To the allotment today – next weekend we are going to be putting up the fencing around the plots, and then they’re going to be divvied up between us all, so I thought that it would be good to get a bit more work done to try and even out the amount of work still needed on any of the plots. Once they’re divided up we will obviously concentrate more on our plot, but at least I know that all of the half plots have now had a bit of recent work done so it will hopefully be a reasonably fair division of work.

Today I did some more weeding and cleared a decent amount I thought, a good couple of wheelbarrows-full. Here’s the before pictures:

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And here’s the after:

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And this is what’s left, for this bit of the plot:


Celtic Connections 2013 (2)

414We went to two more concerts this week – on Thursday we went to the Old Fruitmarket (way past my bedtime I might add!) and saw Irish band Hothouse Flowers. They were well-known over here in the late 80s/early 90s I’d say, and it has to be said that (with just a couple of exceptions) the audience was pretty much all ‘of a certain age’ (ie our age and older!). I loved their show, the lead singer Liam O Maonlai has incredible stage presence and the whole band were just brilliant. They played probably their best known song (at least over here) “Don’t Go” towards the end of the set, it was actually probably the song I liked least in the set (they did it in a style that reminded me of Paul Simon’s “Gracelands” album), but I was just so happy that they did a song from “Songs from the Rain”, which is my favourite album of theirs and one of my favourite CDs for driving. It was a cracking concert, well worth the late night, although I am very aware that going to bed at 2am on a work night isn’t something I should be doing too often at my age!

Yesterday we went to the Concert Hall and saw the wonderful Shetland band Fiddlers’ Bid (if you click on the link make sure your volume is turned up and you’ll get a taste of their music). We saw them several years ago, I think in 2007, and so I knew we were in for a good night and they did not disappoint. The support act, Emily Smith, was also very good I thought. They also had the brilliant King Creosote playing with them for a couple of tracks, along with a presenter from BBC Radio Shetland who read some poetry in the Shetland dialect which was just beautiful to hear (it’s one of those accents you really have to tune into, if you’re not paying attention it can sound like a different language!). It was a brilliant night and I really enjoyed it (I want to go back to Shetland now).

Celtic Connections 2013 (1)

Well it’s that time of year again, time again for the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. We always go to several gigs during the festival, I think this year we’re being quite restrained and only have/had tickets for 4 events! We’ve been to two already, with two coming up next week.

392First up, last weekend we went to the O2 ABC and saw Dublin band Kila, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. They were a new band to us though, they play a kind of fusion of Irish trad and world music, and were excellent (although to be honest by the end I did find them a bit trippy). The guy who plays the bodhran was like Animal from the Muppets, prowling all over the stage (at least when he wasn’t singing). I did think that they would go down an absolute storm at a festival like Womad. The support act was Scottish band Manran who I really liked (HD wasn’t so keen) – I hadn’t seen them before but had heard of them and heard good things so that’s why I took the risk in deciding on this being a gig to go to. They play traditional Scottish tunes, with a drum and bass added to give it a bit of extra oomph, I thought they were excellent. They didn’t have their singer/guitarist as he had norovirus, and at one point they were thinking they would have to cancel, but despite that I thought they did really well, including finding a guitarist with 2 hours’ notice!

Then on Thursday we went over to the Kelvingrove Museum and saw two more great acts. The headline act was Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, a very famous Bulgarian women’s choir (with a couple of blokes thrown in for good measure) who I thought were extraordinary. The vocal sounds they made as well as the amazing harmonies (including quarter tones I believe) and fiendish rhythms meant that it really was something to behold, and they made it sound so easy! It wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, and it’s not something I’d listen to day in day out, but as a show it really was sometihng else and I loved it. Supporting them was English folkie Martin Simpson and Pakistani singer and guitarist Arieb Azhar, who have been working on a collaboration supported by the British Council and the Sage, Gateshead (there’s a bit of blurb about the collaboration here). I loved their sound, Arieb Azhar’s voice was beautiful and really suited Martin Simpson’s guitar and banjo playing. Well worth catching if you can.

Two more books

A book I forgot to review in my last post was Jostein Gaarder’s “A Christmas Mystery”. This is a children’s book, by the author of ‘Sophie’s World’, structured in 24 chapters and based round the revelations behind the doors of a mysterious advent calendar. It is a number of stories within a story – there is the story of Joachim, the boy who has the advent calendar, and his parents; there is the story revealed by the calendar of a journey back through time of a bunch of pilgrims as they travel towards Bethlehem in time for the birth of Christ; and there is a mystery story entwined between the two stories. I thought it was a lovely book, and is one I’d happily read again each Christmas. I did though (much like ‘Sophie’s World’) think that the mystery aspect was the weakest bit of the book, and it left me with more questions despite being written as though the mystery was totally wrapped up in the final chapter. In both books I liked the history/philosophy aspect and appreciated the story that was used to frame that aspect of it, but as I say the mystery didn’t quite work for me, in both. Don’t be put off though, I thought this was a lovely story and is perfect Advent reading.

The other book that I started over Christmas, and finally finished today on the train, was “The Innocent Anthropologist” by Nigel Barley. I can’t remember who it was that recommended it but I’m so pleased they did, I enjoyed this. It’s quite an old book, it was originally published in 1983 so the fieldwork on which it is based must have been done probably in the late 1970s. It details Barley’s fieldwork in northern Cameroon among the Dowayo people, and (unlike most anthropological tomes of the time) is a very real look at the realities of life as the anthropologist ‘in the field’. As he identifies, most gloss over a lot of the realities (bureaucratic nightmares, illnesses, inconveniences, misunderstandings, long periods of boredom) but here he describes it all, fully acknowledging that it is usually he that is the butt of the joke. I really enjoyed it, and quite often laughed out loud at passages – when I wasn’t cringing, such as the passage where he has to go to the dentist (some of his reflections on his resulting dentures did make me laugh kind of nervously, I guess that must be a hang-over from my hospital nursing days, where it was false teeth more than anything else that would be guaranteed to turn my stomach). I did stop and think about given the year it was published, the work will have been done before AIDS was identified in Africa, and wonder how the Dowayo people have fared in the intervening years. I liked his observations about the position of the anthropologist ‘in the field’, his respect and affection for the people among whom he was living (including the local Protestant mission – which I thought was interesting given anthropology’s traditional hostility to missionary work/missionaries), and his accounts of gradually gaining the trust of the people. He didn’t come across in the slightest as the colonial studying the primitives – always a danger with these books. Recommended.

January allotmenting

I managed to go to the allotment both days this weekend – and now have tennis elbow to show for it! Had better get going on those exercises again 🙂

Yesterday we carried on weeding/digging up the area we had started before Christmas. HD hasn’t just dug up some severed hands here, that’s my gardening gloves in front of him!

Today I went back for another hour and managed to fill another wheelbarrow with weeds. I was digging up what we had already identified as a bed for potatoes, it turned out that the spuds were still there and I dug up several (mostly very waterlogged and they fell to bits at the slightest touch).

I’m not sure we’ll make it next weekend. The forecast is for a big old cold snap, so it’s entirely possible the ground will be rock solid (which will make a change from today, when it was really squelchy!).

Books read over Christmas

I managed to read a couple of books while we were away over Christmas, both of which I highly recommend. First up was Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, which was an absolutely unputdownable read. It is a true account based on a scientific process that you would expect to be quite dry, namely tissue culture. For years scientists had been trying to cultivate cells which could replicate themselves, and the first ones that worked were taken from a cancerous tumour from Henrietta Lacks. The cell line was known as ‘HeLa’ (after the first letters of her first and second names) and has been used over the years in amazing scientific breakthroughs in treatments and research. However, for decades her family knew nothing about the cells, or what had happened to Henrietta, living in poverty while scientists got rich. The book entwines the stories of Henrietta, her various family members (particularly her daughter Deborah), the various scientists and doctors involved, and also Rebecca Skloot the author (she intertwines her own story of trying to track down the family and the various parties involved). I know that she has been criticised in some reviews for including too much of her own story, but I for one really enjoyed that aspect of the book, I guess that’s the researcher in me. The book raises really important issues around research ethics, racism, consent, progress, ownership, personhood – it really was an extraordinary read.

The other book I read was “An Atlas of Remote Islands” by Judith Schalansky. What a beautiful book! Schalansky was born in East Germany in 1980, and in her extensive introduction she talks about how as a child she used to pore over maps and atlases and talk about how one day she would travel, which at the time would have been impossible on that side of the Iron Curtain. She also talks a lot about the politics of maps, and the various decisions made about how they are drawn/made. The bulk of the book though is an exploration of some of the most isolated islands in the world – from every ocean, Arctic to Antarctic, Atlantic to Indian to Pacific. Each is given the same treatment – two pages each, the left hand page being written information, and the right hand page a scale drawing of the island under discussion. Rather than being ‘everything there is to know about X island’, she has researched interesting facts, so for some of them she details a historical event, others a geographical thing-of-interest, others a random factoid, and outlines those. It’s quite hard to describe actually, but I really thought it was beautiful – rather sparse, but a real work of art.

This week I got a new toy, I finally succumbed to the 21st century and got myself an eReader (not a kindle, as I’m both unhappy about amazon’s lack of taxpaying in the UK and also I don’t trust the proprietary device which will only allow you to buy compatible books via amazon). So far I have downloaded lots of free books, mostly classics (thank you Project Gutenberg and FeedBooks). I also have a big chunk of paper books still to be read, so I think these will keep me going for a good while! I have downloaded quite a few translations of Russian classics (which to my shame I have never read, not a single one!), so hopefully it will be educational as well as fun 🙂

I was having an interesting chat with people at work before Christmas about stuff we read, and (I did already know this, but it really hit me) I realised that I tend to read non-fiction to relax rather than fiction. I think this is for the same reason as I find watching films a bit stressful: I get so caught up in the ‘world’ of the film/book that the images and stories run round my mind for ages and ages and I can’t stop thinking about them, and then often dream about them too – it’s really difficult to let them go. Whereas non-fiction I can appreciate the writing, learn lots, get angry, get inspired, but it doesn’t knock my equilibrium quite so much! Although, as the book on Henrietta Lacks and the HeLa cells showed, some people’s lives really are stranger than fiction.

Christmas on Coll

What a lovely end to the year – we spent Christmas week on the lovely island of Coll, in the Inner Hebrides. It was a bit of an adventure getting there – we were meant to go on the Saturday before Christmas, and the ferry did indeed set off from Oban at too-early o’clock, only to find that the swell of the sea at the piers at both Coll and Tiree (the neighbouring island) was too much for it to be able to dock and let people off! To give the captain his due, he did try several times, motoring between the two islands, before deciding that it really wasn’t going to happen, so 8 hours after leaving Oban we arrived back there and had to spend an extra night there (luckily the youth hostel was a. very nice and b. not full). The following day they put on another boat for us, and this time we were able to land. This is the cottage we stayed in (which can be found here, and which I’d definitely recommend, for the snug accommodation and the warmth of the welcome, which included home-made cake 🙂 ).


The Visit Coll website does say there is basically nothing to do there, which is basically right, but is all part of the charm! We were able to fully chill out and relax and not feel like we had to be anywhere or be missing out, which meant that we were able to read, play guitar (HD’s Christmas present), eat, walk around a bit, sleep and just chill – it was wonderful, and just what the doctor ordered. We managed to skype both sets of parents on Christmas Day, although the internet was a bit flaky then (HD reckoned there must have been a sheep in front of the dish on the hill that is something important to do with the island’s internet) – but it was nice to have contact with family, isn’t technology marvellous?!

Towards the end of the week the weather got worse, and the last couple of days it was pretty cold and wet, and the locals were murmuring about the ferry not being able to land on Saturday (when we were due to go back home). They had already said we could stay in the cottage longer if we had to, and we had the promise of the use of a washing machine and an invitation to a dinner-dance in the village hall on Saturday night if the ferry didn’t go, so we weren’t too worried, but I must admit much of Friday was spent indoors looking at the live weather stats on the Visit Coll site wondering if we’d get away! Both Thursday and Friday nights I hardly slept as the wind howling in from the Atlantic was so loud, so we weren’t sure what would happen, but in the end although it took the ferry a couple of attempts (the first time a rope broke, of all things) they did manage to dock and take us off the island as planned and we eventually got home early evening on Saturday.

Here are a few photos, mainly of beach walks (Coll, like many of the Hebridean islands, has some beautiful beaches with pristine sand). There’s a larger set on flickr here.

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Oh Christmas tree

Featuring, amongst others, the alpaca on the top of the tree (the finger puppet came with a gift certificate after HD’s parents gifted an alpaca to a Peruvian family via Practical Action as one of our wedding presents), the Christmas kookaburra (a previous wibsite present exchange gift from Miss Lisa), a couple of decorations from birdie (where’s her blog gone?!) who sent them my first Christmas in Scotland after hearing I was going to be on my own and not actually have any presents to open on the day (long not particularly sad story!), and a little wooden snowman from Finland I bought when I went to Helsinki for a conference – I’d had great ideas about buying Christmas presents there till I saw the prices, all I managed in the end was the tiniest little tree decoration and a shot glass for HD which cost a flippin’ fortune! And the tree – we bought it just before we got married, our first Christmas tree. It’s only tiny, but is so full of memories!