Sunday, 29 May 2011
George Bernard Shaw was his good friend and verbal sparring partner. They rarely agreed on anything, but disagreed amicably. Chesterton wrote of Shaw, a modernist, in Heretics (1905): "If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby."
He made his points with wit and paradox, and in such a large body of work, there is no shortage of quotable material:
"The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane." (Orthodoxy, 1908)
"Fairy tales do not give a child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." (Tremendous Trifles, 1909)
"Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property, that they may more perfectly respect it." (The Man Who Was Thursday, 1908)
For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad."
(The Ballad of the White Horse, 1911)
(information about G.K.Chesterton courtesy of The Writer's Almanac)
Saturday, 28 May 2011
What Muir did with words, Ansel Adams did with photographs; as Wallace Stegner said, "A place is not fully a place until it has had its poet. Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada have had two great poets, Muir and Adams." Adams first visited Yosemite in 1916, when he was 14, two years after Muir's death. He served on the Sierra Club's board of directors from 1934 to 1971, and his photographs of Yosemite played a role, much as Muir's words had, in ensuring its preservation.
Though the Sierra Club originally concerned itself mainly with California and the West, it opened an office in Washington, D.C., in 1963, and began conservation efforts nationally and internationally. Its mission: "To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; To practice and promote the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; To educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives." (information courtesy of The Writers Almanac). I took the family to Yosemite 25 years ago. One night in our cabin, where the bedrooms were divided by thin wooden partitions three of us were woken by Abi shouting 'Stop snoring!'. We all awoke with a start to discover that Abi, meanwhile, had gone back to sleep. It was on that trip that we drove from LA where I was working at the time, up the coast to San Francsco and first saw wind turbines. They lined the ocean side of the road for mile after mile, , disused and rusting - an experiment before their time. On Thursday (May 26), Elly and I went to an event organised by SAOS - the Scottish Agriculture Society (I've forgotten what the 'O' stands for) at Dunblane to hear about their scheme for collaboration between rural businesses such as ours. Examples were given of how small makers can form into groups for marketing and distribution. We were encouraged to submit samples of our spruce beer and shoots to various specialist outlets - how we fare will be reported here in due course. I have also started work with a publisher on a a big book, on a subject dear to my heart, none other than the heroic tree with the initials 'p.s.'.
Thursday, 26 May 2011
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Monday, 23 May 2011
Sunday, 22 May 2011
Saturday, 21 May 2011
According to Wikipedia: 'a ten-episode fourth series was confirmed on 25 October 2010 and was rumored to be going to air in early 2012, later than its usual slot in autumn so that it wouldn't clash with the BBC's other prime time drama Doctor Who running in the same period. In March 2011, this was revised and the series was extended to the standard 13 episodes, with the show's star Colin Morgan confirming it would air in autumn 2011 just in time for our next Moffat Book Event - hurrah! Or should that be 'wizard!'.
Friday, 20 May 2011
Thursday, 19 May 2011
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
Stoker was the overworked manager of the Lyceum, where he kept long hours planning the company’s seasons, organizing overseas tours, managing financial records, and undertaking secretarial duties for the Lyceum’s founder, the famed Shakespearean actor Henry Irving. (When Stoker died in 1912, obituaries predicted that he would be best remembered for his association with Irving.)
Yet Stoker worked on Dracula in his few spare moments over the course of six years. And on this day, just a few days before the book was published, Stoker hastily pieced together large sections of the book for a stage production. The play was billed as Dracula; Or the Undead and was performed for theater employees and lucky passerby. It lasted four hours. The final decision to call the book simply Dracula was made almost literally at the last minute. (some of this info courtesy of The Writers Almanac)
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
SEPA are in a strop because they have no record of my pumping water up for 17 years from the Nunnerie Burn to the house I live in. This is despite being a rate payer for all that time and regularly having the water tested. Heigh ho. Their attention was drawn by major waterworks - silt traps, baffles, filters etc - courtesy of SSER, made necessary last week (to enable me to continue to live there and for us to go on making our Zacharry's drinks and essential oil) now that the trees have gone from the hill behind to make way for the Clyde windfarm, the biggest on land in Europe. I am reading My Life So Far by Denis Foreman, who grew up in Craigielands, a big house near Moffat, between the wars. His memoir reminds the reader how change is part of all our lives, SEPA please note. One of the aspects of Ian Edwards (RBGE) observations as we walked round Corehead last week that most delighted me was that it is no good trying to 're-create' landscape. We have to live in the present with an eye to the future if we are to survive and do ourselves and the natural world justice. People sometimes wonder why my face goes purple at the mention of the words 'Forest Commission'. Well, it's not because they planted lots of Sitka spruce trees. It's because they utterly failed to explain why. (For that, read my little book Sitka Spruce published by Sage and available now only by contacting me). It is no secret that I support the selling off of these forests, planted as a strategic resource after The Great War and in ever-increasing numbers after WWII because in both world wars our country risked losing the battle for want of soft wood. We didn't need oaks, elms, beeches, rowans, birches,alders,yew trees or chestnuts. It was conifers - and Sitka spruce is the one that grows best here in these temperate climes. Access to woodlands will not be affected because of our right to roam, and in my view private landowners such as myself are better custodians of the land than a massive bureaucracy.My BT mobile crashed on Sat so I have had the interesting experience of living without it now for three days, the fourth being today (Tues May 17). I was panic-stricken at first, and bereft. Now, on Day Four, I am utterly accustomed to not being 'in touch' with the whole world all the time everywhere I go. It is something of a relief, in fact. Off shortly for a meeting with Creative Scotland to discuss the potential of Crookedstane Rig as a location for film makers. Oh, and someone called Nathaniel Moffat popped up on Facebook this morning, so I hope to recruit him as a member of our Book Events. Pip pip.
Monday, 16 May 2011
Their first meeting was not auspicious. They quarreled about a mutual friend and didn't part on good terms. But Boswell attended one of Johnson's parties a few weeks later and Johnson warmed up to the ambitious young man. They talked at length at the party and went on to become close friends. Boswell began to record everything Johnson said and did for the biography of Johnson's life that would consume him for almost three decades.
Johnson died in 1784. Boswell's The Life of Samuel Johnson was published in 1791, and it quickly became a best-seller. But Boswell's later years were by my most accounts unhappy. He felt like a literary failure, despite the success of the book, and he spent his free time drinking. He was a garrulous drunk and people were afraid to confide in him lest he spill their secrets while he was sloshed. He died in 1795 while at work on the third edition of Life.
Today, the word Boswell is used as a synonym for 'constant companion'; of Watson, Sherlock Holmes says, 'I am lost without my Boswell'.
I was delighted on Sat (May 14) to hear from Ian Edwards that Michelin -starred chef Andrew Fairlie had rung him to ask where he could obtain spruce shoots for his restaurant at Gleneagles. I have been campaigning for years to bring the culinary and aromatic qualities of this tree to public notice, from farmers markets to food events in Edinburgh. What seems finally to have done the trick is the emergence of Nordic food as the big new thing, via a Danish chef at Noma in Copenhagen. I have now contacted Andrew myself and await an order for our Zacharry's (sponsors of Moffat Book Events) organically-registered spruce shoots - a delicacy akin to Jersey potatoes, samphire and asparagus - and our other spruce-based products such as our spruce beer (above left). Ditto a visit from Ian to our brewery and distillery in the forest, in preparation for an item he is shooting for BBC TV's Countryfile programme in July. Meanwhile, Jim is busy in the forest making 2,500 bottles of spruce beer for Elly and me to take out to potential outlets within a 40 mile range of the forest - a triangle with Glasgow and Edinburgh to the north and Carlisle to the south. Andrea has suggested that we write a Spruce Cookbook - what a good idea.We are a 'start up' with a staff of four: Jim, Elly, me and Russell who can do anything from build you a house to brew you a beer. Our research and box-ticking on various certificates and clearances from authorities including the US Food and Drug agency goes back 10 years from a visit I paid to Sitka and spent time in the spruce forest with Native Americans learning what I could about their traditional uses for the tree, followed by much time picking up the threads from the European point of view. Spruce beer was brewed on board the ships exploring the west coast of America to ward off scurvy, ditto for the troops on the east coast of Canada when severe prolonged winters deprived British soldiers of access to Vitamin C -rich fruit or vegetables. Far earlier, there are records of spruce beer being drunk in medieval Northampton, where you will still be asked 'would you like a spruce?' - meaning a refreshing drink of any kind. You heard it here first.
Sunday, 15 May 2011
Sat May 14: A well-attended 'ethnobotany' walk today with Ian Edwards of Edinburgh Botanic Gardens round Corehead, organised by Ed Glenwright of Borders Forest Trust, owners since 2009 of the land. Ian explained that his job for 27 years at the gardens has involved travelling round the world discovering how plants are used by the various native inhabitants; currently he is focusing on Bhutan the little-researched Himalayan kingdom. We started down by the stream and Ian talked about the grove of alders, explaining that they do not so much prefer wet habitat as tolerate it. He indicated the leaves of meadowsweet which will flower soon, and wild sorrel, a tasty salad leaf. Most hunter gatherer societies such as the people of the Pacific northwest eat a lot of meat and fish - by coincidence, BBC R4 had interviewed Elisabeth Luard that morning, who lives in Wales and she had said that whereas people cannot eat grass, they can eat sheep which do eat grass. Ian showed us pig nut, which is good in autumn when the root has swelled, young beech leaves and wych elm flowers which tasty nutty - a bit like walnut. Unlike Australia, Scotland has very few poisonous plants - there are dangerous funghi and a few more such as Arum Maculatum. Young bracken 'fiddles' are eaten widely throughout the world, and the sweet ends of reeds or rushes, used otherwise for lighting. Thistle leaves and stems can be eaten when young and the colourless little leaves found under mature thistle leaves in the autumn. We found plantain, violets, primroses,tormentil and celandines (pile wort), and nettles - all used either as food or in medicine. We paused by a grove of conifers where a raven was croaking or crooning to discuss the Sitka spruce. Ian pointed out that Britain lacked a conifer capable of withstanding the cool wet climate and the Sitka spruce fitted that niche. It was better to look at what grows now than to try to recreate an imagined (or actual) landscape of years past, and the Sitka spruce can be used from its roots (baskets, hats, boxes) to its shoots (for jelly, preserving berries, tea and flavouring for a drink akin to ginger beer). It was good to hear an independent expert signing the praises of the tree we grow up at Elvanfoot - apparently Andrew Fairlie the Michelin 2 star chef at Gleneagles is looking for spruce shoots as part of the rage for foraging and Nordic food fomented by Danish chef Rene Redzepi at Noma, his restaurant in Copenhagen, widely considered currently to be the best restaurant in the world. Ed has organised another walk in July to Corehead and the Beef Tub with Alistair Moffat to learn about the reivers cattle rustling there in years gone by, and we hope to arrange a hike to nearby Hart Fell with Nikolai Tolstoy at our October 15 Moffat Book Event to see the rumoured abode of Merlin.