here . . . a year!

homestead

It is a year today since we moved from Edinburgh to this wonderful spot. We absolutely love it,  and are all enjoying our new life here. An inhabitant of towns and cities all my life, I have always loved the outdoors, and have often yearned to live in the country. . . and being here at last has already made a massive difference to my mindset, my outlook,  my work, and most certainly my health.  Outdoors walking every day, I feel incredibly connected to my surroundings and the changing seasons: every day is subtly different, and I love tracing the turning of the year through the appearance of  wildflowers and the songs of different birds. I have learned the privilege of recognising wild animals as individuals (not just “a hare” but “that hare”) and have enjoyed encountering many different beasties on my daily walks from newts to hen harriers.  There are still many mornings when I wake up, find the world around me absolutely breathtaking, and can’t quite believe I actually live here. I wonder if this feeling will ever go away – I rather hope it doesn’t. The eighteenth-century women, whose letters I used to work on, were very fond of quoting Micah 4, the bit that comes after the swords and ploughshares about sitting under one’s own vine and fig tree. All I can say is that here I have at last found my vine, and my fig tree, though, this being Scotland, I’ll definitely have to erect a greenhouse if I actually want to grow them.

Here are some photos from our first year in our new home.

hiya

sheepbuddies

oakanddumgoyne

westhighlandsfromdumgoyne

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ice

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congratulations

beds

basket

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manfiredogbeer

Things of Human Interest

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. Today I am here to tell you about an important difference between Dogs and Humans.

This is where I live.

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It is a good place and there are many things I like about it. My human companions also like this place. But although dogs and humans both can both like a place, it is not often for the same reason. This is one of the many curious but important differences between us.

For example, one of my favourite walks goes past these trees.

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I like these trees because they mark the entrance into Good Field, a location where maximum fun is to be had. But Kate likes these trees because they are dead and alive at the same time.

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Past these trees is Good Field – one of my all-time favourite spots. Whatever the weather, the grass of Good Field is always wet and the ground of Good Field is always squishy and soggy. In Good Field can often be found deer and hare who are fun to chase, and if the cows pass by, they kindly leave an interesting mess behind. In Winter the mud of Good Field grows deep and dank and in the Summer Good Field’s plants grow thick and high. Good Field is a place for bounding, for leaping, for getting wet and dirty, and for gingering oneself up with all kinds of funky smells. In all seasons of the year, then, it is an excellent place to be.

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Now, Kate does not like Good Field for its mud or for its interesting aroma. Nor does she seem particularly happy when she trips into the cow mess, or wades clumsily through the waist high grasses. In fact, the qualities I most admire about Good Field are things Kate merely tolerates, or on occasion actually seems irritated by. I have heard her mutter words such as “ballache” as she stumbles, is bitten by a horsefly, or, as today, gets muddy trousers after falling on her arse. So why on earth does Kate take me to Good Field if she herself does not enjoy the many delights it has to offer? The answer is, of course, that it contains Things of Human Interest.

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Good Field’s Things of Human Interest are these Old Stones.

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Now, I am hardly ever diverted by Things of Human Interest, and I have to say that these Old Stones strike me as rather commonplace. Certainly they carry no significance for a dog like me.

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And yet I am tolerant enough of human foibles to dutifully sit and pose.

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Dear dog comrades, the moral of this tale is to joyfully accompany your companions when they wish to visit Things of Human Interest. That way you are likely to spend time in really excellent places, like Good Field.

Pottering

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Tom is away, working in Ireland at the moment. I really miss him, but I am distracting myself by working very hard on my YOKES, and am enjoying pottering in the garden in my spare moments.

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I cannot use a spade (I have tried, and I just fall over), and we knew there was going to be a limit to what I could feasibly do this Spring in the garden in Tom’s absence. But with a couple of raised beds, a plastic lean-to, and many containers, I’m not doing so bad.

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I brought salad leaves on in the lean-to, planted them out in a raised bed and have been amazed at how well they are doing. I don’t want to speak too soon, but as yet they have remained mercifully unmolested by pests – the raised beds have a protective cordon of bark and copper tape, which has proved an effective slug deterrant. More remarkably, perhaps, the deer and rabbits have not yet taken the opportunity to chow down on my tasty crops. There are certainly rabbits and hares in abundance in our environs (I enjoy seeing the hares if I’m out on an early morning walk) but so far, there have been surprisingly few in our garden. My neighbours (who inform me that we are usually overrun with bunnies by this point in the Spring) think that Jesus (our cat) has something to do with it. He has been seen out on the prowl in the early hours, and kindly leaves headless rodents on my doorstep, as well as those of my neighbours, from time to time. If the rabbits are concerned that they or their offspring might meet the same fate, it is all to the good. But I have no idea how he is seeing off the deer.

Meanwhile, in my containers, the beans are doing their bean-thing. . .

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.. . the cabbages are looking cabbage-y . . .

cabbage

. . . beetroot is sprouting . . .

beetroot

. . .and some tatties, which my dad and I planted rather late a couple of weeks ago, are starting to appear.

tatties

There will be fruit too – raspberries and strawberries.

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. . . and there are tiny gooseberries on the tiny gooseberry bush!

gooseberry

Yesterday I took the squash and courgettes from the lean-to and planted them out in 10 litre pots to see how they do.

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If I see a spare space in a container I pop in a petunia. . .

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. . .and the back of the garden has presented me with other, unexpected floral delights.

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But what I seem to have most of are tomatoes. I started growing them from seed in the bathroom several months ago and their flowers and trusses are now starting to appear.

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The lean-to is now taken up with eight very vigorous tomato plants, and I have probably twice that number rotating in and around the house. My mum ventured yesterday evening that I might have grown too many tomatoes.

What do you think?

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Please to note the housemartin, to the right of the photo, on its way to its nest under our eaves. Their nests are beautifully compact and sturdy and I love to hear them chit-chattering above my head when I’m sitting outside knitting at the back of the house. Last year, when the housemartins had finished with their nests, a few were occupied by late broods of swallows. Will that happen again this year?

Every day, in one way or another, I am grateful to be living here.

The Kelpies

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My parents have been visiting, and I thought they might like to see The Kelpies. A few years ago we rather enjoyed visiting Jaume Plensa’s Dream, a meditative and beautiful public sculpture commemorating Lancashire’s mining past. Like Plensa’s Dream, The Kelpies celebrate industrial heritage, but are things of water rather than of light. Kelpies are mythical Scottish water beasts, generally malevolent in nature, and able to assume many different forms. The Loch Ness “monster” should perhaps be more accurately described as a kelpie, and in Scottish song, art and literature, kelpies most often take the shape of a horse.

horse

Taking the fabled creature as a starting point, Glasgow sculptor, Andy Scott has constructed a new mythology for the kelpie — one with a refreshingly specific sense of place, and history. Directly inspired by two local Clydesdale horses – Duke and Baron – Scott’s Kelpies celebrate the beasts who once pulled ploughs, carts and barges — effectively powering the industrial revolution in central Scotland through the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries.

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Scott’s Kelpies have been constructed at the basin of the Forth and Clyde canal, near Falkirk. Long before the development of railways and motorways, this important waterway enabled the transportation of finished goods and raw materials between Scotland’s industrial heartland and its ports. First constructed in 1790, it fell into decline in the middle of the last century. But its recent re-opening now enables continuous passage by water between Scotland’s East and West coasts.

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Scott’s Kelpies are constructed from an industrial material – steel – but when the light hits them they also seem to be made of water: rising and straining, sodden and dripping, from the basin of the canal.

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While celebrating the energy and might of Scottish industry, the Kelpies represent, in themselves, a remarkable feat of industrial engineering. Each of the 990 plates that make up the two Kelpies steel “skin” is distinct and different – our guide described them as “snowflakes.” This short time-lapse film documents the process of their construction, and, when you visit, you can examine their incredible structure from the inside.

inside

The Kelpies stand over 30 metres high, and are certainly majestic. Yet to me, it is not their size, but Scott’s very precise sense of detail and characterisation that impresses most: the flared nostrils, the flickering ears, the individual muscularity and movement. Detail at this scale somehow lends these monumental objects an immediacy that is deeply emotive.

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Andy Scott says: “I see The Kelpies as a personification of local and national equine history, of the lost industries of Scotland. I also envisage them as a symbol of modern Scotland – proud and majestic, of the people and the land.” Probably the best thing about the Kelpies, it seems to me, is that they are the focal point of what seems to be a modern and genuinely public space: a landscape that, with its new network of trails, cycle paths and waterways, once again has a practical function for the folk of Falkirk and beyond.

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My Mum and Dad and I all enjoyed our visit, and would highly recommend the very reasonably priced tour, as well as our knowledgable and enthusiastic guide, David.

some Spring weather

homestead

It is a lovely time of year, and, as the weather starts to change I am really appreciating our new situation. Our house is in the middle of the photo above – one of five properties on a small steading, situated at about 250m above sea level. In front of the steading, to the South, the land dips away to a small lochan. To the North, East and West, we are surrounded by hills and woods. After living in a city, when one steps outside, the space here sometimes feels immense to me, but because of our location, there is also the interesting sensation of being cradled in the landscape, a dip in the earth sheltered by a canopy of sky. Yesterday I took a walk around the loch with Bruce, and felt this very distinctly. The arc of this rainbow shifted round the landscape with me, curving over the steading and seeming to somehow illuminate it.

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On my daily walks I see the landscape slowly coming back to life. Birds sing in the early hours, daffodils have taken the place of the snowdrops, and last week I saw the first caterpillars and frogs of the year.

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Golden flowers are appearing on the gorse, the ultimate sign of a Scottish spring for me.

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The Spring weather has almost made up for the fact that I spent last week at home, with a poorly Bruce, rather than in Shetland, where I was, in fact, supposed to be.

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Worry not, friends of Bruce: he is doing fine. The cone is a wee bit tiresome for everyone, but his snout is healing, and we will be back at the vets this afternoon.

The Spring light has also given me a chance to photograph the steeked design I mentioned in my last post. It is a garment for a man, and will be released as part of a new collaboration with my good friend and colleague Jen Arnall-Culliford. I’m very much looking forward to telling you all about it next week! It is a time for new releases all round, in fact, as various things are due to arrive next Monday which I’ve been keeping under my hat for some months, but am very keen to show you. (Apologies for all of the mystery, but soon all will be revealed.)

Right, the sun has come out and it is time for another walk with Bruce. Enjoy your Monday, everyone!

a little snow

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Everything is relative: I am sure that those of you in North America, who have been shovelling the white stuff for months, will not be in the least excited to hear that it actually snowed, but here, where winter has been horribly dank and soggy thus far, it is an exceedingly welcome change. It is the cold, crisp, crunchy days that get me through the Winter: there have been far too few of them and I confess that the sight of this in the morning made me foolishly happy.

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Bruce is also in a good mood.

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I love to walk in the snow, and we spent a good couple of hours out there this morning in the silence, with no other folk in sight. Birds seemed everywhere, immediately spotted against the landscape’s white blanket. As well as the usual neighbourhood woodpecker and buzzards I saw an osprey by the loch and a hen harrier hovering above the snow-covered fields. The birds are pairing up: this cold snap has come late, and there are already signs of Spring.

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I wonder how the bulbs I planted will fare.

Well, its back to my desk. I have my first post-stroke driving lesson tomorrow – wish me luck!

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The life and death of Big Ball

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. This morning an extremely curious thing occurred, so I am here to tell you all about it.

The curious thing began with the appearance of the postie, who had a parcel for Tom. Inside the parcel was a box with this jolly person on the front of it.

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Intriguing! Apparently the box contained Big Ball, and Tom required Big Ball to perform tricks and throw shapes such as this

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These are quite impressive shapes, but, as I said to Tom, there are much better things to do with Big Ball, such as chase it, jump at it and chew it. (Prescient words, as we will see).

Oddly, the first thing to come out of box was not Big Ball at all but this Squashy Thing:

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Tom began squeezing at Squashy Thing. Then Squashy Thing started huffing and puffing and making strange whistling sounds. I became excited, and began to bark, and then was told to leave the room. Such is life.

But when I was permitted to return, guess what I discovered?

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BIG BALL!

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Big Ball was large, and rather vexing, and impossible to catch. Clearly the best thing to do was to corner the chuffer.

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Havoc ensued. It was mooted that I was playing with Big Ball too vigorously, and I was told to SIT.

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So Tom and I decided to go outside to play with Big Ball . . .

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. . .then I jumped happily at Big Ball and . . .

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Big Ball’s disappearance was sudden, loud, and mystifying. All that remained were a few woeful scraps, which it was clearly my duty to destroy.

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The appearance, and disappearance of things is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Who can say why the cold white stuff turns to water whenever I chew it? Why toys enter the evil beast called Washing Machine, and are never the same afterwards, or why Big Ball suddenly disappears? While I was musing on these important matters, Tom popped out for a while. When he returned, events took a rather sinister turn.

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Who is this imposter? And what have they done with Big Ball?

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