Wednesday 29 October 2008

Halibut & Herring

Having enjoyed the most beautiful late-autumnal weather on Lindisfarne and on my first day in Coldingham, last week, it was slightly disappointing to emerge from Edinburgh's Waverley Station to be greeted by dismal dampness (or dreich, as one might say, were one a genuine Scot).

The brightly coloured autumn leaves in Princes Street gardens were blowing in every direction, and landing in great sodden heaps and drifts. It was all a far cry from the crisp, bright, sunshine which made my last visit such a joy.

Still, I had at least arrived in the beautiful city as planned, so I decided to eschew public transport and walk south-westwards through the rain (which, in fact, soon cleared up), across a corner of The Meadows to Bruntsfield Place. My intended destination (of which more in a subsequent post) lay at the far end of this fascinating street, which gave me plenty of opportunity to explore any number of interesting little shops - my favourite of which was the charming Halibut & Herring.

One of the most visually appealing emporia I've encountered anywhere, Halibut & Herring is full of good and unusual things - jewellery, homeware, smelly bath stuff, scarves and bags, toys, cards and more besides. I bought a few little treats for my girls and some other presents (not shown below) to keep for birthdays and the festive season. All very reasonably priced, and all utterly scrumptious.

Wendy Beaumont, who owns the shop, was delightfully friendly and helpful, and it was rather difficult to tear myself away. Indeed, had I not been mindful of the fact that anything I purchased would have to be lugged home on the train via London in the rush hour, I should certainly have stayed longer and ticked more items off my Christmas gift list.

SD#3's new pink cupcake apron was an immediate success and inspired the manufacture of several dozen chocolate crispy cakes on Sunday.

Of which, three days later, not one remains . . .

Cake disasters and confessions

I do so love the Cake Wrecks blog – it’s a hilarious celebration of the misguided, the weird and the downright disastrous in the wonderful world of cake decorating.

I thought I'd take a look to see what Halloween delights are being featured this week - and there are some excellent examples on offer here, here and here.

One of my favourite Cake Wreck posts ever is this one (which does indeed do what it says in the title) and Dr Who fans should also try this.

The latter in particular reminds me, cringingly, of the over-ambitious ‘Tracy Island’ I made for my Boy's sixth birthday.

I’m usually pretty good with cakes, and have achieved some famous successes. The intricate Celtic cross atop SD#3's christening cake (or rather on the first of the four cakes which spelled her name), the Building Site for Boy aged 3 and Old Bear and Small Bear for SD#1 aged 3 being three notable triumphs, not to mention Robin Hood and Maid Marian (SD#1 aged 4 I think). One of my springer spaniels ate a fifth notable triumph, unfortunately - before the candles had even been lit.

But my Thunderbirds effort was bad, oh so deeply, deeply BAD and cringey and embarrassing and I only thank the good Lord that 6 is the age at which it seems to be considered OK for parents to dump and leave rather than staying the whole way through kids’ parties. So only I, and my sister (who did her damndest to repair the whole disaster) and a bunch of over-bouncy-castled-out 6-year-old boys were there to witness my fall from cakey grace. Awful. Hideous. Like a kind of toppling phallic city. Arrrgghhhhhhh, the shame . . .

(But thankfully long before Cake Wrecks came along, or I might have felt compelled to fess up and send along a photo of the whole debacle.)

Coldingham Bay beach huts

Regular readers will be familiar with the beach huts here on the Muddy Island (see, eg here and here and here and, for the views of another islander, here).

Last week I walked on the beach and climbed the surrounding cliffs in Coldingham Bay, Berwickshire. Here are some of my TBTM pics from that gloriously sunny autumn morning (click to enlarge). And see how different the beach huts are from the ones back home!

Tuesday 28 October 2008

The Yellow Jug

While in Scotland last week I stayed with my lovely friend Rachel.

A recurring subject in Rachel's paintings in recent years has been a rotund old wash-stand jug whose distinguishing feature is its striking and brilliant yellowness.

I'm not naturally a huge fan of yellow. It's ok for walls and it's ok for lemon drizzle cake and pilau rice and AA vans and fishermen's boots, but it's not a colour to which I've often been irresistibly drawn. Until I saw this painting:

And, more recently, this one:

And now, at long last, I have made the acquaintance in person of the Original Yellow Jug:

And fallen in love all over again.

Good thing my bags were already full to bursting when I left, is all I can say . . . !

Imagine This - a book to talk about

Congratulations to Sade Adeniran, author of Imagine This, which I read and reviewed here earlier this year. Her debut novel has recently been longlisted for the 2009 World Book Day 'Books to Talk About' competition . It certainly deserves to get through to the shortlist, in my view - a highly original and compelling story.

The Books to Talk About list features 50 great looking novels - I only wish my TBR pile wasn't already so catastrophically high, or I'd be adding to it without delay!

Love me or leave me

Grateful thanks to M at Random Distractions for alerting me to the Radio 3 Jazz Library programme devoted to Nina Simone which I missed while I was away.

I've been playing and replaying all morning and it's reduced me to rather a melty heap. You can listen again in the UK here for the next four days.

Here's one of my favourite Nina Simone tracks, which showcases her pianistic virtuosity as well as her quite exceptional voice.

Monday 27 October 2008


I've mentioned this much-loved Mersea fishing smack here before - she celebrated her 200th birthday earlier this year.

If you're in the UK you can watch her in full glorious sail (but only for the next couple of days), featured on the BBC television programme Inside Out East on iPlayer here or on RealPlayer here.

Sunday 26 October 2008

Boatsheds, Lindisfarne

My little holiday last week began on the island of Lindisfarne - or Holy Island - often described as the 'cradle of Christianity', which lies off the coast of Northumberland (click here for map).

I decided that it was high time I revisited Lindisfarne the instant I landed in Bradwell and went to explore the ancient church of St Peter on the Wall, just across the water from Mersea, in August.

I'll write more about the deep connection between these sacred places, and about my stay on Lindisfarne, in the next day or two. But in the meantime, I wanted to show you these wonderful boatsheds - literally sheds made from upturned fishing boats, and used for storage by the island's fishermen.

They are quite a feature of Holy Island - though by no means unique: I've seen similar sheds on the Kent coast and on the western Scottish island of Mull, and I'm sure there are many other examples - but on Lindisfarne there is a notable preponderance. And oh how beguiling they are! How they draw the eye and the imagination. I could have photographed them for hours and hours. I was desperate to see inside one of them, but although I hung around hopefully, I encountered no likely looking fisherman to whom I could communicate my urgent need to break and enter. So I had to content myself with enjoying their picturesque exteriors.

Google 'upturned boat shed Lindisfarne' and you will find a million other (mostly superior) photographs of these immensely photogenic sheds. Nobody who visits the island with a camera will be immune. But here is a selection of my own point-click efforts, which I hope will convey some small indication of the seductive charm of the Holy Island Boatsheds.

The boatsheds above all lie in the same bay, between the Priory and the Castle. The ones below are to be found high on the volcanic plug atop which perches Lindisfarne Castle (in fact an Edwardian country house, rather than a defensive fortification - of which more later).

Exactly three years ago this month, a fire completely destroyed two of the original three castle boatsheds, and the remaining shed (the stern half of a nineteenth-century herring drifter) was badly damaged. The full story is recounted here and here.

Thankfully, a replacement boat was sourced in an Edinburgh dockyard, cut in two and installed in the same location as the burned sheds. All three now house displays, accessible during castle opening hours, which explain the history of the boats and the story of herring fishing on the island. You can see a video of one of the new sheds being installed here .

And finally, there's an article about the genesis of the fourth structure in this row, just to the left of the three upturned boats - the ticket hut for the castle - here .


Back on the Muddy Island following my northern adventures. Busy sorting out my photos and marshalling my musings. More soon . . .

Friday 17 October 2008

Thursday 16 October 2008


Golly gosh, have I really not posted so much as a bean for a whole long week? This certainly seems to be the case and one of the possible reasons is this: I'm taking a little holiday next week.

Just me on my own - no children, no dogs, no work, no washing, no ironing, no cooking, no picking up dirty socks and sweet wrappers from the floors, no spraying air freshener at piles of stinky trainers . . . etc.

Just books and a laptop and a camera, the congenial company of friends I haven't seen for ages, walking on the Northumbrian and Scottish coast, strolling round art galleries in Edinburgh, and . . . that kind of thing. Some good long train journeys at either end of the week, so I hope to read stacks and stacks.

If last year's inaugural mummyholiday was anything to go by, I shall return thoroughly refreshed in every fibre, ready to take on whatever the approaching winter brings. Hooray!

Anyway, the reason behind that little anticipatory reverie is that in order to stand a chance of getting away from my in-tray, I have been working overtime this week, clearing the decks. And something had to give, and it's been blogging. So apologies for that. I haven't given up on Musings - indeed, I hope there will be some Musings from north of the Border next week, if I wrestle with the relevant wi-fi technology and win. There won't be a Friday Interview this week either, but there are a fair few bubbling away on the back burner now, so I hope to resume normal service shortly on that front.

Have got my hands on yet another camera! Here are a few experimental clicks from The Beach This Morning.

Friday 10 October 2008

Sorted Book Challenge IV

No Friday Interview this week, but I've some interesting ones lined up for Fridays in the coming months.

Instead, here a few more Sorted Books, which I put together during a sleepless hour last night (click on the pics to enlarge).

And please have a look at the links to other people's Sorted Books accumulating in the comments to my original post.

If you haven't had a go at this yet, I can heartily recommend it as a diverting pastime.

It's rather like writing haiku.

Wednesday 8 October 2008