Monday, March 31, 2008

Switching off the Lights - A Rant.

Google, please do not sit in your nice centrally heated, brightly lit offices and ask me to switch off my lights for a token hour to save the planet when I have just spent a chilly Scottish winter switching on the central heating only for a scant two hours a day, in spite of working from home, lighting fires (with smokeless fuel, natch) and running about with extra sweaters, Ayrshire blankets etc, because it now costs £429.00 to fill our smallest sized tank with central heating oil in this country. I drive a small, energy efficient car. I live in a listed building which is as insulated as it is possible to be - but of course replacement windows must be sliding sash, and quite right too, otherwise the council will cut up rough. There is no mains gas to the village, and the bottled sort is even more ruinously expensive to run than oil. We close doors, use shutters to keep the heat in, recycle religiously. But hell mend you when you ask me to make empty gestures.
A much better option would be for everyone to agitate for all new houses to be built with solar panels. This is, on the whole, a very sunny country and the new energy efficient houses on the Isle of Gigha - for example - are both cheap to heat, and almost too warm. Yet in this village alone, we have a small estate of new houses, none of which have solar panels as standard. Installing them later is an expensive business, especially for what essayist Slavenka Drakulic calls the already 'ecological poor'.
If developers could be forced to include them from the off, it would make far more difference to the future inhabitants of the houses than tokenism of this sort. But of course that might eat into their already healthy profits. Grrr.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Mighty Gulf of Corryvreckan - a Scottish Whirlpool

I'm currently listing this dramatic sunset over Corryvreckan for my husband, here, on eBay. In the distance is the notorious 'Gulf of Corryvreckan' or the 'Mighty Gulf' as it is sometimes called - a genuine Scottish whirlpool. You can find some excellent photographs of it here at a website called Hebridean Wild. The name, seemingly, comes from the Gaelic Coirebhreacain which means "cauldron of the speckled seas" or possibly "cauldron of the plaid", the latter name originating with legends of a Scottish goddess who used these turbulent waters for washing her great plaid. You can read more about it on Wikipedia but for many people their first encounter with it comes in that fabulous Powell and Pressburger movie "I Know Where I'm Going' in which it figures at a dramatic high point of the film. It is possible to navigate these waters with care - but you have to know what you are doing. Local knowledge is essential.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Old Scottish linens for the bathroom

Quite often, when I buy a box of old linens at auction, I will find a little pile of Irish linen guest towels at the bottom of the box. Some of them will be well used and rather worn, but just occasionally I'll find some lovely old pieces of bathroom linen with hemstitching, damask patterns and finely hand made crochet edging. I always imagine that they were somebody's pride and joy, eighty or more years ago, perhaps made by a young woman before her wedding, when she was dreaming of setting up house for the first time. Generally, although not always, the crochet is at one end with perhaps the damask and hemstitching continued at the other end. The main fabric of these towels is of the type that I think is known as 'huckaback' in the USA - a nicely textured linen that makes them both useful and beautiful. People sometimes say to me 'but nobody uses these nowadays, do they?' Well, they do. I have a good friend - for instance - with a real flair for interior design. I'm contemplating asking her to do the occasional guest post on this blog. Whenever we visit her lovely old Lancashire house, I notice that she uses these old linen guest towels in her downstairs cloakroom. And I always find myself thinking how beautiful they look, in situ as it were. But I have also known her to use them to line shelves, with the crochet edging visible - particularly if you are displaying old glassware they look wonderful. And like all these old linens, they launder beautifully!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tulips Tulips Tulips

I love all the spring flowers - but I think that of all flowers I probably love tulips most - and although the verges and parks are currently full of daffodils - a little later than elsewhere in the UK, this being Scotland - the shops are full of big bright bunches of tulips which I find completely irresistable. And soon, the garden will be the same. They are, on the whole, a bargain buy because they look good even when they are slightly past their best. Don't be in too much of a hurry to throw them away. Daffs shrivel and look sad - tulips just open out ever more elegantly, to show the dark heart of each flower. Even their foliage fades to a subtle yellow, and so long as you keep the water fresh, you can get a week or more out of a large and lovely bunch of them. I have an old Dutch Delft tulip holder - a rectangular blue and white container with a removable top, with holes in it, into which you can slot individual tulips - although obviously it looks more impressive with the large old fashioned parrot tulips - the kind that were once sold for a king's ransome a few hundred years ago. Once the bigger, brighter garden tulips are in bloom, I'll add a photograph of it to this blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

More Naive Art - Scottish Golf - Turnberry

More delightful Scottish 'naive' art from Alan Lees - this time with a golfing theme. These are pictures of Turnberry golf course, with the Turnberry lighthouse in the background. The picture on the left has Ailsa Craig in the background as well, and the kind of stunningly vivid light which is not unknown in the West of Scotland. The picture on the right is a windy day in spring. The gorse is in full vivid bloom, and one or two players have lost their balls among the spikes! An umbrella has been blown inside out and the players are struggling in a stiff breeze from the sea - all too common in this part of the world. I love these brilliantly evocative pictures - there's a lovely simplicity about them, but the memories they evoke, the atmosphere they create is all too true - and in this instance undeniably cheerful - art which may well remind you of happy days, and none the worse for that. Go to The Scottish Home on eBay to see more of Alan's pictures.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Happy Easter from Scotland!

And here's an Easter photograph to go with the wishes. The plate - one of my all time favourite possessions - belonged to my dear late mother, who gave it to me years ago. She had bought it at auction, along with other items, and it was always the thing I coveted most, along with a pair of very old and comfortable oak framed chairs, which now sit in my living room. It looks like Maling, probably is Maling, though it has no backstamp to prove the point. The blue and white jug, the wee bird, and the bowl that you can just glimpse on the right, are all modern slipware, made in the 1980s by a superb Scottish potter called Jason Shackleton. I adored his work and still do, although I don't think he continued making this wonderful slipware, perhaps because not everyone appreciated it with quite my passion about it! We have a number of pieces - these sit on an eighteenth century Scottish dresser, such as Robert Burns might have possessed. We bought this one at auction, in terrible condition. It had obviously spent many years in a shed, and Alan did a magnificent restoration job on it. It is wonderful storage space, swallowing almost anything you might like to put in it. Our other, much older dresser, the oak press cupboard mentioned elsewhere on this blog, is where the rest of the modern slipware sits, in the kitchen. It includes this fabulously monstrous teapot, also by Jason Shackleton, which has, on occasions, been pressed into service, during large family gatherings. Filled, it is almost too heavy to lift. But it is a beautiful, beautiful item and one which I treasure.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

New Scottish Art - A Day at the Shore

Alan's painting seems to go from strength to strength at the moment. The painting above (acrylics on canvas board - 20 inches by 16) is one of my all time favourites. It's titled 'A Day at the Shore'. A young woman in a long red dress and sunhat, walks along the sand of what is very obviously a West of Scotland beach. She is pushing one of those big, old fashioned, comfortable prams with one hand, while with the other, she holds the hand of a toddler, a little lad in blue, who is carrying his bucket and spade. In the background you can just make out a misty Ailsa Craig, while a paddler steamer motors along on its way 'doon the watter.'
I don't know why I like this one so much, except that there seems to be something wonderfully evocative and atmospheric about it. The composition is lovely - the eye goes straight to mother and child, but then picks up on the paddle steamer - quite detailed - and drifts across to the distant Craig. There is something so typically West of Scotland about this day - warm but not sultry - always a little breeze in the Clyde. And the little boy with his bucket and spade has, I think, had his attention caught by the paddle steamer. (As anyone who has seen the Waverley pass by knows, they are impossible to ignore - just beautiful vessels.)
The painting is currently for sale in our eBay shop - but when it sells, as I'm sure it will, I'll be very sorry to see it go. He'll just have to do me another one like it!
Alan has been fairly desperate to get away from woodcarving for a little while now. It's not that he doesn't enjoy it, and - as you can see if you visit his site - he is very good at it. But he was constantly being asked to make ever larger carvings for ever lower prices, and each time it seemed to effect his health adversely - carving on this scale is definitely a young man's game. He had always sketched - most of his carvings began life as a series of sketches - and painted, but he himself was aware that his paintings were too stilted and photographic. As a sculptor, a certain meticulous quality was in them. I've been bending his ear for ages to try to get him to free his imagination, but it was when he began to paint in acrylics that things started to go right for him. What he was aiming for, I suppose, was that sense of freedom that he managed to encompass when he was doodling and sketching for a carving - the drawings he produced then were lovely. Acrylics demanded a certain speed. He couldn't possibly hang about! And at the same time he began painting not what he saw but what he felt. There is a certain narrative in these pictures - but there is an evocative quality about them - sometimes nostalgic and timeless, as with this one - but sometimes right up to the minute.
Now that he has begun, he has almost more ideas than he can cope with - so watch this space!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Edinburgh - The Royal Yacht Britannia

We're just back from a weekend in Edinburgh which involved a number of touristy things, The Royal Yacht Britannia, Holyrood Palace, The Queens Gallery, and a handful of good pubs.
Britannia is beautiful, particularly the engines (I have a really soft spot for these stunning elderly Clyde built engines!) How could they ever have thought of scuttling her? The tour is well done and informative and because it's still early in the season we had plenty of time and space to look around. You'll find all kinds of useful information on the link above, but I have a couple of personal observations - one is to wonder why on earth, as a Clyde built vessel, she isn't berthed on the Clyde? And the other interesting observation is the relative lack of opulence aboard her. I mean there are some pretty opulent pieces of table silver, usually of some historical significance (they always make me think of that quote from Dickens, I forget which novel, where the silver is assumed to be saying 'wouldn't you like to melt me down?') But the interiors are relatively simple. No gold bath taps here. And all, so they say, at the Queen's behest. No fuss. It is a very restrained interior, much like (one assumes) Her Majesty. The other wonderful place is the vast laundry. All those uniforms, all that linen to be laundered every single day. They never closed. And it still smells of soap powder.
More about Holyrood in another post.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Frost Flowers

These were taken in our conservatory the other morning - and a very cold night it had been too. If I had been just a little earlier, I would have captured these amazing frost flowers before the windows misted over. The insulation worked well - the conservatory was quite warm and the insides of the windows were totally clear - but you could see the most amazing natural forms covering the glass on the outside - like seaweed or ferns perhaps, more than flowers. I remember these beautiful shapes all too clearly from my early childhood. My parents used to say that 'Jack Frost' had been and breathed on the windows in the night, and I vividly remember running my fingers over the glass to melt the patterns. But back then, the frost flowers were on the insides of all our windows - since central heating was unheard of for all but the wealthy few. The water in the glass beside your bed was known to freeze over in the night as well. However did we survive, I wonder?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Steam and Sail on the Clyde and a Wee Observation about the Weather.

Snow is forecast here for this afternoon and tomorrow. Certainly it's cold, and we've had the occasional unpleasant hail shower, but so far the snow has only amounted to a few flakes. And as I type this, the sun is shining. Every single year at this time, we have a wee media frenzy to do with the weather. What happens is this. In February we generally have a warmish spell. The wind blows and the smell of spring is in the air. The snowdrops are in full bloom, the trees are in bud, the very earliest of the blossom, essentially 'winter flowering' is on the trees, and a few timid daffodils are beginning to show yellow blooms instead of green spikes. You may even manage to do a bit of gardening without getting trussed up in warm coat, hat and gloves. At this point there will be a sudden outbreak of articles in the press about Global Warming and the ridiculously early spring and how we are all about to go to hell in a handcart. A couple of weeks later the temperatures will fall again, quite dramatically, and we will be well and truly back in winter. A meteorologist will be trotted out on the television to discuss it. Boringly (from the interviewer's angle) he or she will point out that all this is completely normal, par for the course, all part of a typical Scottish winter weather pattern, and so on, but nobody will really listen.

I actually heard an interviewer asking a seismologist last week if the (quite large) English earthquake had been caused by climate change. No, he explained, patiently, although you could hear his inward sigh. No, that's on the surface of the earth. This is deep inside. Sometimes the media chatter (to which I suppose I am contributing here and now) is so loud that nobody ever stops to listen.

Here, meanwhile, is another picture, this time of Steam and Sail on the Clyde - one for those who loved Para Handy, and his Puffer, The Vital Spark, I think!