The blue fortress of winter…

One from my photo archives, taken on this day in 2010, during the very heavy winter and snowfall we had that year, and reposted here to mark 30th November, Saint Andrew’s Day:

Edinburgh Castle, Saint Andrew's Night

I came out of my book group that evening, Edinburgh was covered in snow. And the Castle atop its great rock above the city was illuminated Saltire-blue to mark the day of our nation’s patron saint. The skyline of my gorgeous city is remarkable at any time, but on this winter’s night, the Castle in blue, the city draped in snow, it was magical, and I just stood there in the cold taking it in. These are the sorts of sights you just come across living in Edinburgh, no wonder I love it so much. As I was out at my book group I wasn’t carrying a tripod, I improvised by jamming the camera between railings overlooking the Gardens to steady it, and with so much streetlight being reflected by the snow it was enough to get a clear night shot. I didn’t expect it to come out so clearly, being an improvised shot, but it’s digital so not wasting film, may as well try, because sometimes they don’t work, other times you capture a moment like this forever…

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day

It’s Saint Andrew’s Day again in Scotland, here’s a night shot I managed to improvise of Edinburgh Castle lit up in blue like our Saltire especially for the occassion. I was on my way home from my book group so didn’t have a tripod, but when I saw this I improvised, jammed the camera as best I could between some railings above Princes Street Gardens and tried to brace it to hold it steady enough for a night shot, helped by it being lighter than usual with all the snow we had at the time reflecting a lot more ambient light and after a few shots one finally came out reasonably well (click for larger image on my Flickr):

Edinburgh Castle, Saint Andrew's Night

Saint Andrew’s Day

It’s Saint Andrew’s Day in a very snowy Scotland and Edinburgh Castle has been specially lit with a pale, blue light, reminiscent of our Saltire. I managed to get a shot this evening on the way home from the book group tonight, no tripod with me as I had gone right from work to the group meeting, so improvised (as I do for most of my night shots!), jammed camera as best I could between the railings of Princes Street Gardens just above the Ross Bandstand. Seems to have worked, although it meant I couldn’t angle the camera as I’d like to get the whole thing in – did try that but camera wasn’t steady enough, came out blurred, so have to settle for this one – I do like the light in conjunction with all the heavy snow we’ve had, makes an eerie effect, almost like something from a fantasy film:

Edinburgh Castle, Saint Andrew's Night

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day

And so one of the Scottish national emblems – the thistle – for the day of our patron saint who also gave us the form of our flag, the Saltire, the oldest national flag still in use, an insignia of Scottishness for over a thousand years. And since it is Saint Andrew’s Day let’s have some Scottish poetry – this one is by the poet and novelist Andrew Greig, who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a drink and a natter with on a few occasions over the years:

As your lover on waking recounts her dreams,
unruly, striking, unfathomable as herself,
your attention wanders
to her moving lips, throat, those slim shoulders
draped in a shawl of light, and what’s being christened here
is not what is said but who is saying it,
the overwhelming fact
she lives and breathes beside you another day.

Other folks’ golf shots being even less interesting
than their dreams, I’ll be brief:
as she spoke I thought of a putt yesterday at the 4th,
as many feet from the pin as I am years from my birth,
several more than I am from my death –
one stiff clip, it birled across the green,
curved up the rise, swung down the dip
like a miniature planet heading home,

and the strangest thing is not what’s going to happen
but your dazed, incredulous knowing it will,
long before the ball reaches the cup then drops,
that it’s turned out right after all,
like waking one morning to find yourself
unerringly in love with your wife.

“A Long Shot”, by Andrew Greig, borrowed from the website of the Scottish Poetry Library (based here in Edinburgh), where you can enjoy a good browse at plenty of verse from Scottish writers.

Happy Saint Andrews Day

To mark the day devoted to Scotland’s patron saint I’ve indulged myself in many Scottish activities. I began by releasing a group of wild haggis upon the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. I had planned to dance upon a pair of crossed swords as we Scots are want to do (a lot better than Morris Dancing, but there must be easier ways to clip your toenails) but since we are in the 21st century I used a pair of lightsabres instead (with a tartan beam-blade of course), dancing to the sound of the pipes and drums while reciting Burns, drinking whisky, eating shortbread, deep frying my lunch, creating a major new philosophical system, wrote some poetry, made some astonishing scientific discoveries, beat someone to death for wearing the wrong football scarf and finished by abusing passing Englishmen. That was a busy day…

Happy Saint Andrew’s Day

Patron saint of Scotland, depiste never actually having been in Caledonia in his lifetime. Home-grown talent from these islands, such as Columba, must have thought they were a shoe-in for the top job but lost out to Andy – today politicians looking for easy popularity with the unthinking masses would no doubt make a song and dance about bloody immigrants taking our jobs…

Saint Andrew’s Day is now marked by the First Minister of the Scottish parliament who rides a giant haggis down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, throwing greasy Scotch pies and bottles of Irn Bru to the crowds. Tradition has it that if you are fortunate enough to catch some of this largesse you should take it home and, in the ancient Scottish manner, deep fry them and eat them. You should then experience a vision of Saint Coronary, another important Scots saint. The former head of the Scottish Conservatives was supposed to follow on another haggis, but he was forced to resign after attempting to claim travel by haggis as parliamentary expenses when using it for his own purposes (sorry, that won’t mean a thing to anyone who hasn’t been following Scottish politics).

And to mark Saint Andrew’s Day I visited the very nifty Poetry Archive and had a listen to my favourite living Scottish poet, the wonderful Edwin Morgan (the first National Makar – that’s Poet Laureate to non Scots). It’s a lovely site with a very good range of wordspinners on it. I like good poetry; I love prose but there are some ideas, feelings and events which poetry can suggest in a way prose cannot (although sometimes very moving prose becomes almost like poetry). Poetry is to literature as jazz is to music; it can be fast or slow, playful or mournful, reflective or full of light but always different. And the best way to hear it is from the lips of the bard – as you can do on the Poetry Archive.

Happy Saint Andrews Night

Yes, it is the 30th of November which means it is Saint Andrew’s Night, the patron saint of my beloved Caledonia. In many ways he is an odd choice – he never visited Scotland in his lifetime. His remains were brought here – or at least his alleged remains as there was a lot of fabricated holy relics around – to Saint Andrews centuries later. He was crucified and said he was not worthy to be crucified in the manner of his Lord, so he was crucified instead on two beams crossed like an ‘X’.

But why Andrew and not someone who had a more direct influence on Scottish early history, such as Columba or Ninian? These holy men not only brought the mixed blessing of Christianity they used their influence as a tool to help this unified worship be a method for creating a single nation by allying church with the king.

No-one really knows why the Saltire, our national flag, is the way it is. The legend tells us that before a great battle between the massive Angle army from the south and a united Pictish-Scots army. Before the battle as King Hungus prayed for victory for his people. In the sky the clouds formed the shape of a Saint Andrew’s cross against a blue background. Bouyed by this the Celtic nations fought a ferocious battle and secured their freedom. The king vowed to make Andrew the patron saint of the land ever after, and so he has been. After this it is a matter of historical record that reliquaries with remains of the saints would be carried before Scots armies before battle for centuries afterwards. Today they

march behind a piper, but the idea is not so very different.

Well, that is the legend. As no bugger actually knows what really happened it is as good a tale as any, and all legends have some small truth in them after all. All nations have their creation myths, even modern ones like America have mytholigised the reasons leading up to the Revolutionary War and the events which came after, most happily ignoring the actual historical fact. If that can happen to a recent event – and we reckon time differently in this ancient land, to us 1776 is modern history – then is it any wonder the distant past from the so-called Dark Ages should be so mytholigised? It’s in the same vein as the exploits of Wallace and the Bruce, both of whcih have more historical documentation behind them than the Saltire, but which now belong as much to mythology as to history, as Vercongetrix does to the French people. Roland Barthes has a lot to say about mythologies and the space they fill in human requirements. Myth is not just tales of the Scylla, or Odin, myths invest our entire way of seeing the world. The myths of our goodness and democracy, the myth of our united land – we pick and choose all sorts every day in order to function as a community; myth really is a vital part of our being. No doubt it is one of the reasons why we are so drawn to stories, ebing yet another example of myth making. And as stories go the great cross in the sky before a desperate battle is a bloody good one.

This site has more information for anyone interested.