Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fife coastal walk: 2

It's taken too long to get round to it, but here is the next part of what is becoming a winter project to walk the Fife coastal path.

Days are short at the moment, so 9.30 am saw me getting off the train at Kinghorn and seeing what was more or less a sunrise.

The caravans thankfully didn't last very far, and I soon got to the day's first castle, Seafield Tower, with its own tiny harbour.

I reached Kirkcaldy not long after, and stopped for coffee and a not-very-nice all-day breakfast. I always find that Fife has a good supply of baker's shops where traditional plain baking may be acquired, and Kirkcaldy is no exception. I bought a bag of scones for £1. The assistant wore a badge that said "SAY AYE TAE A PIE".

Onwards to Ravenscraig castle, which Historic Scotland uncharacteristically, don't tell you much about.
A lot of industrial past can be seen on this walk, and there's a bit of it at Dysart, whose neat harbour was originally used to export Fife coal. A bit further along is the preserved winding gear of the Frances colliery.
A slightly less obvious reminder of the coal industry is the vast spoil heap that the path takes you over. It has been landscaped and has enough vegetation on it now that you'd never know there was once a nice sandy beach underneath.

I'd never heard of the caves at Wemyss, but I should have. I also didn't know that the name Wemyss comes from the Gaelic Uamh (a cave). So there you go.

And the last castle of the day: Macduff castle.

Buckhaven and the outskirts of Methil tend to drag a little, though there is much more recent industry in the form of the Kvaerner fabrication yard with its massive shed. Methil power station also dominates the view for a while. It used to run on coal (do you see a theme developing here?), but was decommissioned in 2000. When I got to Leven, there was an hour or so of daylight remaining, but its cute new bus station seemed a natural point to stop. I had twenty minutes to wait for my bus home, which I occupied with buying chocolate and wandering up the main street. One shop was a huge empty barn-like space lit by strip lights. Somebody was pulling down shutters as I passed. The name above the entrance read "Woolworths".

I hope to have more psychogeography very soon.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

You want disgusting local filth on that?

The ever-fascinating Strange Maps has been mapping the boundaries of some fast food habits. I wonder how they'd get on with the distribution of salt-and-sauce on chips. A perverse Edinburgh habit that I've never taken to.

Monday, December 15, 2008

An obsession for the mentally deranged

I was very much hoping that NordWand would be good. The mountain film is a shy and rarely-met-with creature: you just don't get that many. So there is an extra intensity of hope. After waiting all that time since Touching the Void, would I be let down? Thankfully I was not.

The film tells the story of an attempt on the North Face of the Eiger in July 1936. The feeling of climbing is conveyed very well, with lots of detail of the (to today's eyes) crappy equipment of the time. Ropes are of hemp; clothing is woollen and dull in colour; ice axes are long and wooden. Natural materials ranged against ice and rock, I suppose.

The film starts in a fairly pedestrian manner, but the device of the ascent builds up interest, and the final third is stunning, tragic, fascinating, and oddly beautiful. One small criticism: I think the film misses the opportunity to show the danger from falling rocks as the face warms up.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I'm currently enjoying the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy in its best form: radio. The original series, broadcast from 1978 to 1980, were a formative experience for me. I can still remember lying on top of my bed one evening listening to that bit about the Shoe Event Horizon (a section that is both manifestly true--you try living in Swindon--and which curiously failed to make it to any of the series' other forms). I didn't know before that how effective radio could be. And I didn't know you were allowed to be that funny.

Hitch-Hiker also meant that I later had a few shreds of status (at least among other geeky 14 year-olds) through being able to recite some of the Good Bits.

For years I owned a tape version of the first two series, but my tape player doesn't work these days, and I own too few audio tapes to be bothered buying another one. So a purchase seemed in order, and the chance to get all the later series too seemed too good to miss.

Monday, December 08, 2008

You gotta rush. It'll pass.

Well, a rush of boredom. You, know, you've nothing in particular on, your boss turns out to be off sick, and you tit about pretending to finish some document that nobody really needs, and that you could have finished on Friday if you had a reason to. Things are so slow, you start writing a training document. Still, with age comes experience and the almost certain knowledge that tomorrow will be better. No, really, it will.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I was in Ocean Terminal yesterday and saw HMS Edinburgh in the harbour. A bit later on she left with the help of a couple of tugs. The huge picture windows at Ocean Terminal are perfect for this.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Fife coastal walk: 1

And now, a slightly delayed post about what I did on Friday.

I've been meaning to walk along the Fife coastal path for a while, and good weather on Friday combined with a day off got me started. Recording my progress here may make me more likely to finish it too.

The starting point is one of Scotland's iconic objects. 55, 000 tons of steel sculpture with trains running over the top of it.

There's a lot of industrial and post-industrial stuff going on at the start of the walk, with disused quarries, and this jetty near Inverkeithing made of old Bailey bridge components.
It's quite a varied landscape though, and a few hours later found me looking at St Bridget's church, near Dalgety Bay. One of the inscriptions on the gravestones reads "1787 James Scott Two Breids".

I neglected to take a picture, but just outside Burntisland is a monument on the spot where Alexander III's horse stumbled and killed him, precipitating the wars of Independence. You know, Bruce, Wallace and all that. Somebody has left some cacti in pots next to the monument. I don't know why.

I can't say I enjoyed this section very much, as you are forced to walk along the road, past lots of identical mobile homes that are arranged in straight rows across the fields. A truly depressing sight. If I'd been Martin Parr, I'd have taken pictures. I guess it pays better than farming the land.

Things improved a bit at Kinghorn though. Some people were attempting to surf in the tiny bay in front of the town.

I considered walking further, but it would be getting dark soon, and I could see more caravans in the distance, so for the sake of my sanity I got the train home.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How big is it really?

Check out ActualSizer. It gives you a sense of the scale of an art work: something that is often lost in reproduction. I sense some major time-wasting approaching.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More news from my lunchtime walk

This wee dug was being encouraged across some jumps, seesaws and tunnels at lunchtime. It seemed happy.

My evening

Excited by the smell of chips, a mouse runs across the floor and behind the washing machine. When I check where it's gone, I find a sock. I was looking for that.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Health and Safety bollox

The pond that I sometimes walk to at lunchtime has acquired a couple of signs saying "Danger, water". Just in case you hadn't spotted that. I wonder how much this pointlessness costs?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Where was I?

My walking gear smells of smoke. I must have spent the weekend in Clashgour.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Doors Open Day

It's that time of year. There's a crispness in the air, and the days are getting shorter. It must be time for Doors Open Day. This year seemed a little less interesting than usual, but you can't back winners every time. There were still high points.

I enjoyed James Craig House on Calton Hill; part of that enigmatic group of buildings around the observatory. This had been allowed to deteriorate, but I'm glad to say the council has done a lot of work on it in the past year or so, as I have occasionally noticed from the top floor of John Lewis. It's still full of plaster dust and old bits of wallpaper, but has excellent views. The best bit is a circular room on the top floor with a painted domed roof, and panoramic views of Edinburgh. Apparently it was a girl's bedroom in the 1930s. How can you progress from that? Any bedroom after that would be a disappointment.

Another Good Bit was seeing inside Edinburgh University's new Informatics Building. I've been watching this take shape along the road from me over the last three years or so, so it's nice to end up at some form of housewarming. The view south from the roof is excellent, and the grass they've planted along the edge makes rather more sense from up there. I believe they do some very clever stuff there too. I wonder how long it'll be before the colour-coded furniture gets onto the wrong floor?

Friday, September 19, 2008

It just works

My new Mac is spectacularly effective, in a particularly unspectacular way. I've connected most of the devices I own to it and found that they work, but up to today the old scanner lying in the corner of the room was reproaching me. It was always a nightmare to set up on Windows, as it never seemed to remember any settings from one session to the next, and usually overwrote drivers for something else. It also insisted on the use of various bits of crapware that you had to install.

On the Mac, I connect everything up, start Image Capture (seems like a good guess), and blow me if it doesn't tell me that I have an Epson Perfection 1250 there mate, and do I want a scan of that thing that's on it?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

I am three

Thanks to Rog's post, I've just realised that my blog is three years old today. I'm a little surprised that it's got this far. I did have a vague vision when I began of myself penning terse little pensées, but of course that didn't happen, and the blog is all the better for it.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Lucky visit

I visited Glasgow yesterday without any clear aim, but struck lucky when I joined a tour of the Necropolis. This has been one of my favourite bits of Glasgow for a long time, but I had never realised that the Necropolis was consciously modelled on Pere Lachaise. Or recognised the symbolism of the Bride of Sighs that you must cross to visit the city of the dead, with the Styx being played by the now-vanished Molendinar Burn. How could I miss that?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Gary's back

I've been missing the War Nerd for a bit, but I'm glad to say he and the Exile have a new home. Kinda cute to see the guy growing moist-eyed over the recent Georgian conflict. Armoured columns and air support--ah, nostalgia!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Good weekend

I passed a much more interesting weekend than normal, thanks to a visit by Rog. Amazing what two determined anoraks can fit in. Among other things, we were berated by Will Self, looked around the city of mad towers that is Edinburgh, and watched the Waverley from the top of the Titan crane.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Somebody today found a young bat inside the office, huddled next to an internal door. A phone call to the RSPCA produced advice: let it hang on a tea towel, take it outside and let it take off. They can't take off from the ground, apparently. Not sure if it has to be a tea towel.

I wonder if this means that bats have moved in to the building (which is only a couple of years old)? Do they like modern offices?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Count's clips

Count Arthur Strong was as good as ever last night. The show contained clips of the Counts' appearances on television over the years. Sadly, I instantly knew which Dr Who story was involved (Tomb of the Cybermen, since you ask).

Somebody at work went because a friend got free tickets because they were in the clip of Ask the Family that was shown.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Good read

I'm currently enjoying Black Swans, by Nassem Nicholas Taleb. He caters to a number of my prejudices, which is always pleasing. He writes entertainingly too. And he's probably right, despite being a bit too rude about statisticians.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Better data

I nearly bought a house today. To be precise: I nearly bought the flat across the landing, but my offer was bettered by somebody else. It's actually quite a promising thing though: I thought my offer would be much too low, but it only missed (apparently) by a small amount. The solicitor was very pleased, as it gave them some idea of what flats like mine are worth (less than they estimated a few days ago). So they now have better data, albeit with a sample size of 1.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Poor thing

The office this afternoon is greatly concerned by a dog left in a camper van in our car park. The van has been left by somebody though--I certainly can't remember seeing it before.

Very British. Would they be so concerned if somebody left their children in there?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Quite good

I've just transferred my Thunderbird email from PC to Mac in about 10 minutes, thanks to some instructions from Mr Sunpig. It only took that long because I hesitated over how to make a copy of a folder (Command-C then Command-V, stupid!).

I was about to gloat about how wonderful Macs were, but Safari crashed just after typing the paragraph above. Still, no harm done.

Safari crashed again just after typing the last paragraph. I hope I'm not stuck in a loop: I want to go to bed now.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Still here

I've been quiet for a bit.

New Job continues well. The office atmosphere is good, with helpful and competent colleagues. This may not seem much, but it's more than I've experienced since about 2003. It's interesting how workplaces acquire a certain mood and a set of unspoken rules. This is mainly through managers recruiting in their own image. Lunchtime walks and deer sightings help make it fun too.

In other news, I now have a Mac, and find it great. I have pondered this move before, but Vista was the final straw. And I'm not alone there.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Nature notes

Leaving work last night, I got my first sight of the deer that are said to live in the woods outside. Young roe deer, by the looks of them.

Lying in bed this morning, I watched a squirrel tearing bits of twig off the beech tree outside my window. I guess it's building a nest - or is it too late for that?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Arty types are not web designers

These days we expect online booking systems to just work. But the one for the official Edinburgh Festival is rubbish, and I can't book anything. They don't seem to answer the phone on Sundays either. Just how hard is it to spend your money, eh?

Friday, June 27, 2008

For steam men

Being lucky when I got the train home from Glenfinnan meant that I shared the platform with this train. Interesting to see the sheer amount of steam coming from various bits of the carriages (to work the brakes?). All those figures being romantically obscured by steam in old films are not exaggerated. It didn't keep the midges way though.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cool plane

Last night and tonight, somebody has been offering pleasure flights over Edinburgh in a Dakota. What a nice thing to do.

Nice weekend

Saturday's walk up Ben Cruachan was unexpectedly continued into Sunday, due to the absence of a train back. This sounds like a disaster, but it was a lovely summer evening to be waiting on a station platform in the woods. After a bit, I wandered off and easily found myself a B&B.

The forced stopover meant that I got to wander round the absurdly picturesque Kilchurn castle on Sunday morning. Then to Dalmally, (birthplace of Labour leader John Smith), and so home.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Stalin and the bomb

In Our Time continues to be excellent. Lysenko this week, who I knew nothing about, but I really should have. A small gem from the programme concerns the development of the Soviet nuclear bomb. Stalin forbade the use of Einsteinian physics (since he knew it was wrong). Beria later reported back to him that they were getting nowhere and wanted to use more productive methods. Stalin relented, reflecting that "we can always shoot them later". What a wag!


Currently enjoying the long-awaited DVD release of this cult comedy from the early 90s. Maybe its Scottishness biases me, but I do think that it's better than Python.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Meall na Fearna

A delightful walk yesterday to Meall na Fearna (just East of Ben Vorlich). I came up with the wizard wheeze of doing it from Callander, which seems to be my default destination these days. It's a longish approach that starts up a picturesque road behind the town, takes you past some forestry and sheep pastures to the wonderfully named Arivurichardich, then insists that you climb to a col at 600m before descending to start the hill proper. The col must be reascended on your return, making this reminiscent of the famous Bealach Bearnais.

I meet one other walker, on his way up Stuc A' Chroin, who paces me to the col, then I have the rest of the walk to myself. Perhaps because of this, there is a lot of wildlife to be seen: a hare, a hind wandering past, and a group of wild goats.

I feel hugely satisfied, possibly even euphoric afterwards. Is it just the fine weather? Or the smugness of planning and executing a fairly long day out without blisters, tiredness or mishaps?

Reading Michael Palin's diaries this morning, I reach his account of filming bits of Holy Grail on a hillside above Callendar. Maybe I walked past the constitutional peasants.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Lifting big things

Clydeside's shipbuilding history is slowly getting some kind of a memorial, though it is spread between several sites. The Titan crane at Clydebank opened to the public last year, and I visited it yesterday. Growing up in Glasgow, the crane (and by that I mean a hammerhead like the Titan) was a natural symbol of strength and technological prowess. The thing that I made most commonly with my Meccano set when I was wee was a crane very like the one you see. I was most directly inspired by the Finnieston crane, mind you. (Oddly, the default construction for me in Lego was a rocket. Nasa really missed something by not giving theirs a square cross-section.) Climbing to the top of this symbol is easy, in a shiny new lift, and there's a fine view along the river. Towards town, somebody is still making ships--Yarrows at Scotstoun is knocking up some new destroyers.

Maybe the basin in front of the crane should be preserved too. So many famous ships started out here. There's a notch at the end where they lengthened it to stop the Queen Mary from sticking out into the river.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Digital bus stops

I've just discovered MyBusTracker which allows you to see real-time bus information for your favourite Lothian bus stop. It's a pity not all the buses are fitted out yet.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Oppie and the bomb

I've been enjoying watching Oppenheimer over the last few evenings. This series was produced by the BBC in 1980, which means that I have a dim memory of it, but was too young to really appreciate what was laid before me. What has made them release it on DVD now I don't know, but I'm glad that they have. It's a real period piece in a way, up there with Tinker, Tailor in its almost insolent slowness and care in building up its subject. Can you imaging anybody now making 7 hours of television that principally featured lots of people in suits sitting round committee tables and smoking a lot? (Admittedly, with one good explosion.) Jack Bauer would save the world several times in that span.

I particularly liked the Groves-Oppenheimer relationship, which could have been just cliche, but instead was subtly portrayed, and left you with respect for both of these very different men.

It's just a pity that the budget for this release didn't stretch to some extras on the DVD (I know these are often rubbish, but this was a case where you could have done something good), or to improving the colour quality of the video sections, which can't possibly have been that bad on broadcast. A missed opportunity also that the original production didn't try to explain more of the physics of what was going on. I looked up my copy of Clive James on Television, and he thought so too.

Monday, May 05, 2008


Suddenly, it's summer. I shouldn't complain, but it was rather hot today. I wanted to round off the weekend with a hill, so found myself in Callender heading up Ben Ledi. The town was tolerable when I arrived, but later was full of Glaswegians getting sunburn and buying woolly jumpers. The walk was good, though it was the first sweat-fest of the year. I reckon the snow might have been a problem only a couple of weeks ago.Sitting on the unusually still and sunny summit, I wonder why the Trossachs (which I can more or less see) were considered such a beauty spot. Because Victorian Scots could go on an excursion on just such a bank holiday and sail down Loch Katrine?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


New Job seems very good so far. It's only the second day, but coworkers seem pleasant and the setting is lovely. We went for a walk through the sunny parkland at lunchtime and watched a foal with improbably long legs. Aw!

I also get to experiment with some new bus routes, which should keep me amused for a while.

And so back to the flat, and the chance to hear Ed Reardon's Week, which proves that all Radio 4 comedy is not atrocious.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Unicorn hunt

Today seemed to be Historic Scotland day. I have a friends card and don't use it often enough. So, off to Doune castle, where I confess I was looking for Python locations. However, I did learn about Robert Stewart, who ran Scotland for 20 years, though without being king.

Returning via Stirling, I popped in to the castle, as I've not been for a few years. Odd how this has changed so hugely since I went there as a kid (the past isn't what it used to be). There is currently a long term project to reconstruct the royal apartments. I was rather swept away by the tapestries that are being made for this. They are copies of the Unicorn Tapestries in the Met in New York. Tapestry for me is one of those archetypally dull things. If you see one in a museum it's a case of "Yes, very nice, where are the paintings?" But these are astonishingly beautiful objects in amazing condition. Works of art, in fact. You can watch the weaving too: it looks a pleasant but tricky task, surrounded by bits of wool and photos of the originals. A few of the finished copies are on display and they're not bad either. I enjoyed this article about cleaning, the smell of wet wool, and reclusive mathematicians.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A shy hill

Some time ago, I blogged about my ascent of the Lammer Law (with no oxygen, mind you). I discovered shortly after that this is not actually the highest point in the Lammermoors, with that distinction being held by Meikle Says Law. Clearly, another trip was in order.

Meikle Says Law is undoubtedly one of the most retiring, shy, and self-effacing of the Scottish hills. I don't think I saw the summit at any point in the walk, until, a few hundred meters from the top, and with that it-must-be-here-somewhere feeling, I spotted a trig point above the heather and walked towards it. The way back was almost equally unrevealing, though its pushier friend the Lammer Law kept getting in the view.

The trig point had a recent sign attached warning you not to damage it. I thought the OS didn't actually use these any more, but obviously they do, and MSL is actually visible from somewhere.

A perversely satisfying walk.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Work again

I have acquired a job. No, really this time. It is with the people who didn't quite offer me the last job, but is a different job. Doing proper stats, I hope. My four months or so of semi-idleness is at an end.

In other news, I had a pleasant shopping expedition yesterday to Tiso's. Not only did I get an unexpected discount, but I clocked Iain Banks talking to an assistant.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


There! I shouldn't have mentioned it. The almost-a-job-offer has melted away like snow in the spring sun. There was a long silence, then a downward revisal of the salary to a level that I suspect they knew I would not accept.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Arty day

I enjoyed the Glasgow Art Fair yesterday. I even bought some art, a linocut, for the first time in several years. And isn't the internet amazing, it can be found here. The work is better in reality, though. The colours nicely capture the oddness of snow in the city, and the use of the different colour blocks is clever.

Some nice extras too in the form of some free talks: by Tom Normand on Scottish photography, and by Calum Colvin on his work.

Even losing my return ticket and having to stand in a queue with my picture to buy a new one didn't dampen my good mood.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Scarf dating

No matter how sad and nerdy you are, the internet can instantly put you in touch with somebody more so. I have been overdosing on vintage Dr Who a bit recently, but this page brought me up short and encouraged a brisk walk in the fresh air. Theming your site around Tom Baker's scarf is one thing, but having a diagram of its stripes, together with annotations of which bits were cut off in which episodes...

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Oh, and I've just been sort-of offered a job. At the interview yesterday, I almost managed to perform my normal trick of talking my way out of it, but not quite. Hope I haven't jinxed things with this post.

Is our climate changing?

I enjoy reading some of the more skeptical blogs about global warming. Especially on a day like today, when I'm meant to be doing some real work (i.e. work that earns me money).

I enjoyed the survey of historical weather scares in Anthony Watt's blog. Particularly the global cooling scare from 1975. A lot of these may be to do with the nicely named Pacific Decadal Oscillation. It's all a salutary reminder that the world is Always More Complicated Than That. And it doesn't mean that global warming isn't real, just that you might have to look harder.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


I got to use the word "polytomous" today. It makes being a statistician almost worthwhile. I'm still not sure where to put the stress when pronouncing it though (my use was in an email). My paper dictionary doesn't include it, and it baffles the spell-checker.

I'm still working on an excuse to use heteroscedastic, or leptocurtic.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

You mean I have to do this myself?

I keep changing my mind about whether recruiters are the best thing since sliced bread, or just completely hopeless. As a person who is really rubbish at finding jobs on my own, the obvious solution is to get a professional to do it for me. A few years ago, when starting on a previous bout of joblessness, I was warned to ration my use of recruiters, because they would pester me all the time. Fat chance.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Steven Campbell

I'm taking advantage of my half-idleness just now to go to lunchtime talks. Today we looked back on the work of the painter Steven Campbell, who died last year. The talk was significant for me as he was one of a remarkable generation at Glasgow School of Art in the early 80s who were held up as an example when I was at school. He was in the same year as Ken Currie, who won the annual Newberry award. Since Steven was also clearly exceptional, they invented the Bram Stoker award for him. These and other figures meant that when learning about art in the 80s, I had some local examples that gave me a connection to new developments in painting. As a result I never questioned that figurative painting was worthwhile, and am probably still working out of an enthusiasm born at that time. Scotland in the 80s could be a right miserable place, so some genuine heroes (mostly working class too) went down very well.

To be honest, I've never been a completely consistent fan of Campbell's work - it often seemed overblown and a little pretentious. Today's talk did address this somewhat: he was more versatile and thoughtful than I probably gave him credit for. Now what we need is a proper retrospective.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Midweek mountaineering

Just for once, I made an accurate assessment of the weather forecast on Wednesday, and predicted good weather in the West. And just for once, I was able to act on it, given my present state of semi-employment. My reward was a walk up Beinn Eunaich and Beinn a' Chochuill on a clear, crisp day that felt more like spring than February. These are next to Ben Cruachan, which is always a photogenic chap, and looked almost Alpine yesterday with its snowy corries and horn peak. Look:

Fine views towards the cloudier part of Scotland too. This is looking towards Beinn Eunaich, with Beinn Lui prominent on the right. I think that's Ben More and Stob Binnean poking up in between.

I need to get a decent digital camera: I could have taken twice as many pictures, but ran out of memory.

Oh, and Loch Awe has to be a contender for more picturesque station in Britain. It's ridiculously small, squeezed between the loch and a huge mock baronial hotel, and has a cute (presumably original) iron footbridge.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rudolph knew his pictures

During my visit to Prague in December, I learned about Rudolph II and his famous collection of paintings. I'd only vaguely been aware of this before, but learned a lot during my visit to Prague castle, where they are trying to reunite as many of Rudolph's paintings as they can. This is a big task, as they have been scattered by such forces as: bickering relatives, disgruntled Swedish armies who need to get some looting in before peace breaks out, and objects ending up in different countries when an empire breaks down.

I'm now going to see references to the man everywhere. Last week Melvyn Bragg did a program about Rudolph's court. Yesterday I went to a show in the Queen's Gallery in Holyrood Palace, and what should be there but Breugel's Massacre of the Innocents. It was part of the royal collection in Prague, where R had the dying children painted out and replaced by animals and bundles. Charles II later bought it. Him and his dad were responsible for a lot of the good gear in the royal collection.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The conclusion

My telephone line had a fault, quite apart from my old phone being very dodgy. Two BT engineers called this morning, and after ritual sucking of teeth and some impromptu reconfiguring of the window shutters, an ancient Bakelite box was revealed, bearing the inscription GPO. I wonder why these junction boxes are traditionally placed in bathrooms? One of the engineers reckoned that it had been there for fifty years.

The wizzy new cordless phone took a ridiculous time to charge, and somewhere in the confusion, I swapped it for a traditional one. I'm happy now.

Friday, February 01, 2008


I must be getting middle aged, because I will use the flimsiest excuse to visit John Lewis. However, my excuse this time was quite a good one: my house phone completely stopped working this morning, and I felt that wasn't a good state to be in. It has been a temperamental beast for some time, with the ring coming in a random variety of patterns, often having crappy and very directional sound quality, and usually requiring several attempts to actually dial a number. But I forgave it all these because I got it for nothing.

So for under £20, I now have a digital cordless phone with caller display and who knows what else. I do resent the fact that it needs a power source though. The traditional phone was a very elegant design in that respect, needing only the tiny line voltage to make it work. The modern home is full of plugs with step-down transformers.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Today's art

I expected to like the current exhibition of Carol Rhodes' work at the Modern Art Gallery, after leafing through the accompanying book. However, this is an example where reproduction is very kind to the work. I expected large monumental landscapes, but they were quite small, looking rather forlorn in the large rooms. They also strike me as lazy and dull, combining a number of pretentious features: the lack of frames, the deliberate "naivety", and an ironic distance from the subject. At their best, there is an echo of Edward Hopper, but only just.

Never mind. It was free and the cafe downstairs is excellent.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A dose of art

I should be more grateful for living in Edinburgh. There aren't too many places where you can pop out on a whim to see some Turner watercolours. These are part of the permanent collection of the National Gallery, but are only show in January when it's dim. Mr Vaughan was very kind to do this, but he obviously never realised that the light in a gallery could be artificially controlled.

I like the way the Portrait Gallery always has some wee exhibitions in the gaps between the headliners. In particular the quirky things they put on next to the cafe are always a delight. They currently have some portraits generated from death masks in an Edinburgh collection. The results are eerie, beautiful "photographs" of people who, in most cases, died before the invention of photography.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I am a lazy blogger

The parents seem to be settling down now and need only occasional maintenance. The weather is classic Northern Europe in January: dark (I have the lights on and it's 11am), damp, and cold. (Surely, ancient humans used to hibernate? If not, surely they at least spent a lot of time in the cave under the prehistoric version of a duvet, living off body fat?) I also keep forgetting my password for Blogger and it's quite an exercise to reset. But enough excuses.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Still here

I know, I've been a bit quiet recently. A mixture of giving up my job, having to be nursemaid/butler to aging and ailing parents, and visiting Prague over Christmas, probably accounted for this. It's been a miserable month or so (though Prague was good). I just hope 2008 gets better. Focus on the positive: at least I don't have any more commuting.