Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Told you so

Yes, my next walk was somewhat miserable. Tranent to Pathhead on slippy wet snow under a grey sky. The low point came when we felt we ought to have some sort of lunch stop, and stood among dripping branches in a wood for ten minutes. The day did improve after this, and the hill up from GlenKinchie distillery brought some crisper snow. More incident too: we helped somebody get their car out of the snow, and a few fields later saw a barn owl hunting along the hedges.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mair snow

First thing this morning, I had one of those half-awake thoughts. "Wouldn't it be funny if there had been a huge snowfall overnight, and the world is turned white?" Then I looked out and it had.

There had been remnants of snow the night before, but there was now a perfect, even covering. There was snow banked up at the base of my windows, and skeins of spindrift reached out between the rooftops.

As you can perhaps guess, I retain enough of a kid inside me to still enjoy some extreme weather, especially when I have nothing in particular to do at work. I'm certainly not alone in this. As I made my bus journey, the shared sense of adversity produced a kind of camaraderie with my fellow travelers. We offered personal experiences of our journeys so far, swapped stories about the stupid things we'd seen people doing, and shared plans for the rest of our day. I wonder if anybody has studied the positive effect of extreme weather?

I got to go home early too, and saw these tower blocks catching the afternoon sun.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


My flat has a nice view, but I find it hard to photograph. You really have to see it. Here's quite a nice picture of Blackford Hill from this morning anyway.

In other news, snow and ice on Arthur's Seat reduced my time to 17 minutes. On the way down, a walker on his way up warned me of the ice. "I know!" I answered, and did a standing glissade down the path towards him. We did a short dance of awkward laughter and skidding feet until we were both stable again.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday walk

I've started going walks with a local club, and yesterday's outing to Dunkeld was my second. It was a day of classic winter high pressure: clear and cold with banks of fog and frost over everything. A great day for pictures.

That's Schiehallion in the distance looking a bit like Mount Fuji. And to its right, Farragon Hill, which I have managed not to get to a couple of times.

There were predictions of the walk being a mudbath, but the heavy frost made the turf like concrete, and froze lochs most picturesquely.
How nice of those swans to position themselves as pure white accents in the scene.

Savor these delicate harmonies in grey and brown. My next walk will no doubt be soggy and damp.


I seem to have discovered another talent: baking. We had a sale of baking at work today, and my carrot cake was consumed by ravening coworkers by 10.20. I didn't get a bit myself either, though I did of course get to lick the bowl last night.

I wonder what it is about women and gooey cakes?

I must use my gift wisely.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Arthur's Seat

Better pacing today bought me to the top in 14 minutes.

In fairness to my previous comments, I should point out that there were a couple of local lads on top, who asked me where lots of things were before I got my breath back.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Arthur's Seat

It's a lovely day today. I went up Arthur's Seat this morning (and how many cities have their own mountain, albeit a small one?). I used to do this fairly regularly and in a nerdy but harmless way, would measure the time from my doorstep to the top. I think 21 or 22 minutes was the record. This is only my second ascent since moving, so I think I should start making the exercise more regular. And my new benchmark is 16 minutes from the park gates to the top.

It is an exceptionally clear day. From the top, a line of peaks in the Highlands were visible, where normally there is cloud or haze. The summit viewpoint indicator actually misses quite a few out, but I had prepared with a crib sheet. Some of the more impressive sightings were Ben Bhuide, Ben More and Stob Binnean, Ben Lawers, and a bit of Beinn A Ghlo.

I had a chat on top with a German student about hills and Edinburgh. It's always noticeable how few natives you meet up there.

I didn't have my camera, so no nice pictures, I'm afraid.

PS: Just realised how similar this is to a previous post. Clearly, I'm becoming very predictable.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Oh dear

Radio 4's 6.30 comedy spot doesn't get any better. A hilarious programme set in a tourist information centre, anyone?

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I've just purchased some big bookcases to replace various small ones that I've acquired over the years. So last night I had some anoraky fun sorting out my books. Quite a few contained abandoned bookmarks. I've never been one for using proper bookmarks, usually just grabbing any handy piece of paper, so these form a kind of demented summary of my last 20 years. In no particular order:
  • Receipt for OPTIKA, 22 Stall St, Bath on 17 August 1996. Looks like I had an eye test, though I have no memory of this.
  • Receipt for Napier University library, recording the borrowing of Mathematics in Western culture on 05 January 2005.
  • Slip of paper torn from a A4 sheet. The header has Chapter 5 The Holos Worksheet.
  • Cheap day return, Edinburgh to Dalmeny, 11 September 2004.
  • Credit card receipt for Edinburgh-Glasgow monthly ticket, 30 October 2006. £250! No wonder I left that job.
  • Receipt from Ipswich and Norwich Co-op for compost, 12 April 2003. I was served by Lynn.
  • Wrapper from Terry's Waifa. Best before APR97.
  • Two genuine bookmarks from Word Power books. Recent.
  • Ditto, much creased, from Waterstones, circa 1997.
  • Ditto, from John Smith and Sons, Glasgow, early 90s.
  • Punched Fortran card. Rescued from Glasgow University Physics Dept, circa 1990.
  • Ticket for the Courtauld Gallery, bearing a detail from Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergere.
  • Seagate Pound. A fake pound note produced as a drinks voucher for a company bash. By means of Photoshop, our company secretary's head was substituted for the queen's, and didn't she look the part. Late 90s.
  • Room card from Spread Eagle Hotel, Thame. Probably 1998.
  • Business card/bookmark from Tin Can Mailman, Arcata, CA. I bought from them via abebooks. December 2001.
  • Nice bookmark, bought in Paris, reproducing drawing by Gustave Moreau. I wondered where that had got to.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Beinn Chabhair

The forecast for yesterday was excellent, so it would have felt wrong not to go up a hill somewhere.

I've pretty much been through the Southern Highlands, so picked out Beinn Chabhair, which I've not done since some time in the early 90s.

Other than the well-known waterfall that you pass on the way up, I recognised very little from my previous visit. Funny how much you forget.

I feel I'm fairly fit these days, but only managed to match the Naismith time rather than undercut it. I put this down to doing some of the northwest ridge, which the SMC guide describes as 'strenuous'. So there.

Some mist rolled over just as I got to the summit, so no panoramas from there, I'm afraid. Still, a good day out.

On the way back, I went into the Drovers for a pint. There was a time when this was a standard stopping-off point on the way back from weekends, but I've not been in for ages. It's much the same as it was, though the bar staff have less hairy chests, and whether the stuffed bear in the entrance is the same stuffed bear that I remember is hard to say.

A week ahead

My digital radio confused me this morning by changing from BST to GMT a week early. I spent some time resetting other clocks and watches, and then tut-tutted over the fact that my Mac hadn't got it right. Except that it had, of course. Clocks in the UK change next week. Is it just me, or is this information not communicated as much as it used to be? Maybe we now just expect clocks to have the computational power to reset themselves.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day out

Last weekend's fix took place on the Moorfoot hills. Not exactly one of the greater ranges, but you have to use what you've got available. The Moorfoots form a boundary to the view when I travel to work in the mornings, filling as they do the gap between the well-known but flat Lammermuirs, and the popular and more eye-catching Pentlands. And some tiny fragments are visible from my flat. A while ago, I formed the idea of a Moorfoot traverse that joined the A7 to the A703. So that's what I did.

It was a day of wind generators, quiet backroads that you didn't need to share with much traffic, and quite a lot of dead things. As well as roadkill pheasants and a badger, I found a still-living lamb on the hill with its eyes pecked out. Enjoy the view.

That's Gladhouse reservoir with Arthur's Seat behind. There were Whooper swans on the reservoir, which (according to a passing birder) were in Iceland the day before. On the 62 bus home, an 82 year old called Irene filled me in on local gossip, how the trams were going, and what shops used to be on the site of the St James centre.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Doors Open Day

DOD continues to surprise me, usually in relation to things I thought I knew.

I saw inside the City Chambers for the first time: the 10 storey staircase, the view over Princes Street, the gaudy gifts presented by visitors and twinned towns. They have a great statue outside, of Alexander and Bucephalus, which is public, but I don't usually have a reason to pause there.Of course, the subject is reason winning over animal passions (the horse was afraid of its own shadow). No chance of a moral lesson will be passed up.

Best interior of the day was the Royal College of Physicians. Their main hall contains columns that are masterpieces of the decorator's art, made to resemble Sienna marble, and so good that they are probably worth more than the real thing. Two beautiful libraries too, filled with leather-bound volumes with titles that I could spend all day browsing through (The Atlas of Skin Diseases, anyone?).

Monday, September 07, 2009

Old job, new job

My current job is the sort where you can be very busy for a bit, then have nothing to do. For the last couple of weeks, things have been very thin, and I've been writing some training documents. As an ex-tech writer, this should be right up my street of course. To be honest though, the experience has made me glad that I (mostly) do something else now. Although I got some vague satisfaction from tracking down that comma splice, or systematically eliminating all passive verbs, my main feeling was of boredom. I mean, who's going to read this stuff anyway?

And today, I got to do some programming, which felt like a delight.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Seen during my lunchtime walk on Friday. And just for once, I had a camera with me. And just for once, it settled on a tree trunk to have its picture taken. It seems to be a male common aeshna (Aeshna juncea). The female have dull green spots instead of blue.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Weasels, painting, walking

I'm currently enjoying The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, which manages to get some reasonably serious musings on our globalised world and why people work in it. I was thinking about Alain de B's photo essay on tuna fish and the interconnectedness of our world while drinking weasel coffee at work. Myself and two colleagues chipped in to buy it. So, in short, small Vietnamese mammals vomitted so that some statisticians in Midlothian could muck about and avoid finishing that analysis plan.

I actually bought the book for quite another reason, as I know the painter profiled in it. It seems a fair write up, and it's good to see an intelligent commentary on painting.

And rather oddly I know somebody else who has a book out. Step forward Craig, whose book The Weekend Fix is being published by Sandstone Press. It's based on his hillwalking experiences. I don't figure by name apparently, but I may be some kind of presiding spirit.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I know, it's been ages

Since my last post, I've moved house, waited for BT to connect my phone, called them to ask why they didn't do it, waited again for the second order to be filled, contacted my ISP to transfer to the new number, and phoned them again to ask why they hadn't done anything. I'm hoping that I will have home internet in a few days.

I am enjoying the view from my new flat though.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why not?

I'm quite a fan of RSS feeds these days. They are great for getting rid of some of the more "creative" (i.e. hideous and useless) features of web pages. I was just looking at some cinema sites to see what's on and none of them have an RRS feed for this. It seems such an obvious thing to do.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Another fun weekend, but of a different sort. Rog can't visit Scotland without a high pressure system getting lonely and following him north, so we had wall-to-wall sunshine. We packed quite a lot of different things in, but one of my best pictures was taken on Calton Hill while we waited for the marathon to start.
I do need reminded sometimes that I live somewhere nice. We didn't envy the runners in Sunday's heat.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wet but worthwhile

I thought I might manage to get a walk in last weekend, but it turned into a proper staying-overnight-and-getting-wet trip to the West Highlands.

Saturday started with a heroic attempt to avoid activity by dossing around Fort William in the rain. At one point, we were even procrastinating about whether we were procrastinating. The rest of the weekend could easily have vanished in a hedonistic frenzy of tea drinking, laughing at souvenir shops, and leafing through climbing guides in Nevisport. Yet somehow the afternoon saw us climbing a hill in the rain. There was no view to speak of, but once we came down the weather was clearing a little. The best part of the day was walking in to a bothy in evening sunlight, with a view of Eigg in the distance.

It's a while since I had a dose of bothy atmosphere, so this was very welcome.

And the situation is lovely:
The canoes weren't ours, but they make a nice picture.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Goodbye Paddy

I feel very sad about the demise of Paddy's Market. It always felt like a bit of the middle ages that had been forgotten about. And now it is no more, to be replaced by 'craft stalls', for fuck's sake.

Maybe I should just be grateful that I experienced something as visceral and unconsumerist in my lifetime.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Day out

I think this is wild thyme. Wild mountain thyme, in fact. It was near the summit of Ben Bhuidhe, which I climbed on Sunday. The man who makes Fyne Ales gave me a lift up the glen a bit, which makes him a nice man and you should buy his beer.

Monday, May 04, 2009

I'm hungry now

About a year ago, there were various reports in the media of a report from the World Cancer Research Fund that claimed cooked meats raised your risk of bowel cancer. On reading this, of course, my cynicism circuits kicked in and I started searching for the flaw that is usually present in such reports. But I couldn't find one. So maybe I should give up Lorne sausage; a depressing thought. However, David Coloquon has excelled himself with an article about randomised controlled trials, and why dead pig wrapped in bread probably won't kill you.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Teaching the Professor

I think most of us have books that we turn to for some dependable entertainment, no matter how many times we've read them. One of mine bears the unlikely title of More Humorous Tales From 'Blackwood'. Blackwoods was a well-known magazine, that was published in Edinburgh between 1817 and 1980. Known colloquially as Maga, it flourished particularly in the era when the British Empire was still a political fact. I bought the book in a second hand book shop in York for 50p in (I think) 1978, and learned an enormous amount from it.

Despite being a fairly precocious ten-year-old reader, I did find it heavy going in places. Some of the lighter pieces went down easily enough (building a house in Barbados; tales of 'My Uncle' -- an eccentric inventor), but despite the humorous theme, some others defeated me. Take Two-Blocked, from 1953, a bewilderingly dull (to my 10 year old self) account of a naval exercise. Returning to the book years later, I realised that it was by Geoffrey Willans (author of Molesworth), and was a rather well-written piece that had a lot to say about post-war Britain trying to thrash out a new relationship with America (the exercise was a joint RN-USN one). Indeed many of the tales (and they are Tales, please note) speak, more or less directly, about the war and about Britain's transition to ex-empire.

Over the years, the collection has stayed fresh, with some over-familiar friends dying away, and previously ignored tales gaining new life. Teaching the Professor is one such. This seemingly slight account of a drive across north Africa in 1943 is one of my favorites. The narrator of the story and the Professor of the title are army officers who need to be in Cairo, but are in Algiers. They make the journey in a thirty-cwt truck, which they christen 'Pinafore'. The Professor really was a professor before the war, and is ferociously erudite, but has trouble with things like making tea, and coping with those who do not match his own high levels of ability. To alleviate the boredom of a fortnight's drive, they agree that whichever of them is not driving should educate the other. It's easy for the Prof., who holds forth about classical history, art, and literature, and can even use the territory of Carthage as an illustration when they pass through it. The narrator has more trouble thinking of a theme, until he discovers that the Professor cannot ride, and so instructs him on hunting, horses, managing hounds and other buccolic English pursuits as they traverse battlefields and amphitheatres.

Over the years, I have often wondered who the Professor really was. Only today did it occur to me to search for him on the internet. Within a minute, I had discovered that he was Enoch Powell. Teaching the Professor was written by Michael Strachan, whose obituary is here.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I heard about the death of J.G. Ballard when my radio alarm came on this morning. As it wasn't a school day, I lay for a while and drifted in and out of sleep, not really sure what had happened. I think he might have liked that.

The Borders

I've never quite understood the romance and mystique surrounding the Scottish Borders. Recently though, I may have been beginning to see the point.

Today was an Edinburgh local holiday and in a fairly random way, I decide to go to Dryburgh Abbey. So it's on to the bus and down the A68 to St Boswell. I walk down to the Tweed and follow it upstream for a mile or so. It's a stupidly pretty spring day. The sun is out, but it's early enough in the year not to be too stuffy. The woods are full of wild garlic, which I can smell if I step on any of the leaves. Small birds are twittering, a swan is being graceful on the river, fishermen are wading, and it wouldn't surprise me if I started singing Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.

On getting to the little foot bridge where I cross the river, there is an Arcadian style temple on the hillock on the other side.

Somebody's been doing odd things to the landscape: I love this kind of stuff. It's a Temple of the Muses, to the memory of the poet James Thomson, erected by the Earl of Buchan, who was keen on making this area a kind of open-air monument to Scotland's past. In fact, a Temple of Caledonian Fame. The Earl was also keen to preserve (and perhaps to "improve") Dryburgh Abbey itself, which is where I go next.

Dryburgh is a ruin, but a really interesting one. It has some of the best preserved medieval paintwork in Britain (don't get excited, it's just smudgy marks really), and has wonderful trees round it (some of them thanks to the earl again). Also there are the burial places of Walter Scott and Douglas Haig. Haig's gravestone is of the standard World War 1 design.

I have a nice lunch, during which I eavesdrop on a couple sitting next to me. What are they up to? The woman gets jumpy when she thinks she recognises somebody else coming in. It's tempting to stay and see what their assignation is about, but I head off for another part of the yer man's hall of fame. It's a 10m high statue of William Wallace, looking across at the Eildon hills.

It's a pity that somebody has tried to colour in the shield in that rather half-hearted way. Somebody should do a study of bad art inspired by Wallace.

So there we are, a day out full of quirky stuff in the Borders. I'll have to go again.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I'm enjoying Matter at the moment. Banksie has revisited ship naming, of which he is a master. I particularly liked the Ned-speak Pure Big Mad Boat Man.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fife coastal walk: 6

This stage doesn't start out as much of a coastal walk, thanks to RAF Leuchars. The first task is to walk past the neatly fenced military quarters, bringing you up in front of St Athernase Church. That's genuine Norman blind arcading, that is.

If I'd known I'd have lingered longer, but I was itching to stretch my legs. After some slightly confusing signposting, I found myself walking across country rather like Suffolk, where I lived for some years. I say this because it was flat heathland with pine trees and sand dunes in the distance. And it was sunnier than Scotland in March usually is.

After walking past more perimeter fence of RAF Leuchars, I finally got on to Tentsmuir beach, and very fine it is too. There is a sense of space here that is utterly different from anything else on this already very varied walk round Fife. The military theme was never very far away though, as I could hear gunfire and occasional explosion during most of the walk. This came from the firing range at Buddon Ness, which is only a few miles away to the North across the Tay.

I settled into a steady pace, and headed North, passing the odd figure on the huge expanse of sand. After a bit, there was a somewhat greater concentration of people, clustered around the one access road that leads to the sea. I found this relative crowd quite heartening: it all seemed very British in its determination to enjoy the North Sea in March.

I thought the beach section would be the slow part of the day, but it passed fairly easily (I'm talking subjective time here--you know how some bits walk themselves and others drag). It wasn't long before I was watching some seals lazing around on Abertay Sands. There's an awful lot of sand in this corner of Fife. In fact, this section of coast is growing at a healthy rate. I cut across the dunes and came across more tank traps. It turns out these were constructed on the high tide line by Polish forces in 1941. The sea is to the left in the photo below.

By this time I had turned my final corner. As at Fife Ness, the vista swings round and we're on the Tay. All that walking on sand had taken it out of me though, and the section round to Tayport felt like a real task. Also, my idea of cutting across the mudflats was not a very good one. But there we are, all the best walks should have an ill-considered section.

Let's end with more bridges.

From Newport-on-Tay I caught a bus into Dundee and refreshed myself with Irn Bru, then caught a train home. I realized that, oddly, I'd never been on the Tay Bridge before. From the train, you can see the piers of the original bridge (the one that memorably blew down in 1879) poking out of the water.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fife coastal walk: 5

Partly because of the amount of golf on this stage of the walk, and partly because of the indifferent weather, I didn't take many pictures of landscape. So I thought that this time we'd do some nature study instead of a travelogue.

I've always loved lichens. That sounds a bit sinister, but they are odd things: not-quite-plants that change and soften the appearance of a lot of objects in the landscape. I've no idea what species these ones are, but they form a fantasy landscape of their own.

I can't remember ever seeing fungi like this before. If anybody knows what kind it is, let me know.

I do know that these are winter aconites, and very pretty they look too.

The Buddo rock looks incongrous and Dali-esque. Lapsed climbers like me will enjoy doing a bit of back and foot to reach the top via the cleft that runs through the rock. Pity it's full of bird shit.
All the pictures were taken between Kingsbarns and St Andrews. Next time, Tentsmuir Forest.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Signs and portents

This morning a heron flew past our office with a frog in its beak. The frog didn't seem happy with how things were going, and the heron couldn't seem to find anywhere to settle down and eat the frog.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I don't normally do this, mind, but last night I went to see a film based on a comic book. The fact that the work in question is Watchmen made the decison much easier. It's pretty good. Zac Snyder (he of the visually interesting but silly 300) has put in a good effort and has managed to translate a lot of the long and complex original to the screen. In fact, over-faithfulness may be the main failing here. Many shots follow the original virtually frame by frame, which may please obsessive fan boys, but one suspects it may not get to the nub of what the whole piece is about. There is a lot to like though, including a brilliant opening montage sequence which covers forty or so years of alternative history, Kennedy assassination, moon landing and all. A small blow for male nudity on screen is struck by the inclusion of Dr Manhattan's cock (blue and glowing, of course). Perhaps inevitably, there are too many Hollywood conventions, including slow motion fight sequences, which tend to glamourise the protagonists too much. They are meant to be morally ambiguous misfits and losers, remember?

But don't listen to me. Check out what young Jimmy Critic says!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Fife coastal walk: 4

It was snowing hard in Edinburgh as I caught the bus for Anstruther and part 4 of this saga. Almost miserable enough for me to decide not to go, but I persevered, and am glad I did. Anstruther looked picturesque in the sun, and there were fine views across the Forth to the snow-covered Pentlands. I really ought to go to the fishery museum sometime, but onwards!

Islands and hills dominated the view for a while, what with the Isle of May being close by, and the Bass rock and Berwick Law defining the southern shore. The last cute fishing village on this walk is Crail, which has a harbour partially built by Robert Stevenson.

A pill box near Fife Ness was so neat inside that it looked as though somebody had put it up a few years ago. They must have had a good batch of concrete in 1940. The northerly firing slit commanded a view over a golf course, and I indulged myself for a few minutes with fantasies of mowing down golfers on the 16th green with a Bren gun.

If, like me, you think of the map of Fife as being like a Scottie dog seen in profile, then Fife Ness is the tip of the dog's nose. It's certainly cold and wet. The view across the Firth of Forth rotates out of sight, and you have a new vista out to sea, with the snow-covered hills of Angus ahead.

Just past the Ness itself is a flat area of rock with some concentric circles on it. This is where Robert Stevenson knocked up the light for the North Carr Rocks before deploying it. So we're back at industrial archaeology.

Having rounded Fife Ness, you are on the "golf coast", God help you. As you may have guessed, I detest the game and everything to do with it. I therefore found the next couple of miles very trying, as they skirt a course, and are prefaced by a sign that tartly requests you to walk on the shore and not on their course, and specifically not to visit Constantine's cave. This cave is where tradition suggests that Constantine I was killed in 874, while trying to repel a Danish invasion. Or maybe he wasn't. Anyway, the cave lies all of five meters from the shore, and dangerous subversive that I am, I took a picture.

The light was getting rather lovely by about 3 o'clock or so, and it was tempting to keep going and soak up the views. However a local bus to St Andrews from Kingsbarns looked like a good deal, and I took some pictures while waiting. It felt very cold once I had stopped for a while—amazing how a good walk warms you up.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Fife coastal walk: 3

Episode three of this wee adventure rapidly developed its own character. I rejoined the route at Leven, next to the disused power station, but turning to the left and walking along the beach soon left industrial Fife behind. Largo Law beckoned in front of me.

Although the day was dry and fairly clear, there was a strong wind off the sea, so I had to wear a lot of fleece and keep moving. I did manage to take a lot of pictures though. I'm really pleased with my new(ish) camera−it lets me do a lot of things that I couldn't before, including taking hand-held shots on windy beaches without much camera shake.

Largo is famous as the birthplace of Alexander Selkirk, the historical figure on whom Robinson Crusoe was based. Here's a statue of him.

After Largo, there was another fine beach, over which the wind whistled unhindered. The flat openness probably also explains various Second World War defences that are found there. There are lots of tank traps (concrete cubes) in a line along the beach, and a few concrete pill-boxes with a field of fire to the sides in case Jerry managed to land and get past the cubes.

After skirting a drift of caravans at Shell Bay, I wandered up my first bit of cliff of the day, showing that I was now in the East Neuk. I already knew that there was a Klettersteig along the base of the cliffs here, but it didn't seem like the day to try it. Instead I walked along the headland, passing some former gun emplacements as I went.

After pausing for some overpriced food in Elie, I followed the now rather rocky coast to some classic fishing villages. St Monans church is mediaeval and very close to the sea. The path in front of the church takes you within splashing distance.

Days are lengthening a little now, so I managed to keep going until Anstruther at 4.30, where I was nicely in time for my bus home. Passing back in the gathering dusk through the places I had just walked through, I could still see the waves beating on the shore.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The origins of Tetris?

I know, I should get out more often.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Genius was a cartoon that appeared in the Observer from 1978 to 1983. It featured Anode Enzyme, the greatest genius since Leonardo, who had an IQ of 12, 794 (it was higher, but he lost a few points through watching television). Working for Lord Doberman, the world's richest man, gave him a lot of freedom, but he mostly confined his talents to doing whimsically obscure things like firing colour televisions into the sea, or recording the sound of a tape recorder being destroyed by a chain saw. Aged about 11 or 12, I hugely admired this serial work, so much so that I collected the strips for a while, pasting them into an old notebook. It's hard to say whether I prefered the surreal humour, the delightfully messy ink drawings and lettering, or the rather lovely watercolour that formed the main part of each week's installment. They clearly came from a complex, witty, un-bourgeois, and generally splendid intelligence. It always felt faintly subversive, as if nobody at the nice paper quite knew what the chap was up to. They never really gave it enough space. The same point is made in a nice appreciation here. I recently came across my yellowing cuttings, complete with original dates in my own childish hand. The one above was undated, before you ask.

John Glashan, the creator of Genius, seems to have rather sunk without trace. A great pity.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tony Hart

Tony Hart has died. I spent a lot of my childhood watching him, on shows like Vision On, and Take hart. Like most of the best TV presenters, the programs were never about him. They were generous, encouraging to aspiring artists like me, and always fun.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Happy New Year

And now, nuclear war.

I grew up in a threatened generation: in the late 70s and early 80s. It already seems a long time ago, but there was a real prospect then that something very big could kick off. I don't remember this being talked about much, although it would surface as nervous laughter at school: "Imagine Miss Watt announcing a three-minute warning over the Tannoy!" One focus for these fears was the television film Threads (1984).

It is a docudrama that tells the likely consequences of a nuclear exchange on Sheffield, and when I watched it—aged 15—it scared the shit out of me. Recently, Rog pointed out to me that you could watch Threads on Youtube (all 13 parts). Now I have, and it remains riveting.

Despite almost 25 years elapsing, some of the scenes were still vivid in my mind, though I had forgotten that some of them belonged to this film. Take, for example, the woman wetting herself in the street, or Ruth giving birth in some straw with a barking dog outside, or the post-apocalypse children blankly watching a scratchy video about skeletons.

The documentary angle helps the film and means that it doesn't just become incoherent and shouty. Paul Vaughan's narration of chaos was particularly effective, as he regularly voiced episodes of Horizon at the time.

Near the end, we see that children born after the attack are evolving their own corrupted form of speech. Give it a few centuries more and you have Riddley Walker.