A little piece of family history

My dad recently handed me over some very old family photographs, and in the very old leather wallet they were in was my grandfather’s pass for the Saint Andrew’s Ambulance Corps, Kirkintilloch branch (he was a very fine first aider, also looked after the fitness of the local football team and worked the ambulances during the second world war):

papa's St Andrew's Ambulance Corps pass 01

When you look at the interior you can see that he signed it on the 8th of April 1933:

papa's St Andrew's Ambulance Corps pass 02

And here he is even earlier than that date, he’s the one standing here, with waistcoat and pocket watch on a chain, both things I am rather fond of myself; I’d like to think it got that from him:

old print 01

The Flashing Blade

Admiring some beautiful, historic swords in the National Museum of Scotland, brings out the Flashing Blade in me, urge to swashbuckle rises… In truth that urge to swashbuckle is never far from the surface, which is probably one of the reason I fenced throughout school and then years later at college. Although not with these. Gorgeous basket-handled Scottish swords, including a very unusual curved blade. Beautiful work, although I prefer a sword with a less elaborate guard so it leaves the fingers and wrist more free to make light, quick movements, which is a better method of defence for the hand than a large guard, at least that’s how I was trained.

swords in National Museum of Scotland 07

swords in National Museum of Scotland 04

swords in National Museum of Scotland 03

An enormous Claymore – Claymore from this period are generally massive weapons, but I think this one was perhaps ceremonial

swords in National Museum of Scotland 01

Shadows cast by the Claymore:

swords in National Museum of Scotland 02

Looking across Edinburgh

I’ve uploaded a few more photos shot from the roof terrace garden on top of the National Museum of Scotland (see previous post); this one is Arthur’s Seat taken from the roof, with the shadows of clouds passing across the face of Salisbury Crags (best viewed in the large size on the Flickr page):

Arthur's Seat from National Museum of Scotland roof

The room just off the terrace where the lift is has large windows looking out towards Bristo Square and Edinburgh University, with the rotunda of McEwan Hall on the lower left (where my graduation ceremony took place a lifetime ago):

looking through the square window

This leads to the lift room but with the strong sun casting such lovely, clear shadows on the decking I had to take this:

National Museum of Scotland roof terrace 03

I also edited a few video segments into a 360 degree panoramic view of the city from this rather wonderful vantage point:

The roofs of Edinburgh

Recently I did something I hadn’t done before – in fact something I didn’t even know you could do: go onto the roof of the National Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street. I’ve been in many times but I had no idea there is a large roof terrace (with native plant garden) that you are free to visit too. I’ve wandered around the museum many times but the signs to the roof aren’t too obvious and most folks in Edinburgh I mentioned it too didn’t realise you could go up there either. Lovely spot offering pretty much 360 degree views over the roofs of the Old Town towards the Mile, over historic Greyfriars Kirk, nearby Edinburgh University, the Pentland Hills beyond the city, Arthur’s Seat, the huge extinct volcano which rears out of the royal park right in the middle of Edinburgh, and, of course, the Castle. Again I find myself wishing I could afford to upgrade to the camera I have my eye on which has much more zoom power, but even so it was still a great and quiet spot to stand and take in the view and shoot a few pics:

Greyfriar's and Castle from Museum roof

Saint Giles from Museum roof 02

Edinburgh Castle from National Museum roof 01

Put that book down and pay attention to me

Tidying up some files on my external hard drive and found some photos I hadn’t gotten around to uploading, including some of my gorgeous wee Dizzy who sadly I don’t get to see these days, which is very upsetting. Reading a book outside while she plays in the garden, but obviously she does not approve of the book as it takes my attention away from her, which is not acceptable to any kitty cat and especially not to Queen Dizzy:

I am bored of reading, entertain me

Having interposed between me and my book she now decides since I was foolish enough to move, she will just have my seat:

actually I'll just take your seat 02

Ohhh, what’s that over there? I am intrigued and considering investigating, but am loathe to give up the still-warm seat you so foolishly left unguarded:

what's over there too?

Spring time in Scotland

It’s, Scotland, it’s Easter, it’s spring time… So, plenty of snow then… Walking in the Pentlands today, snow left from the dreadful weather earlier this week which dumped snow over a lot of Scotland and storms that have made a mess of a lot of bits of the coastline. Some of it has melted away but in the Pentlands on the edge of Edinburgh it’s still lying there, from light dusting on some spots to seriously deep snow in other spots, coming up our shins almost to our knees.

snowy Pentlands 01

Walking up the hill the skyline gave a great effect, making it look like the clouds were rising up from below the horizon:

snowy Pentlands 07

snowy Pentlands 011

Walking through snow is tiring, time for a breather; this also means time for Bruce the dog to scrounge a biccie from his master:

Gordon and Bruce on snowy Pentlands 02

You can see Edinburgh spread out in the background here (click for the larger version on Flickr):

snowy Pentlands 012

Ghosts in the Hollow

Photographer Jim LoScalzo toured lost ghost towns in the Appalachians, once thriving mining towns which became deserted when those mines closed down, leaving the decaying, abandoned structures as ghosts of the past, crumbling monuments to the everyday life of the many men who toiled beneath the ground and their families who they toiled so hard for (and often lost their lives for, deep below, away from the light of the sun and the caress of the wind). Link from Selectism, via Jonathan Carroll.

Ghosts in the Hollow from Jim Lo Scalzo on Vimeo.

Reminded me a little of a day wandering around Prestongrange mining and industrial museum, early in spring, not another soul around, just me and rusting rail tracks, the long-disused winding wheel and old machinery. Not quite the same as his piece with the abandoned homes but still that feeling of ghosts of people, of a whole way of life gone forever, although at least here people can still come and explore that part of their industrial heritage.
Prestongrange mining museum 3

I was also struck by another of his works, this time a more modern yet no less haunted ghost town, empty areas of New Orleans, street lights still working but few people returned or some neighbourhoods even devoid of those who once lived there...

Twilight in New Orleans from Jim Lo Scalzo on Vimeo.

Botanical

I’m enjoying some time off and lo and behold the grim, gray weather of the weekend vanished to be replaced by gloriously sunny, spring-like weather (although still pretty cool, if not actually frosty in the shade). Good lord, good weather on a week off? Gasp. And it’s that beautiful, golden quality of sunlight at this time of year, not the brighter, bleaching sunlight of summer (well, when we get sun in summer in Scotland…) while the air still has that clear quality from winter, a combination which is especially good for taking photos, I find, especially of some buildings. Yesterday the sunlight was complimented by a wonderfully clear sky, like a blue crystal dome, utterly cloudless, as I decided to head down to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Despite the fact I have lived in the city since the start of the 90s I’ve rarely been down to the Botanics, mostly because it’s never really been near where I lived or worked, nor is it close to any friend’s home I might be going to or any other place I might be visiting.

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 02

I ended up spending hours walking through the greenhouses, from the lovely original Palm House (above), which dates from 1834 and is a splendid example of the glass, iron and steel construction the Victorian period pioneered so spectacularly. Still gorgeous today – especially on a bright day – but imagine how much more impressive this structure must have appeared to the Edinburgh citizens of the 1830s, who lived in a city of tall, impressive stone buildings.In the Old Town towering stone tenements used the limited space effectively but also make for shadowed canyons; even the New Town with its Georgian splendour and much larger windows and wider streets still would not have this quality, a space flooded with huge amounts of natural light sparkling through glass suspended from a seemingly frail – but actually very strong – slim latticework of iron. Being midweek it was fairly quiet and I often had entire glasshouses to myself and it was delightfully peaceful.
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 07
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 09
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 10
Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh 16
I shot far too many photos as I toured through the various public glasshouses (there are others which are for research) from the Palm House through tropics and arid biospheres; I’ve only uploaded a few so far and will do the rest later, although I also shot a brief video in each of the glasshouses as I went through them and I’ve edited them together into a ‘virtual tour’:



Poetry in motion

I’ve been on a bit of a poetry kick this month; Edinburgh City of Literature’s annual campaign this year (previous years have seen Conan Doyle and Stevenson used to boost interest in reading) is in collaboration with the Scottish Poetry Library. Carry a Poem is encouraging people to find ways of taking poetry around with them and sharing it; as well as giveaways of books and cards it also includes projecting verse onto public monuments and buildings, such as the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge (an institution which, coincidentally, digitally archives this very blog):

carry a poem - national library of scotland 02
I love this idea; in our northern kingdom night falls very early in the winter months and I think it is rather wonderful that as darkness steals across the land the very fabric of the city becomes a page for the poet’s art. For an ancient city such as Edinburgh it seems most appropriate; it’s a city of history and culture, part real, solid buildings and streets, part fantastical, drawn from the imagination of painters and writers and photographers and others and the written word is as much Edinburgh’s foundational fabric as her native stone and volcanic rock, from scholarly treatises penned by kings to the centuries of endless writers who have lived and scribed away inside her, their words shaped by the city but also shaping the city itself, re-imagining it, be it Burns or Stevenson or Hume or modern authors like Rankin. Even her streets have become pages, home to the written word:
Carry a poem - Royal Mile
How sad then that so many people walked past as I stopped to look at these scenes, words written in light and displayed on ancient stone, most of them oblivious to these little gems of art and life the city was offering up to them as they hurried home after the day’s labour. Even when these schemes are not running there’s so much that draws the eye, little stories beckon, little glimpses of history and lives and small delights and wonders if you but pause for just a moment. Look, here carved in stone it tells you Scott once lived in this building, that Stevenson drank in this howff. Sometimes my walk home may take ten minutes longer than usual as I pause to look at something (and usually try to photograph it too), but what’s ten minutes? Who cares if it’s home ten minutes later when those moment were spent not in the dull, mundane every day of work, home, dinner, washing up but in looking at something beautiful that most people are too blinkered to notice, a tiny splash of magic that made me smile.

Their loss. The city speaks if you have eyes to see and ears to hear and you haven’t closed off that sense of wonder that first is stoked in childhood but so many seal off in adulthood, letting it atrophy, assuming it a childish thing and always left afterwards with a tug somewhere inside for something they know they have lost but they don’t know what it is let alone how to recover it. Pity such people; they like to project an aura of being capable, practical, down to earth; often they affect to pity the dreamer as one who is a little addled perhaps or merely too indulgent, even childish. But they are the ones who are hollow within, closed, lost, stumbling through the world with their most important senses blinded to the wonder around them.

I think it’s why I love poetry; it’s like jazz, it stands outside of prose, although kin to it, it touches directly on sensation, experience, emotions in a way no other artform does, although many borrow from it for their own medium, which becomes richer for it. Poetry is one of our most ancient artforms – long before we wrote them down they were told orally (still the best way to experience a poem) and passed on, from the short to the truly epic, the longer ones memorised in verse because it helped the cadences of the storytelling and for the storyteller to recall it for their audience. Words, especially the written word, were seen by the ancients as being akin to magic, a symbolic way of interpreting and reworking some part of the universe. They were right. Since I’m on a poetry jag, here’s a lovely little animation by Julian Grey I found which accompanies former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins reading his poem Forgetfulness:

sunset

This afternoon, down where the River Esk flows out into the mighty Firth of Forth in Musselburgh, looking back across a very swollen high tide towards Edinburgh and the hills as the sun set behind the city and turned the world copper.
setting sun, the Forth, Edinburgh
Funny, but although I’ve been on the beach on the opposite bank many times I hadn’t been to this spot – just near the race course, behind the some houses, where there’s a bit of a peninsula made from the clinker and ash from the nearby power station. And for some reason right next to the junction of the two rivers there’s this giant blue arrow in a small park. Why? Turns out that it was originally put there right next to the river to let RAF bomber crews line up for their bombing run on a floating target out on the Forth. I had no idea this was here.
this way