Friday, 28 December 2012

Alms for Oblivion

Today is Simon Raven's birthday, and I have ordered all three volumes of his 'Alms for Oblivion' series. Sadly, they are not available on Kindle. This will be my reading in the first days of 2013 - I will only be able to collect them on New Year's Eve Monday Dec 31. These waspish insider sagas are necessary to understand the world as it is rather than as some would prefer them to be.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

From Downtown to Tate and Lyle

I was reading an interview in today's Daily Telegraph with actor Dan Stevens aka the late Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey. He is 'Editor at Large' of online literary journal The Junket. In the July 12 2012 issue, contributor James Purdon wrote:

' At Greenock, for instance, there was until the mid-1990s a refinery operated by Tate & Lyle, a company now owned by an American multinational, but which had originated as two separate regional businesses: Henry Tate of Liverpool — who now lends his name to the Tate Galleries in London, Liverpool and St Ives — and Abram Lyle of Greenock. It was Lyle who first produced the impossibly viscous, cloying Golden Syrup which I remember as a staple of our family breakfast table in the 1980s, where it appeared in the same style of green and gold tin in which it had first been sold a hundred years earlier. Its distinctive livery incorporates a logo, or rather an emblem: a swarm of bees around a lion prone, after the biblical story of Samson who, having slain a lion on the road as he goes to claim his bride, returns to find that bees have made honey in the carcass."

'Out of strength came forth sweetness'
I bring this to your attention, because doubt was cast recently on the connection between the firm of Tate and Lyle, Scotland , and - by extension - the Tate family of art galleries.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


The three pairs of slippers system
The role of the slipper in Christmas is not sufficiently celebrated. Think of Cinderella, whose dropped slipper of squirrel (vair) was notoriously mistranslated - or misheard in oral transmission -  in the original French, as of glass (verre). I have given and received slippers at Christmas, including this Christmas. Three pairs of slippers are required for my domestic system. I have at any one time a pair of cotton towelling slippers; a pair of fleece slippers and a pair of whole foot slippers (illustrated). The way the system works is: I wear one pair into the bathroom. When I get out of the bath, I put on either the fleece or the towelling slippers, which are both waterproof. One of this pair is now wet, so I put on whichever is the remaining pair to slope off in to get my breakfast. The pair I wore into the bathroom and the wet pair are now airing/drying to be used the next day.

A Christmas reader competition: the first reader to find a Moffat Book Events blog with no reference to, or connection with, books wins a copy of my Sitka spruce booklet and a £25 book token. Winner will be announced on Jan 7 2013. Editor's decision is final. Good reading!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

A walk through Moffat Old Academy, Monday Dec 17 2012

Walkthrough of Old Moffat Academy  2pm Monday Dec 17 2012 - pictures by Simon Tweedie, Annandale Arms hotel, Moffat


Professor Richard Demarco CBE, Demarco European Art Foundation (RD)
Terry Newman, DEF (TN)
Simon Tweedie, Annandale Arms hotel (ST)
Jim Hurren, Forestry Purposes LLP (JH)
Russell Morrison, FP LLP
Alan Thomson, MDCI ‘Creative Places’ application for Moffat (AT)
Professor Andrew Wheatcroft, publisher and chairman Moffat Book Events (AW)
Professor Alan Tait, art historian (A Tait)
Elizabeth Roberts Moffat Book Events (ER)

Alistair Johnston, D&G council property division - disposals (AJ)

The group made a thorough inspection of the building, and Alistair Johnston (AJ) gave Alan Thomson (AT) a copy of the ground plan of the building (copies to be made available to all interested parties on request).

In discussion, the following points were made:

The Building

The building exceeded expectations, in terms of size, quality of light to almost all areas and its location in the town. There is a lot of debris, old furniture and other material that needs to be cleared out of it, and running repairs to prevent water incursion from damaging the fabric.

If the building is to house valuable works of art, modern security systems,  temperature control and humidity control must be installed.  This could be an opportunity to demonstrate Scottish ‘green’ engineering skills and might attract a sponsor for this aspect.

Use of Building

The suggestion is that the building should house a ‘destination’ quality visitor experience. The ‘USP’ suggested is Scotland’s involvement in 20th and 21st century art embodied in the person and career of Richard Demarco CBE, whose involvement with the arts in Scotland and mainland Europe – notably Romania, Poland, Italy and Estonia -  spans 60 years since WWII: the visual arts, the Traverse theatre, the Fringe and social enterprise.

The Town
The town of Moffat has nothing for visitors to do on a wet day. RD pointed out that Moffat is strategically positioned very near the A74 (M), the gateway to Scotland. Its situation is an ideal jumping-off point south and west to Dumfries, Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbright and Wigtown or across the border to Carlisle and the Lake District; east to the Borders and Abbotsford, north to Edinburgh, Glasgow and the rest of Scotland.  Moffat is only 50 minutes from Glasgow and an hour and a half from Edinburgh.  Whereas the south entrance to the town features the popular Moffat Mill outlet (to be upgraded), there is nothing currently to draw visitors to the town the full length of the High St to the north end, where the Old Academy is situated.

Local heroes associated with the town or nearby include: Merlin; Robert Burns; David Hume; John Adam, architect of Moffat House; John McAdam of road-building fame; James ‘Ossian’ Macpherson; best-selling 20th century novelist D E Stevenson; Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia (in 1817); author Robin Jenkins (the Cone Gatherers); Thomas Carlyle; doctors to the Tsars or Court of Russia. The first savings bank, the bicycle, lending library and post office are inventions made nearby.

There is a great demand for inexpensive rehearsal space for theatre companies throughout Scotland. This could be provided within the building envelope.

Moffat is in need of rehearsal space for its many musicians.

Other uses suggested include: training in specialist quality art and furniture repair or restoration work; making of fine musical instruments eg bagpipes; welding.

Community activities

Receiving house for professional theatre and concerts.

Exhibition space for international quality art exhibitions.

Archive (including the Richard Demarco archive)

Research facilities


Book shop/ library


Next steps: a feasibility study and business plan are required asap. AT is to explore sources of funding eg from D&G’s regeneration department. Interested groups in the town will be contacted in connection with a ‘mapping’ exercise to make a convincing application for ‘Creative Place’ status in Oct 2013, in the course of which they will be asked for their input into uses for the Old Academy.

ER 17/12/12

Terry Newman

ER and Richard Demarco, Demarco European Art Foundation

ER, Richard Demarco and Professor Alan Tait


Moffat Old Academy facade

Richard Demarco and Andrew Wheatcroft, chairman Moffat Book Events

Richard Demarco and Andrew Wheatcroft, chairman Moffat Book Events

Richard Demarco

Classroom. Moffat Old Academy

In the carpark, Moffat Old Academy

Richard Demarco (left) meets Alan Thomson, MDCI 'Creative Place' application

Russell Morrison, Forestry Purposes LLP, in classroom

Russell Morrison in classroom

Moffat Old Academy - stairway and Snow White mural

Terry Newman (left) and Professor Alan Tait


A Miro above the counter in the cafeteria



Moffat Old Academy facade, looking west

Accumulated mail in doorway, Moffat Old Academy

Sports hall, Moffat Old Academy

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Wise Men

The magi: men in meggings
I am reading the lesson about the wise men at the  Christmas service of nine lessons and carols at St Andrews Church today. Looking for an illustration of the three magi on Google, I found this early representation of them wearing nether garments that are once again the latest fashion: the 'man legging' or 'megging'.

There are otherwise sensible people who fear that next Friday Dec 21 will bring the end of the world, as forecast by the Mayan 'Great Calendar'. All I can say is to repeat what was said after the collapse of the USSR: 'when people cease to believe in something, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything'. Interestingly, the Russian word for a magician is 'fokusnik' which comes from quite another root, nothing to do with astronomy. It refers to the technique whereby an entertainer diverts the audience's attention to perform his tricks.

Wikipedia entry for 'magi':
Magi (play /ˈm/; Latin plural of magus; Ancient Greek: μάγος magos; Old Persian: maguš, Persian: مُغmogh; English singular magian, mage, magus, magusian, magusaean) is a term, used since at least the 4th century BC, to denote followers of Zoroaster, or rather, followers of what the Hellenistic world associated Zoroaster with, which was – in the main – the ability to read the stars, and manipulate the fate that the stars foretold. The meaning prior to the Hellenistic period is uncertain.
Pervasive throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Asia until late antiquity and beyond, Greek mágos, "Magian" or "magician," was influenced by (and eventually displaced) Greek goēs(γόης), the older word for a practitioner of magic, to include astrology, alchemy and other forms of esoteric knowledge. This association was in turn the product of the Hellenistic fascination for (Pseudo-)Zoroaster, who was perceived by the Greeks to be the "Chaldean" "founder" of the Magi and "inventor" of both astrology and magic. Among the skeptical thinkers of the period, the term 'magian' acquired a negative connotation and was associated with tricksters and conjurers. This pejorative meaning survives in the words "magic" and "magician".
In English, the term "magi" is most commonly used in reference to the Gospel of Matthew's "wise men from the East", or "three wise men", though the number three does not actually appear in Matthew's account. The plural "magi" entered the English language from Latin around 1200, in reference to the Biblical magi of Matthew 2:1. The singular appears considerably later, in the late 14th century, when it was borrowed from Old French in the meaning magician together with magic.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Tycho Brahe

Here's some thoughts on the occasion of the birthday of Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, born at Knutstrup, his family's ancestral castle, in Scania. (1546) Scania is now part of Sweden.

  When he was 12, he began studying law at the University of Copenhagen. Might the progression of modern children through education by age rather than aptitude be due for review? There is news today of the wildfire spread of MOOC - distance learning for a degree.

Eventually, Brahe became interested in astronomy after a solar eclipse in 1560. In 1572, he witnessed a supernova in the constellation Cassiopeia. He thought he was seeing the birth of a new star, although it was actually the death of one. My thought - in nature how often a frantic flowering foretells an end, not a beginning. Think beech mast (the phenomenon whereby a tree puts forth a massive quantity of fruits before it dies).
With the publication of his book De nova stella (1573), he went from being a dabbler to a respected astronomer. He conducted rigorous observations of the heavens, night after night, and he was the last major astronomer to do so without the use of a telescope. Eventually, he took on an assistant by the name of Johannes Kepler, who eventually became the guardian of all of Brahe's closely guarded measurements.
In 1601, Brahe attended a formal banquet where the drink flowed freely. Even though his bladder was full, he refused to leave the table to relieve himself, because it would have been a breach of etiquette. He developed a painful urinary infection and died 11 days later. So: a genius effectively died of embarassment.  It was long thought that the infection caused acute kidney failure, but recent analysis of his hair samples showed an extremely high concentration of mercury in Brahe's body. Scientists believe he probably consumed a large quantity of the metal a day before he died -- possibly as part of some kind of remedy for his infection. What he thought would cure him, killed him.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The story of a grape

Once upon a time there was a perfect grape. 

When the grape was in its prime, along came the rock and the cow duo, known as Mr and Mrs Boulder-Cow.

They glanced at each other, then at the grape and squashed it. (Editor's note: Images of the squashed grape are too distressing for younger readers and have been omitted).

There is no character development in this story, but there is a moral: the B-C's may inadvertently have promoted the grape to

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Once upon a time....

Once upon a time there was a rock in a hard place

Then the rock met a right cow, and they lived happily ever after
                                                                     THE END

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A Writer's Desk

A writer's desk

Well, OK - my desk. I am reading Antifragile,an insane ramble by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of two previous best -sellers : The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness and The Bed of Procrustes. It is a defence of serendipity and a reminder of the role of chance in all our lives. Also known as 'flying by the seat of one's pants'. It reads as if the author had dictated it into a recording machine, or as if a series of lectures had been transcribed. His authority derives from the fact that he was one of the only professionals working in Wall St to predict the financial crash of 2008. He is in favour of doing things rather than theorising about them. He is on the side of pragmatic awkwardness, such as asking an earnest climate change activist as I did recently: where was your jacket made? causing the activist to blink and swallow as though I had hit him. His jacket, as he well knew, was made in a sweat shop but he had bought it for the same reason that we all buy goods made in China: it was excellent value for money.I am not sure whether a desk counts in the same way as a mantelpiece for giving away its owner's character and interests. Here we can see on the top of the desk a collection of old x-rays, now superseded by recording them on disc. I keep them as a memento mori, they were taken during a particularly severe bout of pneumonia. When I was up and about again, I remember standing at my front door on a sunny morning and greeting a neighbour who told me he had had pneumonia too and how long it might take me to convalesce. At that time around the turn of the millenium, on our side of the street were: a weird Italian who never lived in his house but used to come to Residents' Association meetings and suggest that the square be patrolled by armed security guards; someone in the City; an American banker; a lawyer; a member of the House of Lords (my co-sufferer from pneumonia); more City men, an Irish dentist, the widow of a French banker and a famous poet. Back to the contents of the desk: on the highest shelf we find: a large book of wedding photographs lying flat, an old lampshade and a small book of wedding photographs; next down: my old Mac laptop, various important documents such as my will, the external hard drive for my current laptop, software; first shelf: old cheque books, envelopes, batteries, various leads and chargers, a bottle of Zacharry's spruce spray, a travelling socket adaptor, a Russian-English dictionary and the issue of Novy Mir where 'One Day in the Life' was first published. On the main level of the desk are two cardboard boxes full of postcards unused, to be sent. These boxes are shaped like shoe boxes and I thought they were shoe boxes until yesterday when Sally Tait was round helping me sort and chuck and we discovered that they contained packets of Thornton's fudge best by sometime in 2011. Economy labels, memory sticks, address book, scrapbook, script of the Alexander Men play, bank statements, mug full of pens, A-Z contacts box, two compasses, measuring tape, paperclips,broken clock, notebook belonging to grandson Zac, bowl full of rubber bands - an indispensable supply for a game we play at Christmas shooting them into the lampshade in the centre of the ceiling; transparent A4 folders, By Air stickers, small black velvet bag, white luggage label, small green notebook from Traquair, reuseable stamps torn off envelopes, scissors, piece of jigsaw featuring a snowman, sellotape, 'Beattock' station fridge magnet. From this collection Sherlock Holmes could deduce that I suffer from chronic lung disease, have two daughters, speak and read Russian, am a devoted grandmother, own a spruce forest, have friends abroad, frequent book events (hence the notebook from Traquair where 'Books Borders and Bikes' is held every summer), am not inclined to throw money around (the economy labels and the torn off stamps)and have a relation  - my cousin John in fact, who is very keen on trains and to whom I intend to send the fridge magnet once my Christmas cards have arrived from Shutterfly.

Saturday, 1 December 2012


Monet Snow at Argenteuil
When I looked out of my window early this morning, I saw by the light of the full moon, that shone through two of my windows so brightly, I thought a new street lamp had been installed, that snow had fallen. Then I watched the sun rise. The sky along a line above the hills was yellow and, above that, brilliant turquoise. A light covering of snow lay on the black branches of the birches on the mill leat. One of the trees still has a scattering of golden leaves. What excellent trees birches are.
Three birch trees on the mill leat, Well Road, Moffat. Note that the centre one still has its leaves, which are green and gold at the time of writing (Dec 3 2012)

The view from my bedroom window

Thursday, 29 November 2012

In bed with Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson
I spent last night in bed with Bill Bryson's At Home. My friend Kate Toullis loaned me this excellent compendious (483pp) book, and it is a real page-turner. Bryson never dwells too long on any one topic, but on every page he makes discoveries. The conceit is that it's all about houses, but radiating out from that theme are many far-reaching tentacles. He explains how one thing leads to another, altering the layout and use of a house, including how long it took us to get cosy and comfortable at home. That rang a real bell with me. Proper central heating is a comparatively recent phenomenon in Britain. There was no central heating upstairs in our house as a child, or in my boarding house at school aged 7-14, or in my student lodgings in the 1960's or in the house where I boarded in Cardiff, working as a trainee journalist on the Evening Echo. I stayed cold when I moved to London to flat-share. It was only when I married, in 1969, that I was able to install central heating in every room of our house with a big enough boiler to cope. Do read this book - it is endlessly fascinating.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

In bed with Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway's passport photo
Ford Madox Ford, in Paris at the same time
I get ill - in American 'sick'  - a couple of times a year, always with the same old thing. I'm sick (we  would say 'ill') now. I couldn't read for a couple of days but now I'm on the mend I'm reading 'A Moveable Feast' by Ernest Hemingway. I commend it to you. Did you notice, I'm doing a bit of a Hemingway thing there?

Sunday, 25 November 2012

There's a french horn thing going on

Perfect reading to go with Kate Toullis's exhibition at the Moffat Gallery
Kate Toullis's exhibition of bright, beautiful paintings at The Moffat Gallery, 21 Well Road, Moffat, DG10 9AR, has a musical theme and within that theme french horns figure - should that be 'loom'? - large. This is no accident. Kate's husband Tony is a professional french horn player, and she plays along with him to keep him company. They make a superb sound in the closed acoustic of the gallery so try walking by one day - you may hear something surprisingly tuneful. Needless to say, the pictures are the main thing, though, and are extraordinarily brilliant. At the end of the first afternoon, many Moffatonians had crossed the threshold to enjoy the paintings, and Kate had received a commission. Well done Kate! Meanwhile, I am enjoying 'I Found My Horn' by Jasper Rees, loaned to me for the duration by Mr & Mrs T.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


More than meets the eye

This famous photograph by Man Ray of a French music hall artist is a multiple verbal and visual joke. In French, the translation of the word for a 'hobby' is violin d'Ingres - because the painter Ingres' hobby was playing the violin. Hence, if (say) you were a French lawyer by profession whose hobby was gardening, you might say: 'cultiver mon jardin -c'est mon violin d'Ingres'. OK? Clear now?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Fifty years on

My issue of the monthly 'Novy Mir' for November 1962 containing the original publication of 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich'

 The contents page: Solzhenitsyn and Hemingway

It is 50 years since 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was published in the literary journal 'Novy Mir' (New World). I had not noticed until now that there was a short story by Ernest Hemingway in the same issue. I will spend the day reading/re-reading them both. I am indebted to my tutor Evgeny Lampert for urging me to subscribe to the journal. I started my degree course in Russian Language and Literature that same term (autumn 1962) so this may have been the very first issue I received. It has travelled with me for fifty years, from the Banbury Road in Oxford to north Kent to London,  Stoke on Trent, and London again (where it survived a fire in our drawing room) before coming to rest in the best- ever bookcase in the best -ever house, in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. The modern bi-lingual version seen lying flat in front of the original is one of several copies sent by the All-Union State Library for Foreign Literature in Moscow as part of our partnership agreement. Thanks, guys. NB To hear Solzhenitsyn reading the story, go to:

Monday, 19 November 2012

A pheasant

Recipe books are in the news, for not conveying the true art of cookery. Let me give you a case in point: I went into our local butcher in Moffat the other day and the greengrocer next door and bought a pheasant, some streaky bacon, an onion, a carrot and some cumberland sausages. I roasted the pheasant, using the streaky bacon over the breast, putting half the onion inside and the rest of the onion and the carrot chopped up in chunks with the sausages round about. It turned out that by the time the juices were running yellow not pink, the pheasant was quite tough. So I only ate a little of the pheasant roasted, with a couple of the cumberland sausages (bear with me, this is going somewhere) and half the baked potato which was also on a rack in the oven cooking at the same time as the pheasant. So then, dear reader,  I did what real cooks have been doing since stone age man came back to camp with a lump hacked off a woolly mammoth: I made stock with the tough pheasant, the roasting vegetables and the half baked potato. I added more onion and some garlic and some bayleaves and black peppercorns. Then I drained the stock and made cous cous. I took the now tender meat off the pheasant and diced it to add to the cous cous. Then I froze it into six or seven meal-sized portions. Simples. Oh, and I had the cold sausages for supper with a bit of cheese and a tomato. That's not what recipe books tell you, but it's what most real cooking is about.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

An artist, writer and illustrator

'HORN' by Kate Toullis
Kate Toullis is a Glasgow School of Art-educated artist, writer and illustrator. After 30 years in exile in the far west of Ireland, she and her husband have come to live in lucky Moffat. An exhibition of Kate's wonderfully life-enhancing, colourful paintings will be opening at The Moffat Gallery next Sunday Nov 25. Readings from her three beautiful children's story books will follow in due course.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Russian 'stakan'
The last apple
I had enough apples from my two new apple trees to make a big apple crumble. Here is the last apple of the season, a mysterious, damaged but somehow beautiful fruit. It smells of childhood. Russians drink their tea black, sometimes with a slice of apple in the glass. In Russia, you drink tea by the glass, in a 'stakan', not by the cup. The glass comes with a removable holder, beautifully wrought with a handle so you don't burn your fingers.