Autumn in Scotland, and that means berries among the hedgerows
And time to gather in the harvest, farmers making hay while the sun shines:
Out at the weekend with dad, visiting Field of Bannockburn, the memorial to the incredibly pivotal battle which secured Scottish independence against the violent Plantagenet tyranny spreading across the British Isles, and changing the way the history of these islands would play out. The sun came out from behind the clouds and in the distance, looking towards Callendar we could see this magnificent site:
Where the already impressive hills of Scotland start to rise into majestic mountains, still covered in winter snow but now basking in early spring sunshine, glittering and shining, gateway to the Highlands, the great stone spine of Caledonia and a reminder that our Scotland boasts the most beautiful scenery in the whole of the British Isles.
The Forth Road Bridge, an enormous suspension bridge which crosses the Firth of Forth, linking Fife to Edinburgh and central Scotland, has been closed due to a structural defect and will remain so while engineers work on the problem, entailing enormous traffic problems for a huge part of Scotland. Or at least, that’s what the authorities are telling us, but some cutting edge investigative journalism by the Woolamaloo Gazette (ie, we made it up) can now reveal the terrifying truth – this damage was not an engineering problem, a structural fault or even work of terrorist saboteurs. No, even more horrifying this was the direct result of a kaiju attack.
Godzilla, on his way to pay a festive visit to his Great Aunt Nessie, took the wrong Firth on his trip, ran into bridge and caused the damage before realising he should be a bit further north and sliding back under the cold, tidal waters of the vast firth. A spokemonster for Godzilla reported that it was more of an accident than attack, and that Godzilla was “highly embarrassed” by the mistake, which was put down to a faulty bit of GPS programming.
Down near North Berwick over the Easter holiday weekend, for a change good weather coincided with a holiday. We’ve had nice, sunny days a few times recently (between some raging gales and storms and hail and snow and ice!) but they were still cold, often with seriously chilly winds even in the sunlight, but this weekend it was actually warm, the first proper spring-like weekend and happening over a holiday too, so understandably the beaches were busy along the coast as I went for a long walk with chum and his dogs. I paused to take several photos, and was quite pleased with the way this one came out, looking back along the curve of the beach, there’s a spit of low-lying sand which projects out and which the people in the foreground are walking on, but from this angle it looks almost like they are walking on the water, while the massive bulk of the Bass Rock rears out of the sea behind them.
Down on the coast near North Berwick, short but beautifully golden winter day, sun setting, casting long shadows and warm, copper coloured light over the distinctive triangular shape of North Berwick Law (a major local landmark, it can even be glimpsed from parts of Edinburgh on a good day) as the rising Moon chases the sun from sky:
Spent chunk of the day with visiting cartoonist/journalist I know who was up to cover the referendum, and at one point we strolled down the Royal Mile, passing so many media crews (more camera crews than even during the festival). There was a crowd of Yes campaigners there, this was just after Alex Salmond had announced his resignation as First Minister, although we didn’t know that until we spoke to some of them. This chap got up to make an improvised speech, and, I am glad to say called for understanding and moving on:
Then he finished by calling on the crowd, in Scots tradition, to forget divisions and come together, hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne, and there they were singing and dancing in front of the Scottish Parliament
This chap started up with his pipes…
And there was the crowd doing some Scottish country dancing, Strip The Willow, right in front of the doors of the Parliament – loved it (and what a contrast to a small cadre of bigoted boot boys in George Square later in the day and their disgraceful behaviour)
And here’s the media village set up by the parliament – think half the world’s media has been on the streets of Edinburgh the last few days
Edinburgh is buzzing tonight – Yes and No campaigners out, all seem to be in an almost carnival mood, and our ancient capital is also awash with massed media from all over the world and in addition to many flags – mostly Union flags for the No and Saltires for Yes – there is a sprinkling of foreign flags, notably Catalonian flags and many from Catalonia are here tonight, exuberant, watching closely, offering support and wondering if they will get their much-desired chance for a proper referendum that would decide if they stay or depart from Spain.
In front of Saint Giles Cathedral tonight, appropriately enough in Parliament Square, close to where the original Scottish parliament met before the Act of Union in 1707, the flags of Catalonia and Scotland re-created in coloured glass and fluttering candles. Turnout for the vote is huge, reports say, polling stations now closed as I write, the counting begins, by tomorrow we will know the outcome.
Even the world-famous Greyfriar’s Bobby statue has had a makeover, with a natty new doggy coat in tartan all dressed up for the Independence Referendum!
So today I and millions of fellow Scottish citizens decide on the issue of staying in the Union or returning to a state of independence, the most important constitutional decision in three centuries. I said months ago I thought it would be far closer than the previously (over)confident No camp thought it would be, but I had no idea just how close it would become this close to the wire… I’ll cast my vote first thing before going to work, no way I will miss this. I decided a long time ago how I will vote, not on nationalistic lines, or from jingoism or feelings towards Westminster but mostly drawing on what I think is the most important thing, what I consider to be the most democratic outcome for Scottish citizens, that gives us the fairest form of democratic represenation.
(aircraft vapour trails crossing above Edinburgh Castle, creating a Saltire-like image, a floating, ephemeral version of the Scottish flag in a blue sky above the great castle at the heart of the capital)
I have held off from talking about it here because far too many people from politicians in London who ignored most of it for two years (until recently!) to that useless parasite of modern society, the opinionated but brainless celebrity, have been busy trying to tell people how they should think and vote. And while I have (surprise) strong opinions, as I tend to do about most things (Neil Gaiman once commented I was opinionated, but in the good way), I have no desire to try and influence anyone. This is not a decision anyone should try to make for you, not foolish, interfering foreign politicians (yes, Mr Tony Abbot, you and others), not the London government, not celebrities (especially those who don’t even reside in the UK most of the time), this is our decision, for Yes or for No, our nation, our ancient nation, and our choice.
And afterwards… Afterwards, whichever way the result goes, no rancour, no discrimination, no in-fighting, we are, as the grand old Scots saying goes, all Jock Tamson’s Bairns. And recall the words of our great Scots makkar and artist, Alasdair Gray, “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” Whichever way the vote goes, work for ever more change – because change doesn’t stop because life is change and we can’t stop it as long as we live – change that makes for a better nation, because our nation is ancient and it was passed to us and we will pass it on to others, hopefully changed for the better each generation.
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s speech to the Conservative party conference recently contained her wrapping herself in the Union flag to attack the pro-independence camp in Scotland. Since the Tories were the only major party to even oppose Scotland having a devolved parliament I tend to pay little attention to what Scottish Conservatives said – they are mostly a fringe party in Scots politics, really, both in terms of Holyrood and Westminster, disliked and distrusted by the majority of the electorate, as their voting habits have shown numerous times in recent decades. Ironically the voting system for the Scots Parliament has been their best hope for clinging on to at least a small amount of politicians in Holyrood…
“But 98% of Conservatives said they wanted to keep our Kingdom United.
And friends, do you know what I want? I want the names and numbers of the other 2%”
Er, is that right? She wants the names and numbers of anyone who doesn’t agree with her completely? Great British Gods! How dare someone hold or express a different opinion in our democratic society! Fear being tracked down by Davidson’s secret police and dragged away in dead of night for dissenting, you disloyal scum!
Seriously though, that is quite a disturbing thing for a politician to say and more to the point why the hell are the lazy-arse Scottish media not grilling this politician over this remark? That’s their job, to hold politicians to account. And when they utter chilling phrases like that they should be held to account and questioned very closely and publicly on what they meant. Or perhaps like other right-wing politicians recently she will simply say “taken out of context” (the standard excuse) or the “it was a joke” (an excuse for uttering disturbing lines that seems to be making a come back in British politics at the moment). Either way she should have been questioned by the Scots media on this and she should also be a damned sight more careful of the wording of her speeches. As my friend remarked as we discussed this, had a Yes camp politician said something similar there would have been uproar, and rightly so.
And before anyone says I’m just doing some pro-independence biased ranting here, A) I am still waiting on a proper debate (as opposed to simple posturing and either scare stories or misty-eyed rhetoric from each side we’ve had so far) and information on which to base my decision for my vote (and lines like that above don’t help persuade me to the No camp) and B) even if I had decided completely to be in the Yes camp already it doesn’t invalidate the criticism of her quite disturbing wording.
Down at North Berwick on a very warm, sunny Sunday afternoon earlier this week, strolling along the beach we heard the drone of a propeller engine – not unusual as there is a small airfield nearby and light aircraft and small microlights fly out from it and along the coast regularly. This sounded much more powerful though and when we spotted the plane it was moving a darned site faster than the usual little Cessna type light planes you see around there (which are really the small car of the skies, very slow). This sounded like an engine beefed up for speed and it roared past quite low; as it tilted we realised it was a biplane and we thought hey, few years back, last time we saw a biplane at this spot he was practising his air display routines, I wonder… And lo and behold on went the smoke cannister and the pilot launched into a series of maneuvres, rapid climbs, dives, looping…
After several moves the pilot roared low over North Berwick, from this perspective seemingly in line with the rocky headland which just out beyond the Scottish Seabird Centre and the harbour and I quickly tried to zoom and focus on the fast moving plane and was lucky enough to capture this scene:
And a moment later I got another decent pic of the plane with the local landscape, this time flying past the mighty Bass Rock (once a site of pilgrimage, a monastery, a fortress and a prison across our long history, now one of the largest seabird colonies in Europe, given back to nature):
We even got to see the pilot pull a classic stunt that goes back to the World War I dogfights, climb up at full speed, almost vertically until stalling then let the plane ‘fall’ over and straight back down into a dive:
Turning into a climbing loop:
And then it was all done, our brief one-man air show was finished and the biplane was roaring back inland towards the airfield. But what a cracking little surprise show we had:
Crossing the Tay rail bridge at the weekend, a bright, sharp but chill Easter weekend. As the bridge curves across the mighty Firth of Tay towards Dundee the river was at low tide, still as a mirror and reflecting the cloudscape above beautifully. It was a glorious Scottish landscape to view from the train and I didn’t expect any shots taken through the window from a moving train to come out very well, but sometimes little experimental shots like that work and you get something beautiful like this:
Heading down the coast a few weeks ago with a chum and his dog we stopped off briefly at Longniddry Bents to let the dog have a quick walk and in case he needed to ‘use the facilities’. As we walked down to the beach we had this rather lovely sight of a pair of horses being exercised in the shallow surf of the Bents (which have a long, very shallow beach so at high tide you can wade around a fair bit before it gets too deep, the odd dips notwithstanding):
This one was actually being lead rather than ridden as he’d injured his leg and the salt water was good at cleaning out the wound: