Sunday 29 March 2009

An Equal Music

This is the Reading group's book for April. By the Indian writer Vikram Seth, An Equal Music is an enjoyable and quite intriguing novel. At one level it is a love story, though a rather unconventional love story. Michael and Julia's story is narrated by Michael and begins some ten years after Michael had in some mysterious circumstances left Julia in Vienna. Now living in London he tries again to find her. There is a fair amount of suspense in the tale – will Michael see Julia again, will they still be in love, will they stay in love, will they live happily ever after? They do of course meet again, though much has changed for both of them. For a start Julia is now married and has a son, which somewhat complicates matters. The tale of how they try to pick up the pieces again is full of intrigue, joy, passion, memories, hurt and pain.

The novel is though, much more, very much more than a love story. Both Michael and Julia are professional musicians and the book is in a sense an extended reflection on music, at least classical music. Bach, Beethoven and Schubert feature almost as much as the living characters. Michael is part of a string quartet and the book gives a vivid and seemingly realistic account of the trials and tribulations of music making in a quartet. The relationships within and without the group are cleverly drawn into the narrative. At a crucial stage in the novel Julia joins the quartet to play the piano in Schubert's quintet the “Trout”. It is about the same time that it emerges that Julia is now deaf. Quite a brave development to bring into a novel about music, though it does allow for much discussion about what is music – what does Julia hear when she plays? How can she play when she cannot hear? The concert is due to take place in Vienna which is where Julia and Michael first met and from where he left or was it abandoned her ten years ago. And it is in Vienna that Michael has to confront his own demons - for what did cause Michael ten years ago to leave Julia in the lurch?

Though primarily based in London the book takes us not just to Vienna but also to Venice as well as forays to the cultural backwater of Rochdale, from where Michael comes. For a minor subplot of the novel is how a butcher's son from the “North” (of England that is) comes to mix it and make it in the world of classical music. There are many intriguing, almost suspenseful, subtales in the novel – the discovery of an almost unknown score, the fate of Michael's Tononi violin, and Michael's relationship with his former music professor the somewhat eminence grise figure of Carl Kjell.

The driving force of the novel though is Michael and his love for Julia. And this is a richly observed and complex tale, very finely crafted. The inspiration for the novel apparently came from the French violinist and Seth's former partner Philippe Honoré to whom the novel is dedicated in the acrostic sonnet which appears at the beginning of the book.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

The Tango

The tango is one of the world's greatest artistic creations. And I adore just about everything to do with the tango. A simple dance which has transcended its lowly origins and developed into a sensuous art form which now encompasses music, song, ballet, opera, stories and films. More than most dances the tango is a celebration of the sensual pleasure of moving in harmony with not just your partner, but with the music itself.

I first became interested in the tango as a result of reading an article in the Spanish newspaper El Pais. We were on holiday in Sitges and I would often read Spanish language newspapers. On this particular occasion there was an article about a new CD of tango music featuring Daniel Barenboim. I knew Barenboim primarily as a classical pianist and conductor and was intrigued by his appearance on a tango CD. The article of course explained all about Barenboim's Argentinian childhood and his love of the tango and his pleasure at being asked to make this CD. The article also said a little about the significance of tango music. Not that I can remember much now, but I was intrigued and once back in Scotland I proceeded to buy the CD, which I still own and frequently play. I fell in love with the tango as soon as I heard the first track. Since then I have regularly added to my collection.

After my interest in the tango grew, I remembered that my parents had been very keen dancers when they were young and unmarried. In particular my father was deemed to be a great tango dancer. My mother confirmed this, though it is hard for me to imagine this as I never saw them dancing - once married and with children along, dancing seemed to go out of their lives. I have never been much good at dancing and like many males of my generation did not learn any kind of dancing. I can just about manage some of the traditional Scottish country dances under expert guidance, but the waltz, quickstep, never mind the tango were unexplored territory for me. It was not easy to find a class in Dundee, but I did eventually come across a class a few years back. Quite an experience and the setting was about as far removed from its rather seedy Argentinian origins as could be imagined - a cold church hall in a douce part of Dundee. A perfectly soulless place. But fine for just learning the steps and movements. The couple who ran the class were also not Argentinian, she was from Norway and he came from England - not much hot Latin blood there! But they were very good teachers though. The other learners were also a motley bunch. Apart from one other elderly gentleman they were all of course much, much younger than I. A few were local, but most came from various parts of Europe with the odd Latin American. Unfortunately I was only able to attend for a few months, but sufficient to learn two or three of the basic sequences. The tango is not a difficult dance, you move at more or less walking pace and the steps are pretty straightforward. To be good though you need to have a feel and touch for the rhythm and for your partner. Not something that comes easy - at least not for me. Alas the class folded before I could return and there has been no follow-up since. If you don't know the tango and want an idea of what is involved then
here is a depressingly attractive looking young couple showing off the basics and here is a more advanced sequence.

You don't need to experience the tango as a dance - for most people the tango is just wonderful music. I particularly like the songs - tango canción - as it is known. There are some fabulous songs with entrancing lyrics. The words more clearly bring out that the tango is not simply a form of nostalgia but more about longing for something in the past that almost certainly never really existed. One of my favourite examples is from the tango Tres Mil a Dos, by the Uruguayan composer and singer Manuel Picón. This is the final verse:

Y ayer jugó Peňarol
lo vi en un bar por la tele
ó por tres mil a dos
y yo le dije a mi nene
que merecimos ganar, querido,
pero que hubo mala suerte........

And Peňarol played yesterday
I saw them in a bar on the tele
they lost three thousand to two
And I told my little boy
that we deserved to win, son,
but we had some back luck...........

Though there are some interesting new developments in the world of tango, I must admit I prefer the traditional versions, those most in keeping with its origins. Interesting to note that the original tango music was played on the guitar, often accompanied by a flute. I have a CD - histoire du tango - which features this combination and very different it is too, more lively and upbeat. Some of the new developments in tango include a return to this guitar based music - Juango Dominguez and the Trio Gorosito Cataldi De La Vetga among others. The now "traditional" tango sound comes mainly from the bandoneón, which gives the tango its slower and more nostaglic sound. The
bandoneón, which is a relative of the accordion family, was developed in Germany in the 1850s by a Heinrich Band, hence its name. How this instrument got to Argentina and became the sound of the tango is a bit of a mystery. Sur is a great example of this tango sound and features Nestor Marconi on the bandoneón. If you listen on you will hear the fabulous gravelly voice of the magisterial Roberto "Polaco" Goyeneche, my favourite tango singer. Other wonderful tango voices include the aforementioned Manuel Picón, Raúl Juarena, and from the past the great Carlos Gardel. Tango has historically been dominated by men, though women are more and more contributing to its development. Some key women artists include the singers Adriana Varela, Sandra Luna, Dolores Solà and the pianist Sonia Possetti.

For more information about the tango the key site is

In Scotland the main site is probably the Edinburgh Tango Society - edinburghtango

Good dancing and listening to everyone

Friday 20 March 2009

They still don't get it

They being the government and their advisers in the Treasury and the Bank of England. Much public anger is being directed at Sir Fred Goodwin and the others who have made off with mind boggling pay-offs. Quite right too. The same is happening in the USA, where it is the executives in the Financial Products unit of AIG who are in the firing line for receiving huge retention bonuses. These are the very same people who helped create this financial mess and they are being retained - to do what? Create an even bigger financial mess? And remember, as in the UK, these bonuses come from public money. At least in the USA there has been real public anger, which has forced the politicians to take some action. The House of Representatives has just voted for a 90% tax rate to apply to people getting substantial bonuses from firms that have received public money. Sounds like a great idea. What about it, Darling Brown?

Of course the real question is why the governments here and in the USA let this happen? It's not as if they didn't know about the bonuses and the pay-offs. The main answer to my mind is that the people at the top - in government, the Treasury and the Bank of England - are still so in cahoots with the financial and business sector that they are not seriously interested in changing the system. Poor Lord Myners - why would anybody think that someone with his background in the banking and finance industry would ever challenge his buddies in the RBS or any other big financial institution? It's the same in the USA, where despite Obama's victory, it is the same old faces, again mainly from the failed financial sector who are in charge of clearing up the mess.

And this is the real crisis, at least the real political crisis. How can we, the public, bring about the change in personnel and thinking that is required to develop a new economic and financial system that in the first instance stops the rot and in the long run creates the conditions for stable economic growth?

An indication of the scale of the problem and of the steps we need to take can be found in a recent article in the Washington Monthly by James K Galbraith, son of the famous economist - No Return to Normal, Why the economic crisis, and its solution, are bigger than you think. The whole article can be found here

Galbraith's main argument is that our top leaders have misjudged the crisis. This is not simply credit crunch, but rather a fundamental failure of the current system and that the main issue is insolvency or the fear of insolvency. And simply throwing more and more taxpayers' money at the banks will not help. As Galbraith puts it: “There is no chance that the banks will simply resume normal long-term lending. To whom would they lend? For what? Against what collateral? And if banks are recapitalized without changing their management, why should we expect them to change the behavior that caused the insolvency in the first place?”

Galbraith then goes into a bit of history to review the key lessons from the New Deal in the USA in the 1930s. His conclusion is that only public spending can prevent a total collapse of the whole economy. As he states: “A brief reflection on this history and present circumstances drives a plain conclusion: the full restoration of private credit will take a long time. It will follow, not precede, the restoration of sound private household finances. There is no way the project of resurrecting the economy by stuffing the banks with cash will work. Effective policy can only work the other way around.”

What this means in practice is that we need more not less government spending and not just for a short time, but almost certainly for years if not decades to come. It's not as if there isn't plenty to do – improvements to schools, hospitals, health centres, social care, not to mention long term investment in green energy alternatives. This has to be a better way of restoring the economy than just giving billions to banks and bankers.

Is any of this likely to happen? Not by the leaders currently in charge. In the USA it is the same failed old faces. Though as a new president still with enormous popular support, Obama could break with the past and appoint new people. People who anticipated the current crisis. But he would need to be prepared to split the Democrats as most of them, at least those in Congress are pretty much tainted by the current mess. In the UK there is at present zero chance of real change. New Labour is now bereft of any ideas and it is an insult to intelligence to even pretend that Cameron and his Tories have the wit or desire to challenge the current system. They have too many ties to finance to even contemplate wholesale changes. And as for more government spending? Vincent Cable of the Liberal Democrats has come up with some good points and suggestions, but again he and the Lib Dems in general are still too tied to the old way of thinking to lead us out of the mess. I am afraid it is up to you and I to get really, really, really angry and keep pestering and pelting all our politicians until they get the message. If we, as members of the public do nothing then do not be surprised if our leaders stay around and continue to do nothing.

Monday 16 March 2009

In Another Light and The gangster we are all looking for

I read these two books as a follow up to The Harmony Silk Factory. In Another Light is by Scottish writer Andrew Greig and a very good book it is too.. There are two stories here, which finally, after many twists and turns come together. One of stories is set in Malaya in 1930, which explains the follow up. The other and the main story is set in 2001 mainly in Orkney. This is about Eddie Mackay and his attempt to build a new life for himself after recovering from a near fatal brain trauma. This story is told in the first person and while the main focus is on his new life in Orkney and the people he meets there, a subsidiary theme emerges which grows in focus and importance as the novel develops. This is Eddie's quest to discover the truth about his father and an alleged affair he, Sandy Mackay was supposed to have had in Malaya in 1930. The affair is raised almost in an off-hand manner by his elderly mother, but Eddie is intrigued and wants to find out more about his father whom he feels he never really knew and who died many years previously.

The Malaya story is told in the third person as a straightforward narrative and the two stories alternate every three or four pages. So we, the readers, are always at least one step ahead of Eddie as he tries to recreate his father's life in Penang. This part of the novel is sympathetically told and offers us a vivid picture of life in Malaya in 1930. It has a claustrophobic edge to it as the focus is all on Sandy Mackay and his blossoming love affair and its sudden end. The other characters are all interesting and fascinating in their own right, especially the enigmatic Marsden and the two Simpson sisters, Ann and Adele.

Eddie Mackay's own account of his new life is told in a sharply self-deprecating style. Through his encounters with the motley crew of fellow inhabitants in Stromness, and his quest into the past of his father, Eddie gradually learns more about himself and what he wants to be. To begin with this part of the novel focuses more on Eddie's relationships with his new circle of friends and acquaintances in Stromness. In particular his growing attachment to Mica, who like Eddie, is also starting afresh. Back on Orkney to care for her dying father, Mica has her own issues to resolve. Their far from harmonious relationship and its breakdown forms the kernel of Eddie's development, though as the novel progresses the quest into his father's past takes on an ever more important role. And it is this quest which brings the various strands together in a surprising and unexpected finale. As the title suggests, not only Eddie, but anything and anyone can be seen in another light.

This, despite its part setting in Malaya is a very Scottish novel. The main characters are constantly challenging us to reconsider what it is to be Scottish. The traditional view of Scotland as a dour and depressing place is provided by the elder Mackay, who leaves Scotland in part to escape the “endless dreichness of skies and mind”. And to him “Scotland's a place where everyone explains what is not possible, that it'll all end in tears, we're here to make the best of a bad job then die, and get a good rest rest till we're woken up to be informed we're damned.” Ouch! Pass the whisky please. On the other hand he does return and settles to a good life and his son portrays a very vibrant and full life in Orkney. Even Scotland can be seen in another light.

The gangster we are all looking for, is the first novel by American based Vietnamese writer, Le Thi Diem Thuy. This is another book that is not what it seems. For a start it has nothing to do with gangsters. It is rather an account of a young Vietnamese girl growing up in America. One of the boat people who survived the perils and made it to the USA with her father. Her mother failed to make it, though she did join them later. Her brother did not and died in Vietnam. This is not a straightforward story. There is little narrative in it, more a series of memories, all bitty and enigmatic. It is also full of pain. Not just the young girl's, but her father's and mother's as they seek and mostly fail to make sense of their past and their present in America. Most of the book is written in the voice of the pre-teen young girl and the writing does have a naïve, dream like simplicity to it. This is a very short novel, more a novella, only 150 pages long. It is not however an easy or comfortable read. I didn't feel any real sense of development, only pain, suffering and loss.

Friday 13 March 2009

Scotland's Future

Whatever may have been the situation in the past, the European Union now provides the legal framework for relations between states in Europe. This applies not only to the member states but to others as well. Norway and Switzerland for example have both signed bilateral agreements with the EU. As a result these countries gain some of the benefits of the EU while at the same time they are also in large measure bound by the rules and regulations of the EU. Thus for member states and those outwith the EU but bound by its agreements, the notion of independence has changed from the traditional one of full national sovereignty to one of interdependence and shared sovereignty. What does this mean for Scotland? One thing it must mean is that Scottish independence can no longer be credibly equated to separation or divorce.  
With the creation and continuing development of the European Union the key and fundamental basis for Scotland’s economic development lies with the legal framework provided by the EU. The four freedoms – movement of goods, services, capital and labour are at the heart of the EU and over the years they have become embedded in practice throughout the member states. Through its membership of the EU, all Scottish firms have access to capital and markets and if necessary, skilled labour throughout the EU, including England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I am unclear as to what additional benefits accrue from membership of the UK.
An independent Scotland would on the other hand have two very concrete and very practical advantages. Advantages that could benefit individuals and businesses in Scotland. The advantages are the economic and financial powers that a Scottish government would have and the right of Scotland to be represented directly in all the decision making forums within the EU and in the wider world.
In relation to the economic and financial powers that would at the disposal of an independent Scotland, these would include the ability of a future Scottish government to make small, but nevertheless important changes to taxation to promote investment. Within the EU, the economic and fiscal powers of all member states are to some extent constrained. However whatever margin for manoeuvre that is allowed would in my view be better used by a Scottish government answerable to the Scottish electorate than the UK government which of necessity cannot prioritise the needs of Scotland.
The other advantage, that of direct Scottish representation in international bodies is in my view of equal if not greater importance. With so many economic, social, environmental and other decisions now either taken or co-ordinated at the EU level it is vital that Scotland and the Scottish perspective is directly represented as of right. At present of course only the UK is represented and the UK government is answerable to the UK parliament, not to the Scottish parliament. Therefore the Scottish position on a whole range of vital issues is either not voiced at all or if presented, it is only as part of a wider UK presentation. This I would contend is simply not good enough. It is claimed by yourself and others that because the UK is a “big hitter” within the EU, Scotland gains from having the UK go into bat for us. However this “advantage” only happens if the UK government happens to agree with the Scottish government’s position. Where the Scottish position on an important issue is different then the Scottish position does not get past go, it remains in London. Not much good having a big hitter if he or she doesn’t actually go out to bat for you. In these circumstances an independent Scotland would have the right to put its position forward. While it may not have the support of England the Scottish position may find support elsewhere in the EU. Like all the other small countries within the EU Scotland will not have the same clout has the larger countries. However, again like all the other small countries it is surely better to have the right to represent yourself directly rather than depend on the good graces of others. It is interesting to note that none of the other small member states, some of whom are considerably smaller than Scotland, want the alleged advantages of union with some providential “big hitter”. It can of course be claimed that in practice the Scottish and English position on many issues will be either identical or very similar. In these circumstances it can only be of advantage to not just Scotland but also to England to have two delegations arguing and voting in favour of their common position. To the extent that there is a common British interest then the existence of an independent Scotland can only be seen as an advantage to both Scotland and England.
In sum it seems to me that there are small, but still tangible advantages from independence, namely the increased room for decision making and the right to be represented directly in international forums, especially the EU.
It seems to me that the main motivating factor for those who favour the Union is in fact an emotional attachment to Britain. This emotional attachment is often linked with the number of Scots who have family relations in England. While obviously true this is not really much of an argument in favour of a political union. The personal and social links among people in Scotland and England will continue anyway and as mentioned above the basic legal framework is now provided by the EU. Furthermore not all Scots have family links with England. In my case my elder daughter now lives in Switzerland, legally thanks to one of the bilateral agreements signed between Switzerland and the EU. She is now married and has a son, born in Switzerland. Despite having a daughter and a grandson living in Switzerland it had never occurred to either my wife or me that Scotland should therefore become part of Switzerland. My son-in-law is Italian and he of course has many relatives living in southern Italy, but again it has never occurred to him that this is any kind of reason for Switzerland to become part of Italy, even though Italy is also a “big hitter”.
The above was originally written in May 2007 as part of a letter I wrote to the then leaders of the main political parties in Scotland – Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrats. After further writing, I got a brush off from a Labour party hack and a copy of the Steel commission report – the Liberal Democrat's attempt to convey the virtues of something they call fiscal federalism, and nothing from the Conservatives, which probably sums them up as a force in Scottish politics. I am always amazed – horrible optimist that I am – that leading politicians are so unwilling to engage with members of the public. At a time when all and sundry bemoan the low rates of voting and the supposed lack of interest by the public, you would have thought that any MP or MSP, let alone a party leader, would jump at the chance to explain their views and stimulate debate. Yet as I have discovered, both at Westminster and Holyrood, politicians refuse to engage with mere individual members of the public. Write an article for a newspaper, appear on TV or radio – no problem. But actually engage with the public and be forced to answer specific questions – nae chance. Perhaps Iain Gray and Scott Tavish will be more receptive to my next letter.

Monday 9 March 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen's latest film is a very enjoyable and and at times witty production. It is a long time since Allen has said anything new in his films and this one is another reprise of his deeply pessimistic take on the human condition. Short of anything new to say, Allen has recently gone for new locations, with previous films shot in London. This one, as the title suggests takes us to a very attractive and chic Barcelona with a brief and unnecessary diversion to Oviedo in Asturias. The cast are very good, though I cannot see why Penelope Cruz was singled out for awards. Not that she isn't good in the role of the scary ex wife, but just that the role does not demand a great deal in the way of committed acting. Lots of screaming and shouting, wearing some outrageous costumes and a little bit of pouting should not be beyond any half decent actress. Javier Bardem is good as the seductive, but sensitive artist. But I get the feeling he is going through the motions. On the other hand I thought the two main female leads, Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson were excellent. Both put in very thoughtful performances. It helped of course that they had by far the best lines as they shared the neurotic Woody Allen character between them. This has happened before, in Melinda, Melinda, where it was the one female actress who played the two Melindas. Here Allen has used two different actresses to highlight different aspects of his neurotic pessimism.

Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall lacks the courage to expose herself to any risk that might hurt her, so she ends up accepting an unfulfilled life just to avoid any risk. While Scarlett Johansson's character, Cristina is willing to get stuck in as it were, but doesn't know what she wants out of life, she just knows what she doesn't like. So she is condemned to repeating the same cycle again and again. The film therefore ends more or less where it began, with Vicky and Cristina in an aeroplane, this time flying back to America. Life moves on and they go on. This is all very well up to a point. The sad thing about much of Allen's oeuvre is that so often, as here, there is no sense of personal development, of the enriching potential from engaging with others and experiencing something different. In Allen's dark world, even the rich experience of a summer in Barcelona is just a passing moment which leaves one unchanged.

An irritating feature of the film was the recurring use of an unseen and unknown narrator. Though the use of a narrator is not new in Allen's work, I found it particularly annoying here. In most of his work, Allen himself is the narrator and this works fine as we know whose voice it is that adds to the narrative flow. In other films, Melinda and Melinda for example, it is a group of people sitting at a table in a restaurant who act almost as a Greek chorus. Here it is simply a disembodied voice and a not very pleasant one at that. Most of the time his role is superfluous as we can see for ourselves how the characters develop or not.

Despite this minor irritation, this is a very enjoyable film. Not one of the master's best, but still a very fine piece of film making and it is always a pleasure to see Barcelona on film.

Sunday 8 March 2009

Yellow - A Welcome to Spring

And now for something completely different. Some photos from around the house and garden to welcome spring. I came across the idea from a chance encounter with Emily's blog where she has been running a Green Week. The idea being to celebrate the end of the coldest, snowiest part of the year, and together to celebrate the prelude to spring. She has opened this up to all and on her blog you can get links to others who also joined in Green Week. You can access her blog at:

I loved the idea and wanted to try something similar and simpler. I decided on Yellow as we have a lovely vase of daffodils in the living room at the moment. I have since discovered that another blogger has already done a yellow week - in February. What the hell. I think yellow is more appropriate for spring - represents the warming sun and brightness. Green is always around us. Anyway above are some photos to welcome spring.

Monday 2 March 2009

Two Autumn Walks

To Tayport Lighthouse

By the time we arrived at Elena's house in Tayport, Liam and Jamie were just about ready to go. Liam was sitting on the front step trying to put on his wellies. He couldn't quite manage and needed his mother to help him. Jamie was all ready to go, with trainers instead of wellies. They had fleece jerseys and hats, but no jackets even though it looked like it was going to rain. They had decided to take their father's big golf umbrella, so I got mine out of the car – I always carry one in the boot of the car. Liam carried his father's and Jamie was happy to take mine – one each and everyone was happy. The walk goes past the harbour and out to the lighthouse between Tayport and the bridge. The first part of the walk is a narrow path which winds along the shore between the back gardens of the houses on Harbour Road and the estuary. Elena particularly likes this section as she can dream about which house she would like to buy when she is richer. You get good views out to sea, back to Tentsmuir and across the estuary to the Ferry. The tide was out and you could see a large expanse of seaweed covered rocks. Quite a gathering of seagulls flying about. I tried to capture some with my new camera and its 10x zoom, but it doesn't have a fast enough shutter speed to get good moving shots. In the estuary, not far from the Tayport shore line some sort of wooden stack juts up from the sea.. It's looks as if it's been there for a very long time and I've no idea what it is. Perhaps it was a platform – for fishing? Or a watchtower? This was the first time I had really looked at the thing.

The path continues to the harbour wall where you have to turn inland and walk all the way round the harbour to get to the next section of the walk. The harbour itself is very ordinary and the surrounding buildings are either very plain or downright ugly. The backs of old council houses and other non-descript buildings. In the harbour there is now a good mix of pleasure boats with a few larger ones resting on the jetty. It is quite a pretty scene, deserving of better surroundings. Past the harbour there are some more cheap flats, a car park , public toilets and rows of large communal rubbish bins. Once past this things get better again. The houses are better kept and more in keeping with a coastal town. The path again follows the shore for a while before climbing up towards the old Tayport to Dundee railway line. From here you can follow a lower path to the lighthouse or follow the old railway line which is now a track for walkers and cyclists. We took the lower path which is really good for the boys and for Gerry, Elena's dog, when he comes with us. Plenty of space to run about. There is even a little play area with swings, but to-day it was too damp to use them. The path eventually reaches the lighthouse or rather lighthouses. There are two of them. The first is a very old one, made of stone blocks and not very tall. It's been out of use for goodness knows how long. The other one is covered in the much more traditional whitewash. There are a few cottages beside both lighthouses, all of them still occupied. After the lighthouse the path continues to the the bridge, but we usually climb up to the old railway line for the walk back. This takes you past a long rope which someone has hung from the branch of a tall tree. If you feel brave enough you can try your luck at swinging on the rope. Good fun though there is rather a steep drop if you did lose control of the rope. The boys don't bother with this yet and to-day they were too engrossed with the umbrellas. They used them as guns, broadswords and most of all dragged them along the ground. Jamie even managed to bend the tip of mine. Don't know how he managed this feat – nobody saw anything.

Around and about the East Neuk

It was a dry but dull and cold morning as we drove to Elie taking the cross country route via Peat Inn. It is always a pleasure to drive through this part of Fife – rolling hills, mixed farmland with some forest areas remaining. As usual there is very little traffic to disturb the drive and enjoyment of the scenery. In Elie we parked the car in the High Street and then set off for a walk along the beach towards Earlsferry. Part of a tree trunk had been blown across the sands and now lies upturned forming an elongated arch. Took some photos of Kate sitting on the relic. Stalks of sea wrack had also been left stranded on the beach. Quite a few families out with children. We figured it must the English half term as all the Scottish schools are now back. The return route took us all the way through Earlsferry town back to Elie. A fair amount of rebuilding going on. Lots of the houses were in need of quite extensive repairs and, or redecorating. We ended the walk at the Ship Inn where we had a pleasant lunch sitting by a blazing log fire. More families with children kept appearing to enjoy the food and drink. When we re-appeared on the outside the sun had come out, though it was still cold.

We took the coastal route for the return journey and stopped off in Crail for another little stroll about. We walked down to the harbour – pretty much empty as usual, a few boats bobbing up and down on the water and tidily arranged piles of creels and coloured rope dotted around the piers. We then wandered along the shore path to Broome Bay. The sun was still out and it made for a pleasant walk with lovely views out to May Island and across the estuary to North Berwick.. Loads of berries sagging on branches. There were also lots of sea birds on the rocks by the shore. Among them was a solitary heron who just stood there imperiously, as though he were surveying his domains. Hardly moved at all. Managed to get a couple of good photos. It was then back to the car and off home.