he cooked us dumplings every night.
We visited art and clocks in squares,
we cruised on the river and bought toy bears,
saw a church decked out with human bones
and were pleased by the lack of mobile phones.
You listened to notes, I stared at rays,
as the sun said good-bye to pleasing days.
We were brave and adventurous, wandering free,
not bad for a pair like you and like me.


RF 1999 (the poem, not the trip).

And all that reminds me in turn of this song:

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Lunan love

Lunan Bay, Angus 2006

I'm busy doing lots of unbloggable things just now... but last night I went to the local folk club and enjoyed a night listening to Scots-Canadian David Francey and that I can tell you about! It was my second time hearing Francey (lots of other folk singers cover his songs too) and it was a lovely night, almost magical in its way. This is one of his older songs... it's about love in high school (lots of high school change going on here...):

That version is sort of live-but-not-live but proper-live he is a very engaging performer and I recommend you catch a show if you can. He's on the road a lot!

The locals did some good work at the folk club too last night so there was some lovely singing and sharing of songs (and here's me been a bit out of love with the song lately –  shocker –  and listening to lots of instrumentals). I read two poems aloud –  the one that's in the current issue of Gutter and also an old love poem that I realise now has never been on-blog called "Free love". It is in my book "More about the song" (old friend now, from 2008) and it was prompted by, amongst other things, a trip Mark and I made to local beauty spot Lunan Bay some years back. Lunan is one of many beautiful local bays and beaches on the Angus coast but it was our nearest giant sandy beach when we first moved up and so we spent a lot of time there back then. This summer I've been back there more again because a new café has opened just by the beach and (a) a friend works there so I pop in to see here (oh and eat cake...) and (b) they've been selling my cards and books too (quite a lot of them too which is nice). There are some details of the café/shop here (though they won't be open for the winter –  closing mid October for the season, I think) and my Lunan (and other things) poem is below. Francey sings a lot about love so let's have a love fest while we can. Any excuse.

Free love

You can keep your twenty grand weddings
With the limos and jazz bands and suits
Give me that day we cycled to Lunan Bay
The hot sun, the empty beach
The lying in a mansize cup of sand in the dunes
The cycling home again the long way round

You can keep the diamond ring in platinum
The weighty jewel from a far-off mine
I'll take a handful of that icing sugar snow
That shines up on a sunny winter morning
Now that's what you can call sparkle
It's hard to find, harder still to keep

I'm sure love is not about the price
The menus or the pantomime
Love is the days when everyone's tired
But still no-one gets the blame
Love lies around the house quietly
Waiting, so quietly, to be needed

RF 2006

Monday, 3 September 2012

Clutching at...

So, there was one of those scarecrow festival affairs in our village over the weekend. Not much to prattle on about just now so here are a few photos of our favourite creations:

If you look at this one closely you can see there is work in the name too (it won a prize - well deserved):

Another one with an amusing play on words in the name...

This was an unwaxed Tom Daley apparently...

This was possibly my favourite (little work, much effect... my kind of production):


And finally, our own quick-think-of-something, ok-let's-recycle-that-Halloween-outfit-from-a-couple-of-years-ago effort (Coraline):

That's it from me... I'm going back outside to the sunshine now (please no comments about making hay...).

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Quick, quick Serena!*

I know, I know... I posted yesterday already (and don't ignore that post - lots of interesting links to follow)! Just wanted to say that if you didn't watch the Paralympics Opening Ceremony last night... well, maybe you should try and catch at least some of it (some review here). We watched pretty much all of it (OK, I did flick about online a bit during the athletes' entrance business... the world's just so big!) and there were some fantastic visuals and tricks and music and words. I particularly liked the folk dancing about at the top of huge bendy poles (new type of pole-dancing!), all the flying, Nicola Miles-Wildin's wide-eyed Miranda (to Ian "Serena" McKellen's sparkly, and fairly groovy, Prospero), this Antony & the Johnsons song performed by 16 year old Birdy (homemade video alert):

and this fabulous hey-paul-this-is-how-you-do-it closing number by one of my favourites Beverley Knight (and a few friends):

And now it's the sports (good live news blog on all sports coverage is here for day one and the site will do the same for every day of the games). As you were...

*Sir Ian, if you prefer

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Scraps of this and that

Out in the garden, about a month ago

Having some quiet time this week after a long "house full of visitors" session. This means, of course, that I have very little to say (apart from "can I lie down please?" and "sh!") so here are a few links where something interesting is being said elsewhere:

"Poetry Please" is back on the radio this week. I only listen sometimes... but enjoyed Charles Bukowksi's "If we take" on the show this time (listen here for the next few days - that poem is about three and a half minutes in). I'm not sure Bukowski is the poet I'd want to pick out in a 'favourite poets line-up' but that's the thing about art (if you're honest with it)... you can't pick your favourites really, you either like them or you don't! I had a little Bukowski dalliance back here... and the other day I was looking at this page and thinking "man, he was meant to be a waster but look how much he wrote!!" Here he is rambling about depression... or something...

Also on radio there's a series on this week about poetry in prisons presented by Mr Gee (who has a lovely voice). I've only listened to part one of "Poetic Justice" so far but it's on the player (here) this week.

Speaking of lovely voices there's an interview with Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart on a blog over here. I haven't bought her new album yet but I have all the others so I'm sure I'll be getting it at some point.

I've also been watching the TV series "Growing Children" - a three part series with hour-long programmes about how autism, OCD and dyslexia affect the young. I've watched the first two and am going to watch part three today whilst ironing (it's raining!). All three parts are on i-player for the next six days (here). The presenter (Laverne Antrobus - a psychologist) is new to me but I've liked her approach so far.

Off back to the quiet now...

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Sex, money, sex, money

We've had visitors again recently (in fact a couple of them are still here so I must be quick) and at the weekend we took some of them up the coast to Dunnottar Castle and Stonehaven (all good... sunshine, pipers... total tourist package). On the way there we stopped at Inverbervie and, though we've been past it numerous times, we took our first look at the Cutty Sark figurehead on the edge of this Aberdeenshire village (some info on it here, picture above). The ship's designer, Hercules Linton (what a name!) was born in Inverbervie, hence the connection. Obviously there is a Robert Burns (and hence poetry) connection too (Cutty Sark... Tam o' Shanter etc.). You have to get your poetry connections where you can!

On a very loosely related note I read an interesting interview with Scottish poetry and prose writer Kathleen Jamie in the Scottish Review of Books. It's interesting for many reasons... for what she says about how she forged her career in poetry (well, she has one and how many poets can really say that?), for what she says about younger Scottish women poets (not much really), for what she says about not being able to afford to live in Edinburgh. I have ordered her new prose book "Sightlines" (I loved "Findings" — wrote about it here).

And then to turn to a woman writer (E.L.James) who has made enough money to live in Edinburgh (and in fact by this time possibly enough money to live on Mars if she really wanted), I watched a TV show about the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon the other day (the show is here for another 7 days, although I think you have to log in to watch it — it's mostly worth it). I haven't read the book yet (before you ask). I'd have to say it's the kind of thing I imagine I might read one night in a B&B when I can't sleep and there's nothing else to read... anywhere. My reasons for not reading it yet are numerous (though I wish the author well enough - she seemed like a fairly nice ordinary woman who got lucky from her appearances on the show). Here are some of those reasons:

1. It started out as "Twilight" fan fiction (so I read) and I watched one "Twilight" movie and thought it was like "Endless Love" with fangs (i.e. for teenagers... and I am not a teenager).

2. I have read in various places that is so badly written it is painful (and OK, some of it might be jealousy but I don't believe all of it is... some of it will be exasperation). And for heaven's sake, I can read my own bad writing if that's what I'm after. To read a good, no nonsense defence of the book by someone who has read it (Laurie Penny on how it is "porn, and porn can be quite fun") go here.

3. I think it was Kathy Lette on the C4 show who described it as "Mills & Boon with butt plugs". If this is accurate then it's definitely not for me. I read one Mills & Boon book (to see what it was like) and that was enough. Some people want their books to be fairly predictable — I like exactly the opposite (same goes for films). Call me awkward! Spank me!

4. If I wanted to read pages and pages describing sexual activity (and I don't — not right now*) I think I could find plenty of other books/websites. And if I was going to read it I certainly wouldn't pick something where she's a virgin at the beginning, gets spanked and tweaked beyond belief (though Laurie Penny in the article I linked to above says there is plenty of more "vanilla" sex in there too) and then (SPOILER) they get married at the end. This obsession with marriage and weddings... it's a sickness I tell you!

So, you see... it's probably not the one for me (though I imagine if I'd been 14 or 15 when it came out I would have, as it very much were, jumped on it).

A couple of other details from the show about the book:

1. Apparently places like Ann Summers (kinky underwear, aforementioned butt plugs etc.) are seeing record sales. There are going to be some very unusual charity shop donations as the months and years pass by, I can tell you. I imagine maybe Dettol may see some market gain soon too. Buy shares now.

2. There was some talk of how one of the greatest taboos (currently) is for a woman to admit that she sometimes wants to be told what to do by a man and that that is why the book is appealing to women so much at the present time. I would say this taboo (which probably does exist to an extent) is one of many problems with people's simplistic responses to feminist/equal opportunity ideas (and by people I do mean men and women). Those of us who've thought about such things know that a good relationship between a man and woman should allow room for variation, development, sharing responsibilities, taking charge and giving it up... most of all making it your own relationship — not the same one as your parents' or your friends' or celebrities' or anybody else. It doesn't really matter whether you're spanking each other or deciding who does the dishes — what matters most is that you sort your relationship in a way that suits the two of you (and really only the two of you). The couple on the show who did practise BDSM were absolutely adorable (with their spreadsheet — suitable choice — of likes and dislikes in the chamber...).

On a mostly unrelated note I'm thinking about attending the walking, writing, ideas festival in Aberdeen next week (much more my scene these days than fisting, I'd have to say) but every person on the panel is male and though I'm interested in hearing them if I'm really honest it does put me off just a little that I would be listening to male experts all day. Was there really no woman writer worth hearing on the subject? Was no-one available? To get to this event I'd have to sort childcare, pay a full entry fee, pay a very expensive train ticket... so I'm afraid an all male panel is the kind of thing that does at least makes me think twice about such an investment (though it wouldn't stop me buying their books and reading them at home, saving some time and money... I don't hate men or anything!). Interestingly Robert Macfarlane (who is featured on at the festival) also appears in the Kathleen Jamie interview I've linked to above. I enjoyed his TV programme a while back but found the recent radio series of his latest book "The Old Ways: a Journey on Foot" a bit... cringey (and now we're back to the Olympic closing ceremony of the last post..).

Anyway... must stop rambling! Must go and see to visitors... make sure child goes to bed... all that stuff.

*I read some porn in my teens, of different kinds... it was useful at first but it is a fairly repetitive genre (and as I've said above, repetition doesn't do it for me... I said "repetition doesn't do it for me"). And as for "erotic" fiction... I've never really seen the point (sorry, erotic fiction writers... I don't like lots of other niche writing genres either, nothing personal!). I just tend to think — isn't sex just part of a story?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Next phase

Trace of angel or catch the pigeon...

Never mind George Michael singing "Freedom", the schools are back here today so I'm feeling a little freer myself all of a sudden (I mean kids are great and everything but, you know, peace and quiet is nice too). And other than that brief mention of George "can I plug my dire new single in the greatest show on earth" Michael I won't say anything more about the Olympics closing ceremony... except to say that all that cringing we didn't have to do for the opening ceremony... well, we got to do it in the end anyway, didn't we? I mean, Take That? On the global stage? Really? Ugh. Recringe.

But there are other things going on...

Peadar O'Donoghue is raising funds for the next Poetry Bus venture so go here and help out if you can. You do get something for your money (mags, books...).

Friendly blogger Solitary Walker is starting a new online writing place. He introduces it here.

Carol Ann Duffy (our poet laureate if you like titles) wrote a poem for the Olympics (read here). I like it but judging from facebook reactions it's about a 50/50 split on yays and neighs (sorry, equestrian effects still hanging about apparently).

Read my first Susan Hill ("The Beacon" 2008). Must say I liked it. Any recommendations for other other books by her?

Hell, I might even write something myself now the schools are back...

Finally, I enjoyed this new song by Betty Wright on the Cerys show on BBC 6 Music this week:

Take that, Take That.