Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Seacliff Beach

To Seacliff! This 'secret' beach is an open secret, has been blogged about recently by a number of others (like nothing to see here and Undiscovered Scotland), and appears with regularly in the Saturday sections of local newspapers, every time some journalist discovers it for themselves.

Yet its reputation as a secret is understandable. Unsignposted, you don't just happen across Seacliff - you need to know where you are going. "Go straight ahead at the sharp bend in the road half a mile past the castle" you can imagine an old seacliffer telling a new initiate. The first time I had attempted to reach Seacliff was by foot from the south along the coast, but high tide and steep, thorn-thick dunes at Scoughall Links put paid to my attempts and I had been forced to return to Tyninghame.

Ravensheugh Sands to the south of Scoughall and Seacliff:


This time we arrived the normal way, by car, and paid the £2 entry fee for the beach car park. The Bass Rock and Tantallon Castle are prominent on the approach:

Tantallon and the Bass:


An old saying goes that two things are impossible: 'tae ding doon Tantallon and build a brig tae the Bass'. Cromwell put a lie to the first part of that saying when he brought cannon to reduce this mediaeval fortress, and today it may well be technically possible - if pointless - to build a bridge to Bass Rock. Such is progress.

Like Ailsa Craig off the Ayrshire coast, the Bass Rock commands attention for its abrupt shape:

Bass Rock and St Baldred's Boat:


Bass Rock from Seacliff beach:


See the white on the rock? Gannet shit.

Seacliff beach itself is popular with a discerning crowd - well-behaved surfing families with bodyboards and canoes, beachside bowers made of branches, and a lack of discarded lager cans or neds. We walked down the rocky coast toward Scoughall and the rocky stump of Seacliff Tower but were, again, thwarted by high tide. If walking the coast, this section should be done at low tide!

The rocks around here were of hard compressed sand and particularly interesting for the strange holes. Some rocks were riddled with them. Wave erosion? A small creature? What do you think?

Typical Seacliff rock:


This was a very short visit to the beach. A longer trip is in order, coming on a summer morning to make the most of the north-easterly aspect. To finish, we took a look at the famous wee harbour (capacity: 1 boat) at the western end of the beach but to be honest, the surrounding rockforms were more impressive than the harbour itself.

Obligatory photo of Seacliff harbour and cliff-girt Tantallon:


Still, another tick in the 'Quirky Places' book...

Monday, 23 August 2010

Blackwells at the Fringe

I had planned to give you a more interesting post than this one, but DIY has been getting in the way. So apologies in advance.

This Thursday 26 August, at 18:00-19:30, there will be 5 x 15-minute book readings from myself and various others. One will talk about his book on Darwin, there will be someone discussing Orkney recipies (with, it is rumoured, free nibbles!), there will also be a choir to sing the show out. It's free, just turn up to Blackwells Bookshop on Edinburgh's South Bridge.

I'll be there too, ostensibly to talk about my own book (featured in the August 2010 edition of Scottish Mountaineer and now available as a e-book), but I think I'll do some performance poetry instead. Here's one on the rivalry between the neighbouring villages of Kingussie - with its police station, famous shinty team and greater population, and Newtonmore - wee-er, upstream, with its permanent display of Christmas lights and the peculiar tourist attraction of the Waltzing Waters. What do you think?

Scotch Freends, a Flytin

Twa freends meet in Dalmore bar
to thrapple douse – they've stravaiged far
Hails yin Kingussie, braw and brankie
Newtown the ither, couth and canty.
Aboot their spiel we’ll strain a lug
as o'er their faults respective tug
the age-old fight,
the ready banter,
begins the flytin' at a canter:

"Ah Johnny! Ah there, fare thee well?
I see you've survived safe the hell
that you ca' home, wild Newtonmore
how come ye by tae braw Dalmore?"

"Ach Rab, know you that I am fine
no thanks to last night's fell moonshine
ill-dribbled frae Kingussie casks
– I nearly thought I'd drunk my last.
Yer Iris Rose, an awfy brew
what could I do but get fair fu'?
but here we are, on neutral ground –
as I stand here, I'll stand yer round."

"A Newton man stand me a round?
Well watch out man, 'fore word gets round!
your fellow tinks will hae your life
they'll find for you a Newton wife!"

"What can I say - it's pity moves me
and simple charity behooves me
cognise your plight:
what's it to be – Scotch ale or lager
or farewell note, rope chair and dagger?"

"Hey now Johnny, ca' that flytin?!"

"Ach naw man, I'm no biting."

"Just as well – yer patter's chank,
yer maw's got baws, yer mind's a blank."

"Watch it Rab, yon's fighting talk –
yer buildin’ braes yer shanks can’t walk!"

"Ah young Johnny, I kent I'd get ye!
but afore ye think to set-tae
My thankye for this pint o' mine
bought frae – nae doot – proceeds o' crime."

"Crime it is? Well, you wid ken
The polis need nae bide in Newton
But for theiving, drugs and lootin
Kingussie's famed.
A place tae suffer untold fates
A nest o' theives and reprobates
a hame for mony kinds of hate
amoral vice and sin:
which, though the decent wid be shamed
ye revel in.
Whilst we hae suffert naething sordid
syne modern crime wis first recorded."

"For aince I'll let that go, but mind –
boy, shagging sheep remains a crime!
Aye, polis hae their station here
the reason though is awfy clear
to a' equipped wi' half a brain:
they wanted cars whae’s wheels go roon
no squerr & stane.
Tae Newtonmore, wha dare wid go?
the village o' eternal snow
Yer Christmas lights are ne'er brought doon!
Hey Johnny, howlin at the moon –
son, take a hint:
while normal folk are earning breid
you’re oot huntin wi’ yer flints.”

"Jealousy - it's niver nice
especially o'er Christmas lights.
We only keep oors up a' year
to gie yer bairns an ounce o' cheer
as your display was vandalised –
nae wonder, shamed, ye pullt yours doon
while we keep oors up a' year roon.
And e'en if we bide upstream
it suits the baith o' us, it seems
for in the Spey we cast oor waste
and wish it God speed muckle haste
for your base kin tae lap it up
yer tongue's ne'er tickled bonnier cup."

"away ye go ye havering tink
you clearly cannot take your drink
your Christmas lights and Waltzing Watter's
as impotent yer tattie watter.
Ah, to the caves o’ Newtonmore!
Ye’ve only jist got Channel 4
where, biding in a dirt-flaired room
yer dreaming o’ a decent toon.”

“Rab – yer insult’s poor’s a moose.
Oor cludgie’s brawer than yer hoose.
Oor flairs are wood, and carpeteed
jist like yon creature ’pon yir heed
and telly, gift o’ Logie Baird
wisnae for the baldy-haired
tae cast aspertions on the decent
whae’s Countdown watchin isnae recent
and – wha cares I’m firin blanks?
I rode yer wife ya fukkin wank!”

“Oh Johnny, watch yer inbred patter!
Yer losing grip upon the matter!
It maks me hoot, ya daftie ranter
ye cannae haud a bit o’ banter!
Mind Endemol, looking for freaks
in Newtonmore bade their worst week?
Big Brother team had tae confess
yer townsfolk judgit o’er grotesque.
Whilst for shinty, we may boast
the finest team frae coast tae coast."

“Rab man – we a' wid be morose
if that wis a' that we could boast.
For shinty? Grown men playing with sticks?
a pastime for the masochist
yer bairns are born already pissed
so when their mou’s are bent wi’ camans
they feel naught:
this is no spiel of sophistry
it’s whit you dae for dentistry.”

“I’ll say this through my two front teeth –
your blatant lies beggar belief.
Unlike the following well kent facts
which bear the truth your story lacks.
The de'il himsel, when hell is full
claims o’ a place that fits the bill
for horrors bleak its unsurpassed
‘tae Newtonmore I’ll send the last!’”

“The de’il? Aye,’s a clever sort
he has yet one more last resort
for souls too foul for Newtonmore
‘Base Kingussie fits the score!’”

“Johnny.”

“Aye?”

“Ha! Johnny boy, we've had grand crack
But I must leave and haste me back
to Comfort itself:
I wish ye, on your trip through life
the worst o' health.”

“Safe journey hame tae you as well
though when ye come tae gang tae hell
it be no surprise:
pass my dool on to your sort
whom I despise.”

Thus these best of freends departed
full of scorn, yet joyous hearted
for their braw flytin':
through insult gross and libel harsh
took great delighting.

Oh fellow Scots! when greeting kin
abhor politeness Angevin
mind hurl yer insults Byzantin
Withoot disgrace:
He's farin' weel? Then prove yersel’
o’ bleaker faith.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Festival Rules

Heard in a bar in Central Edinburgh...

"Pint of Leffe please."
"Sorry, we only do half pints."
"Two half pints then."
"Do you want that in a pint glass?"
".... Aye."

Thursday, 5 August 2010

It's All Happening in Edinburgh at the Festival

This month sees Edinburgh's annual festival and fringe, the world's biggest arts jamboree. Most of the acts come from outside Edinburgh, outside Scotland, but one at least - Shakespeare's The Tempest updated and set on a boat in Leith, features music by an Edinburgh friend, and there is also my performance at Blackwell Writers at the Fringe - free entry, nibbles provided - between 18:00 and 19:30 on Thursday 26 August.

Walking down the Royal Mile, one can't help be struck by the stars on show. There's a bloke who looks a bit like Leonardo di Caprio with a pot belly: there's a woman who, if you squint, looks like an older Tilda Swinson. It's fun trying to work out what people do in real life. The tough, wiry, deeply tanned middle aged woman striding up the street in polo shirt, shorts and sandals is a round the world sailor if I ever saw one: perhaps Laura Dekker will get lost in the Southern Ocean and this woman will rescue her? Those men sweeping the street - they look like bin men but they don't fool me, they are undercover police, special branch, and have glocks in their dustcarts. But what are they undercover for? Is there an ongoing bank robbery or hostage situation? I look round the street, alert for trouble. How exciting!

Aye, it's all happening in Edinburgh at the Festival!