1 EAGLETON NOTES: October 2008



Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Last Post

Whilst this will not be The Last Post on Eagleton Notes, it will be the last for a while. I leave tomorrow for New Zealand. Whilst I am there most of my postings will be on A Hebridean In New Zealand (2008/09). Please visit me there. I shall, all being well, be back here at the end of April 2009.

Spelling Problems and Collar Studs

This morning on Rambles From My Chair CJ blogged on the subject of Spelling Problems and Collar Studs. I had started my comments when I realised that they would be so long that I'd be better doing a posting in reply. This is it.

When I was in Form 1 or 2 at Ryebank (and between 8 and 10) spelling bs (or spelling bees) were part of the teaching regime. I remember to this day standing opposite Joan Rigby (far and away the brainiest girl in the class, and probably the school, at the time) and having to think of a word for her to spell. If she couldn't spell it (and provided I could) the team I was in would win. I chose the insect 'bee'. Joan couldn't spell it. I could. I've wondered about that to this day.

Oddly the bain of my spelling difficulties over the years has been 'across'. A word I spelt as accross until about a year ago. Apart from that my spelling used not to be too bad. Nowadays I have considerable problems with many words; often they are very simple words. I think that it all stems from the fact that I can't conceptualise; that I have no ability to see images in my mind. I give daily thanks for computer spillchuckers.

On the subject of cufflinks and braces (or bracers) I still use cufflinks because none of my long-sleeved shirts has buttons. In fact I'm taking a pair Fiona gave me not very long ago to New Zealand with me this time. Almost all my shirts have brass collar stiffeners - even the short sleeved ones which is, of course, what I wear 98% of the time now. In fact I even use a tie clip (another gift). However that is fairly rare these days because I very rarely wear a tie. A shame given the splendid collection that I have.

As for braces, David ( a friend who recently involuntarily lost a lot of weight after a gallbladder removal) had to wear them just to prevent his trousers falling down. I don't use them any more for my evening dress trousers because my waist has grown into them (and a bit more) . They are still out there if you look carefully enough. But sock suspenders - I think not!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Behold, The Sea

Today has been an amazing day. Norman next door reckons the sea in the Bay has been as rough the last few days as he's ever seen it. I have certainly never seen anything like it. But then I've only lived in this house overlooking Bayble Bay for 15 years. Today the wind officially reached 79 mph. I cannot imagine living away from the sea because the sea can express so well the emotions of the weather and how we react to it. The fury, the beauty, the calm: whatever the emotion the sea says it all:


Whilst friends were here this afternoon and the gale raged I saw, in the garden, the first Redwing of the year. In fact I think he is the first Redwing for several years. Which is a bit odd because we used to get flocks of them at one time.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Storm Force

I have just been on the phone and during that time I was watching the sea in Bayble Bay below the house. I will never cease to be amazed at how the sea can change within minutes. During the call the sea went from long long rollers reaching into the Bay; to huge breakers breaking on the shore; to waves breaking (yes, really!) in the middle of the Bay; to sea flattened by the storm force winds so that not a wave broke even on the shore and every little wavelet as far as the eye could see had a white crestlet - the sea actually boiled. BBC Scotland's Heather 'The Weather' has just said that the winds in Stornoway in the last hour reached 75mph. Enough said.

Unfortunately the combination of the poor light and the flatness of the view made photography well nigh impossible. However I did get a photo of the cliffs on the other side of the Bay as the waves and spray climbed up them.

Apparently all but three of Calmac's ferries have been cancelled today and, OK, so none of us like this weather when we have to go out but watching the sea is magical. Who would want to be anywhere else.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Devil's Coach-horse

0530 is not the most auspicious time of day to come face to face, or, I should say foot to face, with a 1" long beetle on the bathroom floor. I wondered how, as it scurried round looking for somewhere to hide, it had managed to get into the house. After all we tend to live in fairly hermetically sealed homes these days with, in the weather we had on Sunday, the smallest amount of ventilation. He (or she) did not seem to be able to fly (thank heaven) so presumably had entered the bathroom through the ventilation fan. Fortunately I was awake, having decided that there was no more sleep to be had and that there were things to do. Disposing of beetles had not, however, been on the agenda. And, of course, nowadays I can't just dispose of these creatures. They have to be photographed and identified - and then thrown out. Which is what happened. And so I saw my first (identified) Devil's Coach-horse. In that it eats slugs at night it is a Good Beetle (because it eats slugs not because it does so at night). Leastways I'm fairly certain that's what it was (and, presumably, still is) although I couldn't identify the fine hairs with which his ilk is supposed to be arrayed.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Blogging About Books - Again

The point has been made that my book blogging doesn't really fit in with the rest of Eagleton Notes. When I wrote the first posting I never anticipated that it would become as frequent as it has become. I am not the world's fastest nor most prolific reader. In fact I don't read many books at all. The recent spate has been mainly due to the encouragement of seeing CJ's blog and an odd re-awakening in reading coupled with the fact that blogging about what one has read actually makes one think and enjoy the actuality of the read more. It doesn't, however, improve one's grammar.

Anyway this afternoon I decided to copy the postings done so far on books onto a new blog. This, with the startling innovative and creative thought that people associate with me, I have decided to call Eagleton Book Notes.

And there will rest my future book blogging. However, given that I shall be leaving Lewis on 27 October and be settling back into my New Zealand life, I wouldn't hold your breath for new postings for a little while.

Cold Comfort Farm

When I started to read Cold Comfort Farm I didn't know what to expect even though I'd read CJ's posting on A Book Every Six Days which, by the way, I would suggest that you read before you venture further with this paragraph. It was that posting that made me take the book off my shelf and read it. Anyway whatever it was I might have expected I certainly would never have expected what I found.

It is supposed to be a comedy. It didn't amuse me. It seemed to me to be a parody. But of what or whom I had no idea and it made me wish that I had a better knowledge of English literature. I came across a paragraph which started "Dawn crept over the Downs like a sinister white animal, followed by the snarling cries of a wind eating its way between the black boughs of the thorns." I have never liked Thomas Hardy and it was at that moment that I thought perhaps I had discovered at least one of those whom Stella Gibbons was mocking.

I was fascinated by the ludicrousness of the whole book: its plot, its setting, its characters, its language and its prose. I couldn't see why I should continue reading it and yet I couldn't put it down. Surely there must be a twist in the tale's tail. But no. Instead we end up with the ending of a romantic novella.

We are told that "The action of the story takes place in the near future." As it was written in 1930 and 1946 is in the story's past it is difficult to even approximate a time. However as air taxis are a commonplace it is nearer our time. But as mail appears to be delivered the next day it is presumably set some time ago! Ah. 'Tis full of puzzlement. And sukebind.

There was a son [a Sussex man] who was easy on the eye but slow on the uptake. [A current Sussex saying is 'Strong in the arm but thick in t' head']

'Who's "she"? The cat's mother?' [A saying of Mum's from my youth. Had she read Cold Comfort Farm I wonder.]

Nature is all very well in her place but must not be allowed to make things untidy. [A quote for Helen and CJ in particular.]

..a philosophic treatise.....not to explain the Universe but to reconcile man to its inexplicability. [That's one for me - I never did have an enquiring mind.]

She liked Victorian novels. They were the only kind of novel you could read while you were eating an apple.

I think we ought to dine out... to celebrate the inauguration of my career as a parasite.
And one must not forget the parrot. You did read CJ's posting, didn't you?

Yes. I enjoyed this book. But I'm still not really sure why.

Monday, 20 October 2008

The Manic Cheesecake Murderer

No. I'm not a manic, knife-wielding psychopath with blood on his knife. I'm just a regular guy about to cut a cheesecake.

Tell that to the victims!

Portrait by Pat. Commissions taken.

A Funny Little Boat

Ploughing through The Minch on a mad October day.... Actually it was a pretty calm day which is just as well. It certainly didn't look like a boat made for heavy seas.

The First Victim

In April 2007 I returned from New Zealand to discover that the garden shed had been completely - and I mean completely - over-run by mice. I love mice and would never really want to hurt one. However when you open a door and find many dozens have colonised your space and eaten or ruined all the grass and other seeds and made nests in every pair of wellington boots and soiled every corner of the shed you accept that they cannot be allowed to do that again; the clearing up takes too long. So last year I resorted to an electronic device plugged into the mains which seemed to deter them from the shed and the house. Not that they've ever been a problem in the house but it did occur to me that a whole colony displaced from the shed had to find a home somewhere.

I set traps before I departed for New Zealand but never a mouse was caught and never a mouse sullied the shed.

This year I've been watching the mice in the garden running hither and thither and decided that I had better take pre-emptive action before the one or two signs in the shed turned into a show of confidence and defiance. So last night I set the traps. This morning I found the first victim. I've now found and plugged in the electronic deterrent. Hopefully the first victim will also be the last.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Southerly Gale

We were promised a gale from the South peaking at 1300 hours today and we got a gale, it was from the South and it peaked at 1300 hours. The view from the buffeted Study was quite spectacular with the long rollong breakers coming into the bay:

The Nighthawk

I have never been particularly emotionally attached to any of my cars. That's not to say that I haven't liked them or enjoyed them or relied on them. I've had some wonderful times in my cars whether it be on the bench front seat of the Standard Ensign (which was my first car) in Bowring Park with Pat Stapleton or the adventures all over Britain and Europe with the many and varied cars and vans that I've had since then.

I very much enjoyed driving my little Peugeot 206 van and the Renault Kangoo van took Mo and me through France and over the mountains into Andorra and back down onto the Med.

I'd like to do a blog on my various cars if for no other reason than just to remind me about them and awaken memories. But somehow my present car is different. Called 'the hearse' by a neighbour of singularly morbid mind I decided to give my Honda Accord Tourer the name 'The Nighthawk'. It seemed appropriate because its colour is Nighthawk Black. I suppose that's to distinguish it from all the other blacks. Frankly I can never tell the name of one black from the name of another. I notice, though that the upmarket car interiors colour is now 'piano black'. I shall be leaving the Nighthawk behind in eight days when I go to New Zealand.

But when I get to New Zealand I'll have something completely different:

Thursday, 16 October 2008

The Remains of the Day

Last week just as I was starting this book CJ posted on Ishiguro's book Never Let Me Go . I wondered whether I would have more to say than CJ. Well I'm a bit at a loss for words on this one. Did I enjoy it? Not really. Did it have a satisfactory ending? Not really. Did I learn something from it? Not really. Did I understand what Ishiguro was attempting to achieve? Not really. In fact it was a bit of a not really book altogether.

I started off enjoying the story, briefly, because I thought I had an idea where it was going. Wrong. The narrator of the story has striven (at the time of the narration) to be called a 'great' butler and is a self-satisfied, emotionless and, I thought, very unfeeling, uncaring and unpleasant person. I was sure, however, that Ishiguro did not intend him to be. Or did he? Now I'm not really sure.

One of the things about posting views on a book is that it does make one think back to what one has read. I'm sure that Ishiguro was trying to get far more issues across to his readers than I have managed to assimilate. But as I review the pages I fail to see those issues. The last pages talk of the evening being the best part of the working day (actually and metaphorically) hence making the best of the remains of the day. But if that is the message then........

I would add that the narration prose is wonderfully evocative of how one might expect a butler in a great house to communicate in the earlier and middle part of the twentieth century. How does anyone who has not lived through that era - in fact was not born in this Country - do that? But then the last four words of the book contain a split infinitive! Oh dear.

Would I rush to read another of his books (which I have on the shelf)? Not really.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Does God Believe in Athiests?

No, I haven't read this book. Life's too short to drink bad wine and too short to read books which are a turn-off from the cover blurb never mind the first page. Mainly because, despite the title, the book is really a quite academic treatise in part (the part that traces the development of atheistic and agnostic thinking from the 'Golden Age' of Greek philosophy to the present day with Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Camus and Sartre thrown in for good measure) and the rest which is, as the existence of God cannot be proven, an exposition of faith.

I thought that the title, however, was brilliant and worth a mention for itself alone.

It did make me wonder whether in an analogy with the question as to whether a falling tree makes a sound in a forest where there is no one to hear it, if God does exist and doesn't believe in athiests do they exist?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Naval Exercise Joint Warrior

From 6th to 16th October the UK's three armed forces together with those of eight other countries are taking place in Europe's biggest military exercise - Joint Warrior - off the West Coast of Scotland. Quite a lot of activity is visible in the Minch between Lewis and the Mainland. A lot of it has been too far away and in very inclement weather conditions making photography impossible but today I had some opportunities as two of the Country's Invincible Class Aircraft Carriers showed off their paces.

One thing which has impressed me recently is the Royal Navy's website which is informative and interesting.

HMS Cambletown F86

An Aircraft Carrier in the far distance

Three aircraft approaching

Second aircraft just landing

The final one on its run in

The Carrier then steamed across the Minch and turned South a few miles to the East of Eagleton. It turned out to be HMS Illustrious Pennant RO6 of 22,000 tonnes and 210 m long.

Monday, 13 October 2008

A Walk in the Castle Grounds

Yesterday David and I set off on a cool, very windy and rather wet morning round the Castle Grounds. This is hardly 'The Great Adventure' and I know that Pat and Briagha do it frequently and, at one time, I would have thought nothing of it. However I've probably had the least active summer ever in terms of walking to try and rest my knee, so I was a little trepidatious yesterday. Half way around I was a tad concerned but my knee was no worse by the end of the walk. There's life in the old knee yet! The last time I was in the Castle Grounds was in May with CJ and there are lots of new things now:

David on the path at a very full River Creed (they are not new!)

Why a boot?

Why a last?

The answer: It's all to do with The Stornoway Coves.

How beautiful is that?

And one for CJ

Sunday, 12 October 2008

The Constant Gardner

I don't know how long ago it is since John and Sue bought me the DVD of The Constant Gardner but it seems to have been on my shelf for ages, possibly several years. So far as films are concerned I don't cope very well with journeys into the unknown and therefore I'm not the greatest watcher of films that I haven't already seen. So how do I see them the first time? I wait until there is a Steve around to advise and/or bully me: Steve's seen almost every film I'm ever likely to encounter. Anyway, David and I watched The Constant Gardner on Friday evening. Well David watched it and I watched most of it. True to form when things got harrowing I went and did something else. I am a very bad companion with whom to watch a film - unless it's something like The African Queen or Casablanca. There might, of course, be other incentives to sit still through the film but David isn't one of them!

'What about the film?' I hear you ask. Hmm. It has Rachel Weisz in it which is a good start; and Ralph Fiennes. Bill Nighy as a serious player in a gripping suspense thriller after his role in Love Actually and sundry other similar roles somehow didn't ring true. In fact I found the film oddly disjointed and unbelievable and wasn't even impressed by the acting. Although based on a spy thriller by John Le Carré one got the impression that the film's makers were trying to get a campaigning point across to the audience. Whether they were or not it didn't to my mind succeed in doing either that nor, frankly, much else. I always think of Le Carré as being a weaver of subtle plots. There was surprise in this film but no subtlety.

I'm glad I've seen it. But it won't be on the agenda for a second viewing.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Blogging About Books

It had never really occurred to me to blog about books until I realised that I really enjoyed CJ's and Helen and Ian's Blogs. It's fascinating to know what other people are reading and what they find enjoyable or otherwise. It also gives one ideas for prioritising ones own reading.

From the blogger's perspective it is a memory jogger, a diary of books read and something to be re-visited.

I wish that I had kept up the index book I started when I was about 18 of the books that I had read. It was not a diary as such only a simple a list. How fascinating it would be, for example to know what I thought when I read War and Peace (twice, two separate translations! I think I favoured the Penguin Classics translated by Rosemary Edmunds, the Heron Books one, I seem to recall anglicised the names which felt inappropriate), Crime and Punishment (did I really understand it then, would I now?), London Bridge is Falling Down by David Lodge (read in 1971 it is the only book against which I placed a quote: 'Literature is mostly about having sex, and not much about having children. Life is the other way round.'), the whole Strangers and Brothers series by C P Snow (which I have re-read twice since), lots of Somerset Maugham (I devoured his books avidly but cannot remember a single emotion that they elicited from me), every C S Forester book published (a story teller par excellence) and so many more.

In fact when I see how many Russian novels alone I have read and forgotten about it makes me appreciate just how many books proper readers must get through. Then there are the books about which neither the author, the title nor the subject bring back any recollections whatsoever: Myself a Mandarin by Austin Coates or The Twelfth Mile by E G Perrault to name but two.

Ah yes, what if?

"What if? Big Lou's answer came quickly: One did not engage in such idle speculation in Arbroath. 'No point thinking about that,' she said 'It didn't happen'." The World According to Bertie.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Aren't Birds Clever?

Sitting as I do in the Study with the bird table and feeders outside I see the birds coming and going day in and day out. It always amazes me how a bird like a Sparrow can apparantly fly at full speed up to a feeder and land perfectly on the perch. But obviously that's what they are designed to do and that's just what they do. I don't suppose they give it much thought. Yesterday it was very windy - not quite gale force. All the birds were getting blown about in the sky like pieces of paper. And yet the tiny light Sparrows and Greenfinches were still able to fly straight onto the feeder perches without even a hesitation. I was really impressed.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

An Angry Sea

This afternoon I went into Stornoway. For once I was dressed for the weather (gales and rain) so I decided to stop on the Briaghe and photograph the waves coming in from the South. Impressive or what!

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

In May CJ stayed with me and read some of the books on my shelves.  One of these was Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M C Beaton.  Naturally he wrote a blog entry on A Book Every Six Days.  I couldn't remember what he had written (although I knew that he had enjoyed it) and had deliberately not re-visited the entry until I had read the book myself.  Which I have done over the last few days.  

This is the first of a series of Agatha Raisin murder mysteries.  Agatha sells up her public relations firm and takes early retirement to a quiet village in the Cotswolds.  She is the antithesis of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.  Booklist described her as 'A refreshing, sensible, wonderfully eccentric, thoroughly likeable heroine'.  Which book, I wondered, had they been reading. Doubtless we will come to love her as we love Miss Marple but to describe her as any of those things is, in my view, palpably incorrect.  She doesn't even have the virtue of being eccentric. She's friendless, boorish, rude, selfish and rather pathetic figure of an anti-heroine.  Or was I reading a different book? 

That may sound as though I didn't enjoy the character or the book.  In fact I enjoyed both.  And I will read another one.  That will be the test for me.  Will the next book continue to provide interest or will the novelty wear off very quickly?  

Not for the first time , Agatha wondered about British Rail's use of the word 'terminate'.  One just expected the train to blow apart.  Why not just sat 'stops here'?

'If you want to make your mark on the village, Mrs Raisin, you could try becoming popular.'  Agatha looked at him in amazement.  Fame, money and power were surely the only things needed to make one's mark on the world.  'It comes slowly,' he said 'All you have to do is start to like people.  If they like you back, that is a bonus.'

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Father and Child

When I went to the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery a while ago and posted some entries, I had intended to post an entry on another sculpture that really took my fancy. It was of a father and child. Unfortunately I didn't take any details at the time and subsequently was unable to find anything about it on the Museum's website. I hope that by the time I next visit the Kelvingrove in the autumn it is still there.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The World According To Bertie

For comfort food I turn to spaghetti bolognese, for comfort reading I turn to Alexander McCall Smith.  As I started on the book I wrote those opening words in my blog posting and saved them for when the book was finished.  A few days later the following paragraph written by Helen appeared in Helen and Ian's Book Blog : "People widely accept the concept of 'comfort food'. I wonder if anyone else has special books to which they turn and reread for comfort or inspiration?"  Well I don't return to McCall Smith's books to re-read them (not yet anyway) and they don't inspire me  But they are the spag bol of reading for me.  They are undemanding, entertaining and, above all, comfortable.  And for anyone with a knowledge and love of Edinburgh (as I do) the 44 Scotland Street and The Sunday Philosophy Club series are just that little bit more special.

Having said that there is something about The World According to Bertie (the fourth in the 44 Scotland Steet series) which seems to me to be rather self-indulgent on the Author's part. McCall Smith is an exceptional man - that cannot be denied.  He was, amongst other things, Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and served on national and international bioethics bodies until he gave it up in 1999 to concentrate on writing fiction after the global recognition of The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.  However in this book his desire to show off his exceptional knowledge occasionally grates and appears to have been done for no other reason than to show that he has that knowledge.

That won't stop me reading the next one and the one after that.  I love spag bol too much.

People who do that [decide that Edinburgh is too small for them and move to London] often then discover that London is too big for them, much to the amusement of those who stayed behind in Edinburgh in the belief that it was just the right size for them.

Money, education - these give you freedom, but they can take you away from your roots, your place.

We are here [in life] and by and large we seem to have a need to continue.  In that case, the real question to be addressed is: how are we going to make the experience of being here as fulfilling, as good as possible?

...the English are half mad when they think nobody's looking.

Unhappiness in childhood was worse than the unhappiness one encountered in later life; it was so complete, so seemingly without end.

What if?  Big Lou's answer came quickly: One did not engage in such idle speculation in Arbroath.  'No point thinking about that,' she said 'It didn't happen'.

...for most of us nothing very much happens; that is our life.

But was it better, he wondered, to be trapped [in a marriage] with a Porsche or not trapped without a Porsche?

Do you remember his book-distressing service for the nouveau riche?  [CJ that would be a really good idea for you.]