Saturday 27 September 2008

Saturday sea glass

Quick! Hurry! Sea glass collecting is the latest cool green thing!

See this interview with Gina Cowen in today's Times Magazine.

Friday 26 September 2008

Friday Interview: Colin MacDonald - The Whole of the Moon

The subject of this week's Friday Interview is Scottish playwright Colin MacDonald, whose poignant radio play Hill of Rains I blogged about earlier this year.

Colin (centre) with cast members from his comedy, King Of Hearts, BBC Scotland

Colin, your latest radio work is a five-parter, The Whole of the Moon. What is it about?

It's a story about secrets, set in Edinburgh's legal world. It's about an up-and-coming prosecutor, Jo Ross, who finds herself investigating the secret history of her own family, and in particular the deeds of her father, a veteran police officer. I was allowed unlimited access behind-the-scenes in the Scottish courts while doing research for the story.

The title comes from The Waterboys' song of the same name:

'I pictured a rainbow
You held in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw then plan
I wandered out in the world for years
While you just stayed in your room
I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon . . .'

How much have you been involved in the casting and production?

A lot! I have worked with the producer and director Patrick Rayner many times and we talked about casting as I was writing. But Patrick is a renowned expert when it comes to casting. In his long and award-strewn career he has worked with so many actors, and knows instinctively who could play a certain role best. As a result, we have a superb cast who worked so very well together in the studio.

Vicki Liddell and Steve McNicoll are the two leads and they inhabit wonderfully the characters I created. I was there, as always, during the two days of recording. Lines have to be changed because even although I might say them out loud when I've written them (and I do!) they might not have the proper rhythm when actors say them in the studio. Also scenes may need changing when cuts, because of timings, have to be made.

Is writing five daily episodes more of a challenge than writing a single, self-contained play?

I'd never done it before, so writing five fifteen-minute episodes certainly concentrated my mind on getting on with the story. I like a challenge - it is good to be shaken out of your comfort zone!

The characters sound fascinating. Do you have plans to explore their stories further in the future?

Yes, Radio 4 have just commissioned a second series. That will go out next year. The two central characters Jo Ross and Iain Rae have been 'with me' for a long time and I am keen that they develop and grow as people as the stories progress.

I first came across your work through your radio play, Hill of Rains, which starred two of radio's most distinctive voices - Bill Paterson and Lorelei King. What were they like to work with, and how well do you think they interpreted the characters you'd written?

They were extraordinary people to work with. I could not now differentiate between the characters I heard in my head and those two wonderful actors. When you have people that gifted working on something you wrote it is an absolute joy. They brought magic to it, and an intimacy that is rare.

Hill of Rains made a marked impression on me because of the great depth of feeling which seemed to underpin the 'romantic comedy' aspect of the story. Did you set out to write a romantic piece or was it always your intention to explore more profound themes at the same time?

I don't ever set out to write about a particular theme. It is normally the person who 'appears' to me. And that can be triggered by observing someone's hand movement, or someone's gesture. In this case, I was walking in Edinburgh on a winter's afternoon. The sun was low and I became aware of someone walking over a small hill away from me, and the person's silhouette in the sun was exactly the same as my mother's. She had died a couple of years before. The story grew out of that mood, and that extraordinary moment.

And the music - Peter Maxwell Davies's Farewell to Stromness - for me it was absolutely perfect. Whose idea was that?

The producer and director Marilyn Imrie takes all the credit for that.

You've also dramatised one of my favourite books, Nancy Brysson Morrisson's The Gowk Storm , as a stage play. (How I wish I'd seen that!) What inspired you to turn that particular novel into a play?

The cover of the book! I was in a bookshop . . . and the cover stood out from all the other covers. It was spooky, as if I was being haunted by that face. I bought the book, took it home, and read it in an afternoon. I knew as I was reading it that I wanted to bring it to the stage. It was so dramatic, so moody, so atmospheric.

Cover of the Canongate edition, featuring 'Head of a Young Girl' by George Clausen

So, some similar themes to those in Hill of Rains, then?

Women trapped by men! It's beginning to sound like a familiar theme although I don't do themes!

And full of the importance of Scottish weather, too. Is that a coincidence?

I am affected by the weather. I remember running wild in the wind when I was a child. And growing up in the far North of Scotland you are affected, deeply, by whatever the climate brings!

Are there any plans for another stage production of The Gowk Storm?

In these financially straightened times it would be difficult. It had a cast of ten, which is enormous. But if any millionaire philanthropist is reading this blog . . . you know where to find me.

And after The Whole of the Moon - what's next in the pipeline?

I am finishing a stage play which will be staged at Oran mor in Glasgow at the end of November. It's called The Bones Boys, and will be staged in the A Play A Pie A Pint series. It's about two monks, on a journey fraught with danger.

Oran mor

Many thanks, Colin, for being the subject of this week's Friday Interview.

You can listen to The Whole of the Moon
every weekday on Woman's Hour from Monday 29th September, at 10.45-11.00 am and again at 7.45-8.00 pm on Radio 4, and each episode will be available on 'listen again' for seven days following its broadcast.

And finally, for anyone unfamiliar with the original Water Boys song which inspired the title of the drama, here they are singing The Whole of the Moon in 1985:

Thursday 25 September 2008


Dullish but mild. A perfect morning for a spot of in-depth musing.

Strange being back in wellies again, though!

Thinking of which, the Boy was half-way through lunch the other day, when I suddenly noticed!

Me: Whatever are you doing wearing wellingtons indoors? Especially at the table!!

Him: Well they're a bit stuck.

Me: Don't be silly - go and take them off this minute.

Him: They won't come off.

Me: What do you mean, they won't come off? Go and put them outside.

. . . At which point he admitted that he had, for reasons not entirely clear, even to himself and despite possessing two pairs of his own, put my (size 4) wellies on his (size 7) feet and, consequently, when called in for lunch, he was indeed completely unable to remove them.

I sent him into the garden with his big sister and he was eventually - after 40 minutes' struggle and a lot of squealing - relieved of my beloved wellies. Which were, miraculously, undamaged.

Ampersandy snippets

Gosh, I haven't posted anything about ampersands for simply ages, have I? Here are a few bits and bobs to redress the balance a little.

Susan at Green Chair Press has been branching out a bit and come up with these interesting wooden ampersand necklaces . You can buy them here.

This collection of cool ampersands is taken from this nice little article on the subject .

Here's another ampersand enthusiast discussing 'ampersands with attitude': 'Sweeping curves, flirtatious finishes and bold statements - these are the things that make ampersands an exciting character to use and, better still, to design.'

Finally, the perfect plate for ampersandophiles

Oh, but while on the subject of typography: this little film won't amuse everyone, but it certainly amused me!

Monday 22 September 2008

James Yorkston on his new album

Postscript to my recent post about When the Haar Rolls In - here's a 13-minute video, from the Domino site, of Yorkston talking about the making of his new CD:

You can read and listen to more here.

Sunday 21 September 2008

TBT fabulous A

What an extraordinary weekend it's been - as though two whole days had slipped through August's net and landed in late September by mistake.

The beach this afternoon was crowded with swimmers and sunbathers, kite-fliers and windsurfers. Beach huts - completely deserted only a couple of weeks ago - were thrown open. Windbreaks were staked out and towels laid on the sand. And the silver sea teemed with yachts.

Despite feeling rather under the weather, I decided to take the dog out after lunch and ended up strolling in the sunshine for a couple of hours. The evident delight of everyone around was quite infectious and uplifting. And oh, how I envied those afloat on such a beautiful afternoon.

So I was somewhat taken aback to pick up my first conker of the year on the way home - a timely reminder that autumn is, in fact, upon us after all. I found it beneath a tree I now rather dread passing, on account of this bizarre encounter almost a year ago.

SD#3 has decided that she's not going to be a rugby player after all; she's gong to concentrate exclusively on dancing. So Sunday mornings are my own again - hooray! At least, they're mine and hers together, and I can see that we're going to be getting through a lot of Famous Five books and making plenty of cakes and scones (baking being her other passion at the moment) over the current season. Of course, we'll go along to support SD#2 on home match days, and remind ourselves of the delights of chips and Guinness and bacon butties in the clubhouse, but it will be an occasional treat, rather than a weekly ordeal.

Am still using the not very reliable borrowed camera. Received a quote last week from the repair shop for fixing the new one I accidentally ruined, and the cost of replacing the sand-jammed parts is prohibitive - more than half the purchase price! An expensive consequence of a friendly chat (just as the destruction of my previous mobile phone was an expensive consequence of an impulse supermarket purchase). But, hey ho, c'est ma vie. The sometimes unwelcome consequences of spontaneity.

Still . . . better than forever being terrifically careful and sensible. Probably.

Saturday 20 September 2008


Blackberry Picking

Blackberry Picking

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
we trekked and picked until the cans were full,
until the tinkling bottom had been covered
with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Seamus Heaney

Thursday 18 September 2008

When the Haar Rolls In

I'm a great devotee of Radio 3's excellent Late Junction - a wondrous house of many windows. Visit every Tues, Weds and Thurs at 11.15 pm and you will glimpse whole vistas of music beyond your normally visible horizons. Well, that's what it does for me, anyway. I kick myself when I miss it. (Luckily, it's available for listening again on the BBC website, but its late-night timing is part of its pleasure in my view - it just doesn't feel quite right listening in the middle of the day.)

It was on Late Juction three or four years ago that James Yorkston first slid into my semi-consciousness and there he has stayed. I find his unique voice induces a hypnotic kind of hazy, autumnal feeling. So the timing of his new CD, When the Haar Rolls In, released earlier this month, was perfect. As with his other albums, it hasn't taken many listenings for it to get right under the skin.

I really can't better this perceptive review of the album by Robert Crossan, which sums up When the Haar Rolls In quite perfectly.

There's an inexplicable dearth of decent Yorkston clips on YouTube. I posted one here a while ago. There's nothing from Haar yet. This has quite a different sound from the new album, but is nice: The Hills and the Heath:


Summer has been making a brief, belated reappearance here today. It wasn't just warm down on the beach. Out of the breeze, at lunchtime, it was hot. Basked for a while on a bench, under a tree, watching dragonflies and smelling the scents of autumn.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Does this explain everything or nothing?

How do we acquire aesthetic awareness?

Naturally, as a (ahem) right-thinking, Guardian-reading, NCT-subscribing, art-loving mother, I took great care to ensure not only that my babies listened to plenty of Bach and Mozart in utero, but also that they were surrounded from their earliest days only by the very finest visual stimuli. No kitchy trash allowed in my Parenting Project, thankyouverymuch. Oh no, certainly not. Only the best for my babies. How else could I ensure that they would develop Exquisite Good Taste and the enhanced appreciation of line, colour and form commensurate with their borderline genius status?

After all, they were Children of Mine, and I, naturally, have all those qualities (excepting the borderline genius bit, obviously) in abundance, don't I? It must have been the way I was brought up by my own discerning parents. 

Well . . . actually, NOT! Here are a few pages from some of the children's books (comparatively few of them, compared with the abundance owned by the current generation) I used to pore over for hours at a time (no telly in them days!).

And look - aren't they just hideous? The epitome of kitch. If they weren't a precious part of my childhood, I wouldn't give them house room.

One thing, though - perhaps this picture explains my penchant for finding spectacular sunsets heavenly?

There are undoubtedly plenty of instructive conclusions to be drawn from all this.
I'm just not sure I want to investigate them!

Monday 15 September 2008

Picking and crumbling

Can it really be this time of year again? Barely have the splashes of Hedgerow Jam been wiped from the walls, it seems, than it's time to start all over again. This headlong galloping of the seasons must be a factor of advancing years, I fear.

Still, I'm not complaining. Far from it. It remains my contention that the whole blackberry-picking-jam-making thing is one of the most sensually pleasurable experiences (in the public sphere) in life. I [b]rambled on about it here at self-indulgent length last time around. Suffice to say today that blackberries were picked on Sunday, arms were scratched, legs were stung, fingers were stained purple, insects buzzed, golden autumn sunshine bathed and all was, briefly, well with the world (or at least that tiny portion of it I call my own).

Next weekend it will be jam. Yesterday's haul has gone into blackberry and apple crumbles. So that's what we'll all be eating for breakfast (yes, breakfast), lunch and tea for the rest of the week. And only one of us will be complaining about that, and it won't be me.

(How did I manage to spawn a child who doesn't like blackberries?????)

Alexander McCall Smith - Corduroy Mansions

I confess that the Daily Telegraph is not a publication which often crosses the threshold of Musings Towers, but it is eagerly being granted electronic ingress for the foreseeable, owing to the daily publication online of the latest serialised novel by Alexander McCall Smith. Replacing the temporarily suspended Scotland Street series, Corduroy Mansions will appear every week day for 20 weeks, starting today. It is also available as a podcast, read by Andrew Sachs.

Corduroy Mansions is an unassuming large house in London's Pimlico, inhabited by an assortment of characters and one dog, writes Alexander McCall Smith. The date of the building is indeterminate, but there are Arts and Craft features that point to the very late nineteenth century. It is believed to have been built as an asylum, or possibly a school, or a mansion block. In fact, nothing is known about the building's history, although it does feature in a guide to the architecture of Pimlico. It is described there as "a building of no interest whatsoever". The nickname Corduroy Mansions was given in jest by a fashionable person, and stuck.

To read online or by email and to download the podcasts, simply subscribe here.

The Hills of Ardmorn

Ignore the unfortunate leprechaun costumes and enjoy a song which will mean a lot to anyone who, like me, is hopelessly in love with Scotland's western highlands and islands. 

It's specially dedicated to anyone out there who has ever sent me this track on a CD and who will be attending the second most important wedding of their life this week. If that's you, then it comes with all my love. xxxxxx

Friday 12 September 2008


Pilot Officer Gerard Maffett, d. 31 August 1940

Long-time droppers-in to Musings may remember how moving I found the remains of this Hurricaine on a visit to the RAF Museum, Hendon earlier this year.

It was the plane in which, on 31 August 1940, Pilot Officer Gerard Maffett took off from Martlesham Heath, Suffolk as part of a formation sent against raiding German planes. The Squadron claimed several Messerschmitts but lost two Hurricanes, of which this was one. Pilot Office Maffett was killed when his parachute failed to open in time as he bailed out at low altitude. The remains of his plane lay where it fell at Walton-on-the-Naze.

Well this morning I received a comment on that post from Andy, who lives in Berkshire, where Pilot Officer Maffett was finally buried. This is what Andy said:

'Gerrard Maffett is buried in Bray Cemetery near his home town of Maidenhead. I walk past it with my dog, and the kids when they can be bothered, most days. He was just 22 years old when he was killed. His mother, who lived to be 100, and who's ashes rest next to him, lost 2 sons in that war. A story repeated how many times ? This grave, along with so many others, is looked after by volunteers and is kept beautifully. I think it is important that the sacrifices that were made over and over again should be remembered now and in the future. As a " local " you might enjoy " One Hurricane One Raid " by Geoff Rayner which tells the story of the pilot and his aircraft. There are lots of places and even names you might know. I also hugely enjoyed " First Light " by Geoffrey Wellum, The authors account of flying through the Battle of Britain aged 18 ! No wonder his squadron called him " Boy" '

Thank you so much Andy. Bray is not far from where my parents live. Next time I'm there, I shall make a point of visiting the grave of a young man who flew to his death in the skies I can see from my window.

Venturing forth

A dismally dull, wet, grey day here on the Muddy Island.

I haven't ventured out since I walked SD#3 to school.

Fellow islander Teresa has, though, and here's what it was like.

Thursday 11 September 2008

Three windows

Today's offerings for the ongoing blog festival of 'window paintings' are all by Bonnard - an artist whose work I find perpetually captivating.

So, continuing the established themes, here we have Bonnard's woman (Marthe) at a window;

a window onto the sea;

and (what could be nicer?) a writing desk at a window.

Oh joy, oh bliss, oh rapture!

Sea Change - the voyage

Addendum to previous post on Sea Change: The Summer Voyage from East to West Scotland of the "Anassa", by Mairi Hedderwick: I completely forgot to include this essential and most attractive map, showing the route taken by Mairi and her Captain (click to enlarge):

I do so love hand-drawn maps.
Off to Scotland again myself soon. Hurrah!

Wednesday 10 September 2008


Taken on a borrowed camera:

And many thanks to D at 60goingon16 for the scrumptious ice-cream-coloured beach huts yesterday.