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.

oakandstones

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.

oldoak

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.

stonesit

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.

Conic Hill

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Tom’s appendix-less state means he can’t run or cycle at the moment, but this has been quite good, as he’s been able to join me on my walks. Yesterday we popped up Conic Hill and it was a grand day for it.

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Conic Hill is just a few miles from where we now live, and though Tom has run here many times in the past year, it occurred to me yesterday that the last time I climbed this hill was nine years ago when we walked the West Highland Way. Here is Tom looking down from the hill across Loch Lomond in 2005:

conichill

And here in a spot slightly further down yesterday:

view

A lot has changed since then, but as he says, he looks pretty much the same from behind.

I think of all the lovely views of Loch Lomond – and there are many – that this one is my favourite.

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Its just something about the sense of space up here – the meeting of sky, land, and water, and perhaps especially the way that the Loch Lomond islands stretching away in the distance lend the view a pleasing and very distinctive sense of perspective.

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Dorothy Wordsworth felt similarly about those islands when she saw them in 1803, though her view in this passage is the precise opposite of ours (she’s looking South and East from Inchtavannach and we are looking North and West from Conic Hill)

“We had not climbed far before we were stopped by a sudden burst of prospect, so singular and beautiful that it was like a flash of images from another world. We stood with our backs to the hill of the island, which we were ascending, and which shut out Ben Lomond entirely, and all the upper part of the lake, and we looked towards the foot of the lake, scattered over with islands without beginning and without end. The sun shone, and the distant hills were visible, some through sunny mists, others in gloom with patches of sunshine; the lake was lost under the low and distant hills, and the islands lost in the lake, which was all in motion with travelling fields of light, or dark shadows under rainy clouds. There are many hills, but no commanding eminence at a distance to confine the prospect, so that the land seemed endless as the water.”

I thought of Dorothy Wordsworth yesterday as we looked down toward Inchtavannach, and gave her a mental wave.

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If you are ever in the area and fancy going up Conic Hill, I really think the views are best from this direction, and its a much nicer walk this way too. Park at Milton of Buchanan; walk up the track past Creity Hall, join the West Highland Way as it snakes up the hill; descend into Balmaha; stop for a welcome ice-cream, or pint at the Oak Tree Inn, take a look at the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, and then walk back along the road to Milton. The circuit is 7 miles with around 350m / 1100 ft of ascent.

The longest day

midsummer

It is a beautiful time of year, and here in the West of Scotland we have been enjoying some incredible weather. Most days you will find me here . . .

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. . . knitting away on my current YOKE, looking at this . . .

view

. . . and occasionally these . . .

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What a joy to have a garden!

clematis
honeysuckle
rose
geranium
borage

The midsummer evenings are truly extraordinary. Around 9.30 the world turns to gold.

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Every day I am bowled over by the beauty of my surroundings. I like how connected I feel to the outdoors, the surrounding landscape, its sense of space, the changing light, my lovely neighbours. So on the one hand, these days around the longest day have been delightful. But on the other, they have been kind of hideous. Tom, who has suffered from recurrent bouts of appendicitis had an attack last week in Dublin and finally had the offending organ removed in St Vincent’s hospital on Thursday morning. Thank goodness for the prompt and careful action of those surgeons, because it turns out the thing was dangerously gangrenous. Thankfully he is now doing well on some serious antibiotics, but it has nonetheless been a horribly worrying few days during which I have felt rather useless, there being little I could do. I am so incredibly grateful to Una and Roger, with whom Tom has been staying in Dublin, whose support has really been above and beyond. We are hoping to get Tom home by the end of next week and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing him after the grim worries of the past few days. Hopefully he can then spend some time recovering and relaxing in our garden. Its a shame he can’t knit. . . Well, please keep Tom in your thoughts, everyone, and I hope you are enjoying a lovely Midsummer weekend!

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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Up Dumgoyne

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A gorgeous day! And a good one to climb Dumgoyne – the hill that dominates the landscape behind our new home. There’s been snow on the tops of the Munros for about a week now, and it seems to be rapidly creeping down to lower altitudes – so I wanted to get up there before the weather really turns.

The last Autumn colours seemed especially bright and saturated this morning.

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Don’t worry, Bruce happily isn’t interested in sheep, and walks to heel when we are about them.

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A particularly incredible oak tree, in a landscape full of beautiful deciduous trees:

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Climbing upwards, you get a great sense of the shape of the land. We live down there:

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With Glasgow to the South and East . . .

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. . . and the snow-capped Highlands North and West.

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The water you can see in that photograph is Loch Lomond.

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A tough descent for my wonky leg – but the first of many fine walks, I’m sure, up and down our local hill.

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out walking

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One of the very great pleasures of living here is that the West Highland Way is on our doorstep. I walk out of our steading, and about a hundred yards up the way is a glorious landscape, at the far edges of which (on a really clear day) Ben Lomond and the Trossachs and the Arrochar Alps are all visible. I walk here every day, and enjoy these walks tremendously. Today I took my camera so you can see it too.

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g(love)

hiya

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. A while ago, we lived in a tall stone building in a city where there were lots of cars. Now we live here:

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Where there are lots of these:

trees

And a few of these:

cows

One of the many good things about it round here is that there are many Paths and I get to walk on these Paths with Kate and Tom. Sometimes I get to go swimming, and sometimes I leap about in the long grass, smelling interesting animal smells. But wherever we go, there is generally some water and mud for me to get myself nicely lathered up in. Hurrah!

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This particular Path is known as West Highland Way and is frequented not only by dogs and cows and deer but by many human walkers. Human walkers can be forgetful, and occasionally they discard their belongings along Path. That is OK though, because I sniff out and find these belongings, and then I make them MINE. Without a doubt, the best of these found belongings is GLOVE.

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Now, I first found GLOVE about three weeks ago by Path. Since then I have played with it many times and it is now sodden and chewed and has a delicious bovine odour. GLOVE seems quite robust though: Kate tells me that it is fashioned from acrylic, and is therefore a sort of plastic which refuses to decay. But though GLOVE is indestructible, and now has a very strong smell about it, sometimes I play with it so hard that I actually manage to lose it in the grass. Tom or Kate will insist that GLOVE is finally lost forever, but then, O joy of joys, a few days later I will always find it again, usually in a completely different location. I suspect the cows to have a hand (or hoof) in its unaccountable movements.

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Now, there are many fun things to do with GLOVE but probably the most fun to be had is when the humans throw it for you. Kate describes GLOVE as “a vile object” and is sometimes unwilling to join in the game. But, dear friends, let me tell you a good trick I have discovered: If you present Kate with GLOVE often enough, and stare at her for long enough with your most persuasive expression, she will eventually join in.

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Once Kate has capitulated, and throws GLOVE for you, you can retrieve and prance with GLOVE until you are exhausted.

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F U N!

But, eventually, it is time to leave and – sadly – to leave GLOVE beind, as for some unknown reason, Kate will not allow me to bring GLOVE home.

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This is Gate which leads home off West Highland Way.

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Right by Gate there is Old Wall.

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Kate instructs me to LEAVEIT behind Old Wall. This makes me sad.

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But if I don’t LEAVEIT behind Old Wall we don’t go home.

Well, goodbye, fun GLOVE buddy.

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Probably the only good thing about leaving GLOVE behind Old Wall is that, unlike losing it in the grass, it is always there next time, and I am always surprised and happy to discover it once again!

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See you soon, love Bruce xx

A walk to Dumgoyach

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West of Blanefield, off the West Highland Way . . .

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If you look North across the fields . . .

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You’ll see a path through the grass and sheep’s-bit scabious . . .

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. . . which leads to a field margin, marked by a line of blasted oaks.

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Adjacent, to the West, is the irregular wooded dome of Dumgoyach, and North is Dumgoyne, the volcanic mound that dominates the landscape of the Blane and Endrick valleys.

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And if you look down into the valley, you’ll see Duntreath Castle.

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Cross into the field and the ground rises and flattens to reveal . . .

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. . . these stones.

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Four of the five original stones are now recumbent, and the last one standing is a little shorter than me. Analyses of burnt flint and charcoal found at the site dates the structure to 3650 BC, in the middle Neolithic. Aligned with a notch in the hills to the North East, through which the sun rises at the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, this structure is thought to be a short stone row (used to measure solar events), but it has also been suggested that the long cairns are what remains of the facade of a chambered tomb.* The early date, and the proximity of other chambered cairns in this area makes the latter argument reasonably likely, but I am rather tempted to get up to watch the sun rise at Dumgoyach on September 22nd to make my own astronomical observation.

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(what do you think, Bruce? Row or tomb? Tomb, or row?)

*The first interpretation belongs to E.W. Mackie who carbon-dated the site in 1972, and the latter to Aubrey Burl, From Carnac to Callanish: Prehistoric Stone Rows of Britain, Ireland and Brittany (1993). See also the RCAHMS site record.

Boiler suits
Thanks so much for all your wonderful boiler-suit / coverall / onesie-related comments on the last post. That kind of collective discussion is probably what I love most about blogging, and it makes me particularly excited when the discussion concerns the different meanings and usages of a garment. If you haven’t had a look at the comments already, I encourage you to go and read them.

Refurb update

Last week I finished decorating the bathroom, bedroom, and new studio. Yesterday I painted the downstairs chimney breast, and today we hung the over-mantle mirror. For weeks the house has felt like a sort of giant jigsaw puzzle and it is extremely exciting to see the bigger picture finally emerging. But, having been engaged upon this project for a couple of weeks now, I would say that it is without a doubt the most physically challenging thing I’ve done post-stroke. This is not only due to the relentlessness of the stretching, bending, and movement painting involves, but also to my poor balance and generally wonky left leg. I have to take a two hour snooze in the middle of the day to keep going, and there have been a few dicey moments as I teetered over the bath or tripped on a dust sheet. That said, happily, the closest I’ve got to disaster is getting paint in my mouth and hair. Ick. Anyway, I shall be painting downstairs on half-days only next week, and, now the studio is habitable I can at last get back to some knitting, designing, and email-answering.

Field Notes
Most of the swallows have gone, which is rather sad, but I recently put food in the hanging feeders on the porch and have been astounded by the variety of bird-buddies that are dropping by. More of them anon.

looking forward

halfway

Eight years ago, Tom and I walked the West Highland Way. We had a wonderful time.

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(Tom, on Conic hill, looking over Loch Lomond)

I find that there is a singular sort of clarity about long distance walking. Time slows to the pace of your feet, and is measured in the distance you can cover over six or eight hours. There is nothing for your mind to focus on but the walk ahead, the landscape, and its details. At the end of the day you are exhausted, and, if there is a good meal on offer, food is appreciated in a way it rarely is. You sleep soundly, you get up, and start again. It is a fantastic way of clearing the head. I find that I can recall these walks in unusual detail, fixing particular experiences to specific moments and locales, remembering what the weather was like, what the state of my feet were, what we saw and spoke about. That was the place that you gave the horse the apple; there I devoured a full pack of liquorice allsorts; here, right here, at this curve in the path, was where we saw that incredible rainbow.

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(leaping a stream on the Eastern shore of Loch Lomond)

That walk along the West Highland Way was our first encounter with many amazing Highland places with which we have since become very familiar. Rannoch Moor, The Mamores, Glencoe.

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(cooking an obligatory baked-bean supper in Glencoe. There were lots of deer around our tent that night.)

These happy photographs were taken with the disposable camera we took with us, and they make my heart sing. I am posting them here now because, in a couple of weeks time, we shall be moving to a wee house that sits just off the West Highland Way. I love our new home already, and am looking forward to living there immensely. There is a garden! And a loch! An actual studio with an actual window for me to work in! And somehow it is particularly nice to be moving to a spot which already carries some fond memories for the pair of us. I’ll be able to walk Bruce along a lovely stretch of the Way every day, and perhaps living there will inspire me to build up my stamina and ability to complete the full distance once again.

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(The end of the West Highland Way in Fort William.)

Next week we sell our Edinburgh flat, and we move to our new home the following week. It is very exciting, but there is bound to be a certain amount of disruption. I will have to take a break from trade orders and answering email queries for the next few weeks, but will be sure to let you know how things are going as and when I can.

ONWARD!

different shoes

shoes

It is almost three and a half years since my stroke. Conventional wisdom about post-stroke recovery suggests that the first neurological adjustments and improvements after a brain injury are very rapid, and then tend to plateau off after the first six months. The importance of this “six month window” was often repeated to me by various medical practitioners, and I remember very clearly that one of my biggest fears in the weeks following my stroke was that, some point in the future, I was going to feel retrospectively guilty about not having done enough to maximise my recovery during that time. But every stroke is different, and looking back now, it seems to me that these arbitrary post-stroke “recovery windows” are really of most use to those involved in making ethical / financial decisions about resources and the provision of care. Telling someone who has just had a stroke that they have six months in which to complete the difficult work of neurological recovery to the best of their abilities is frankly not that helpful and can, as it did in me, heighten the general terror and desperation of what is already a pretty desperate time. Very little research exists into long-term post-stroke improvement, and, after the OTs and physios have done what they can, one is pretty much left to one’s own devices. But from my own entirely partial perspective I would say that, though the pace of recovery is certainly much slower long-term, one can still notice improvements two and even three years down the line. Though I am resigned to the fact that my damaged left leg is never going to enjoy running, and that my balance issues will probably always make riding a two-wheeled bicycle impossible, I still occasionally discover that I can do something now that I couldn’t say, six months or a year ago.

Footwear is incredibly important if you have a neurologically damaged leg and foot, and I have found that a really effective way of making improvements in my mobility is simply by changing shoes. A different pair of shoes can initially impede one’s mobility — the gait alters, the foot drags, the limb refuses to make the routine movements that it made just yesterday. But, although effectively heightening one’s own disabilites in this way can be both uncomfortable and annoying, walking in different shoes forces the damaged limb to adapt to different billateral rhythms and movements. The good limb also shows the bad how it has to deal with the minute alterations in weight and pressure forced upon it by its new environment. The good limb helps the bad one on its way.

I tend to walk around 4 miles a day, and until very recently, my choice of footwear was limited to sturdy boots with a lot of ankle support. I could certainly walk a little in flat shoes (with orthotics) but found it difficult and tiring. Often, after a mile or so in flats, my left leg would simply give up and revert to its dead, dropped state while the right one carried it hesitantly and judderingly along. Then, in February this year, I decided to try an experiment. I would alternate my footwear daily, completing my normal walking routes in several different pairs of shoes and boots, including flats. This wasn’t particularly easy, but I noticed that after just a couple of weeks that my left foot was adapting to the changes forced upon it more rapidly, and that I could walk further without problems in shoes I was unable to before. I also found that these continual changes and adaptations helped with other, non-walking activities, such as pointing my toes in order to put on a pair of socks or pants (a gesture I have found frustratingly impossible for the past three and a half years). Then I discovered that I was able to hop (albeit briefly and inelegantly) on my left leg for the first time since my stroke. I continued with the footwear changes: things continued to improve.

In March, I bought the pair of sandals that you see above (shamelessly copying Jen, who had recently acquired a pair). They are a great fit and very comfortable but when I first stuck my orthotics in and started to walk, my left foot flapped about, clown like, and after a mile or so I’d be limping and dragging the foot quite badly. But I gradually forced the unruly foot to adapt by including the sandals in my alternating-different-shoe routine. By April, they had become my go-to shoe, and since then, I’ve walked over 350 miles in them. Last week I encountered one of my good dog-walking buddies, an elderly gent, who I first met three years ago when I was still getting about with a leg brace. As we were passing the time of day, he remarked on how very much my walking seemed to have improved of late. I was aware of this, but it was nice to hear it. “I’ve just been wearing different shoes,” I said.

I am repeating this experience for those with brain injuries or other neurological impairments who have been told that their recovery period has a window, or that it is somehow at an end. I honestly don’t think that the work of neurological recovery or adaptation will ever be over for me. I will certainly keep forcing the parts of my body and brain that were damaged by the stroke to make whatever small improvements they can. I’ll keep on wearing different shoes.

Because I know you will ask, the sandals are made by Red or Dead, and are a style called “Jade”. The socks are a pair I knitted from Rowan Fine Art sock yarn, and are holding up remarkably well to their daily mileage.

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