Friday, March 20, 2009

Frog Songs

It isn't only birds that sing at this time of year. I was digging over the vegetable patch yesterday (which explains why I'm tired today!) and my efforts were accompanied by a froggy song coming from the little garden pond. S/he was a good sized creature as well. I could see her wee head poking out from the vegetation, but whenever she realised that somebody was watching her she would disappear beneath the lily pads. I would go back to my digging (watched with extreme interest by the robin that lives here too). After a moment or so the froggy serenade would begin all over again. Notice that there is some frogspawn in there. Three cheers. I love frogs, even if we do sometimes find them hopping up the hallway!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Owls and others

I was late to bed last night. Standing cleaning my teeth, with the window slightly ajar I became aware of a strange noise. It sounded like a gang of unruly teenagers whooping and calling in the night, but we don't have very many of those in this village - a handful, but not many! And anyway it seemed much too late (or early, as Miss Jean Brodie might have put it) for them to be marauding about the playing fields. Then I realised what it was - owls.
We hear them often in our village, usually in spring and autumn. There are a number of mature trees and old buildings and the owls seem to be thriving. I'm not sure which kind they are and suspect there are several different sorts because there are differences in the calls. Last night's though was a resonant, spooky, traditional 'whoo whoo' sound with responses from elsewhere. You don't see them very often, although driving home late you will occasionally glimpse pale wings floating through the night. Nice to listen to them though.
Having gone late to bed, I woke early. Didn't get much sleep at all last night and a long day's work to get through. But the dawn chorus was in full swing. It always fascinates me how gradually the silence of winter gives place to all this singing. By April it will be deafening. Last weekend, I seized the opportunity of a fine sunday to do a bit of gardening and noticed that the garden was alive with birds, including a fat thrush. He seemed to be leading the chorus this morning, higher, sweeter and more varied than all the rest.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sad but inevitable truth about Ayr.

If you go into a certain supermarket in the Scottish town of Ayr, you will see a set of old photographs of the town on one of the walls. Among them is a view of Burns Statue Square from 1956. It may be a black and white picture, but what it shows is a neat, well kept and pleasant burgh with interesting shops, and a general air of seaside prosperity - a town you might be glad to visit for a holiday, or a day trip. We moved to the town in the early 1960s while I was still a child and that's the town I remember: a wee bit conservative, (well, very conservative, if I'm honest) but in general, a good place to be.
No longer. There is, I'm afraid, no polite way of putting this. The town centre is a dump. Gradually, over the years, all the small, independent shops (the kind that make, for example, small towns like Castle Douglas such a joy to visit) have disappeared to be replaced by chain stores, 'pound' stores and banks, paying vast rates for town centre premises - or charity shops. The fish market was moved to Troon and the harbourside has been built over with new flats which just about block the view of the sea from the bridges over the river.
We might just have managed to put up with all that but worse was to come. There is, quite simply, no reason for tourists to visit the town. There is nothing to do except shop, and you'll find far better shops in Glasgow. There's a good beach, but there are good beaches elsewhere. If you're looking for a walk along the sands, you might as well carry on to any one of a number of picturesque villages to the south of Ayr, or head north where Largs has so much more to offer.
You could go out to Burns Cottage. But if you're in 'history' mode, you'd be better to 'do' the Cottage and then go on to Kirkoswald, to Soutar Johnnie's cottage - and to Culzean. Why on earth would you want to linger when Ayr is dirty, dilapidated, and depressing. Public lavatories? You must be joking. A theatre? Oh no - the old Civic is a wreck and they just closed and boarded up the Gaiety, which in any case had weeds sprouting from every orifice. Museum? What museum? There's a fine gallery out at Rozelle, but again, if you're headed that way, you might just as well keep going south. There's a swimming pool in a building of sixties municipal ugliness down by the seashore, but that too looks as though it might be on its last legs. There was one of the best ice pads in the UK out on the road to Prestwick, but they've just demolished it. You can't walk in Craigie Park for fear of being mugged and if you go out to Belleisle House, the wonderful Victorian conservatory, which I remember as being such a pleasure to visit, is out of bounds, falling down. Even pets corner is closing.
Meanwhile, as fine a set of Georgian buildings as you have ever seen, beside the New Bridge, buildings of great historical significance, which anywhere else would be treasured, home to galleries, shops, cafes - are (and have been for many many years now) in a state of dilapidation which seems nothing short of criminal.
I live in South Ayrshire. The council tax bill just came in. It is not small. So what, in the name of all that's unholy, are they spending it on? Question councillors and you will be told 'education' - but my son went to a local school, and believe me, the school in question wasn't having very much spent on it. Now, over the whole of South Ayrshire, the council have just closed a tranche of venues which provide exercise and occupation for youngsters - Girvan swimming pool and various sports and activity halls in the smaller, less well off villages, places from which the children have no hope of travelling, because the bus services are dreadful as well. With Girvan swimming pool goes the canoe club, which kept a big group of kids safely occupied through the winter months. With Dailly sports hall goes the karate club that used to meet there. And all while local government - and national government too - bleat hypocritically about vandalism and - God help us - rising levels of obesity. This is nothing short of iniquitous.
There were more public loos in ancient Rome, than there are now in the whole of South Ayrshire. They are in the process of closing Council offices in the smaller towns, so that elderly people will have to travel miles to register a death or pay their council tax. Well, maybe they can use the post office for that. Oh, hold on a minute, those have all closed as well although it was the UK government who sanctioned that one. An elderly friend who was rushed into hospital recently, and was a little late with ONE month's payment of council tax because she couldn't get to the post van - received a letter from South Ayrshire Council threatening her with sheriff's officers! Not too strapped for cash to send threatening letters to pensioners then?
The One Stop Shop which offered such excellent advice about all kinds of issues, including benefits, to the people of Maybole has also shut, deprived of funds. Now, they are going to charge us to uplift heavy pieces of refuse (Fly tipping anyone? And won't clearing all those sofas and fridges from the roadsides cost just as much in the long run?) Mind you, if you do attempt to drive anywhere, you will find potholes the side of craters in all the county's rural AND urban roads. Lots and lots and lots of them. Walk through the town and the empty shops, the kilos of dog dirt and the general ill kempt look of the whole place will soon get you down. It is exactly this kind of neglect which spawns more vandalism. God help the poor traders who struggle on, paying exorbitant rates for this, while heads of services still receive 70k salaries.
This is an area whose main industry is tourism. Walking through the streets of Ayr, right now, you would have no inkling that this might be the case. Credit crunch or no, you don't destroy everything that might help to sustain that industry. What's the good of having tourist signage if there's nowhere left for it to point to?
Oh yes. The sea. That's about it. Perhaps some of our elected members past and present (because this kind of thing doesn't happen overnight) might do us all a favour, head down there, and take a running jump.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Robert Burns - Tam O' Shanter

It is, let's face it, one of Robert Burns' best loved poems -and here is Alan Lees' contribution to the anniversary year - a wonderful evocation of the key moment in the poem. Poor Meg is just about to lose her tail to Cutty Sark. As for me, I rather like the little devil sitting in the tree down on the right, quite unpeturbed by everything that is going on above him - but with his attention distracted by the eyes under the bridge. I wonder who's living under there?!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Scottish Craftsmen versus English Heritage

Fascinating piece in last week's Sunday Time here, about English Heritage, fireplaces, and what looks like a certain amount of unfairness. Owning period properties is a bit of a minefield for owners anyway, without this kind of behaviour from bodies which really ought to know better. And as the wife of a fine craftsman who for many years was competing with cheaper imported products, I know whose side I find myself on. More power to Thistle and Rose's elbow!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Light Bulb Horrors

We move on from the memory foam mattress, folks, to the light bulb horrors. When and why did life become so complicated? I'm not sure what the situation is in the rest of the world, but our masters in Europe have, with the connivance of our government, inflicted the low energy lightbulb upon us. Now I'm as eco friendly as the next woman. In fact I suspect my carbon footprint is a good deal lower than most. I seldom fly, I run a very small and efficient car, my house is usually pretty cool (I can't really afford to heat it adequately) and I recycle as much of my rubbish as it's possible to fit into the assorted bins and boxes provided by my council. Moreover, most of my wardrobe these days seems to consist of 'vintage' pieces, also recycled from various sources. (It's pretty stylish. Where did you get that wonderful coat, somebody asked me last week. Actually, I got it from a local charity shop, for a fiver. It must have sat in somebody's wardrobe, hardly worn, since the 1950s. It's beautiful, but that's another story...) Anyway, to resume our tale of lightbulbs...
Europe has dictated that we shall not have old fashioned lightbulbs. Never mind that the new variety contain mercury, inflict health problems on those of a sensitive disposition and are downright dangerous for the visually impaired. We must do our bit to save the planet. And we have been given no choice in the matter. Meanwhile, visit any UK city and see the government departments, the banks, the big business headquarters positively ablaze with light, throughout the night....
A few days ago, the upstairs hall lightbulb having expired, we replaced it with a new energy- saving bulb from a local branch of Morrisons supermarket - one of those curly spirally things. Going up to bed later that night, I found myself wondering about two things: why my eyes were sore after just a few seconds exposure to the hideous yellow light which the thing gave off - and why my red staircarpet seemed suddenly leeched of all colour. Then it clicked. These are the bulbs which a certain chain store uses in their lavatories, and you know why they use them in their lavatories? I'm reliably informed that - apart from their singular cheapness - the real reason has little to do with saving the planet, but mostly because the quality of light deters junkies from 'shooting up'. They can't find a vein. Which may be a very good reason for installing them in chain store loos, but not in my upstairs hallway thank-you.
I have now, by devious means, found a shop which still sells the old banned bulbs. And I am stockpiling. I feel a bit like a junkie myself, searching for a fix. If I manage to get my hands on enough of them, I figure they will see me out. Or at least they will last till the technology improves. (But I'm not telling you the whereabouts of the shop - at least not until I buy a few more for my own store-cupboard. For God's sake, get some for me too, said a friend on the phone tonight) Actually, the day when the technology improves may well be closer than I think. I'm told there is something called an 'eco-bulb' which gives out pure, bright, white light, at a fraction of the cost. The only trouble is that the bulbs themselves, even when bought on eBay, cost a small fortune. Not a lot for Sir Fred, perhaps - his house is probably chocca with the things - but quite a lot for me. A tiny price to pay, you may say, for saving the planet. And you may well be right. But perhaps if our government offices, national and local, used them as well as all our big businesses, our banks even, the price might go down so that the rest of us could actually afford to buy them for ordinary domestic use. Meanwhile, I'm locking my hoard of the lovely, shapely, soft old lightbulbs away where nobody else will find them.