1 EAGLETON NOTES: September 2008



Monday 29 September 2008

Not Too Far

Every day when I wake up I remember that I must never take my good fortune for granted.  Few people are blessed with having so many good friends and a lifestyle which is, for me, as good as it could be.  I was reminded of this particularly this morning when I realised that I only have 28 more sleeps before I leave for my other home in New Zealand.  I can no longer say, as I used to, my other life in New Zealand because the two lives have now melded into one and I simply live one life in two places.  To some extent that is because the world is not a large place from the point of view of communications with cheap telecommunication, mobile phones which link us wherever we are and broadband (at The Cottage, I wish!) which enables us to communicate daily as we please without regard for the time of day or night. 

I suppose I first realised the smallness of the world about 10 years ago when I was in the Australian outback and was able to speak to Mum every day just to find out how she was and reassure her that I was still in the land of the living.  And I was reminded again yesterday when my God-daughter, Lou, who was at the Grand Prix in Singapore, sent me a photo from her phone of the very race that we were both watching on different sides of the globe.

So when I leave Lewis for Napier on Monday 27 October I shall be happy and sad at the same time.  But I shall not be going far, just, unfortunately, too far to go to the Woodlands Centre for coffee.  

So in the next day or so, in addition to Eagleton Notes, I shall start to post on my blog A Hebridean in New Zealand.  I hope that you will join me there.  

Sunday 28 September 2008

The Best Stone

When CJ, Helen, Ian and I went to Budleigh Salterton on August Bank Holiday Monday we were all trying to find unusual or special stones. Not that there were many to choose from as can be seen from CJ's posting that day: Budleigh Salterton. Anyway we were all agreed that Helen found the best stone but, unfortunately, I don't have a photo of it. However I do have some photos of my findings which now act as mini paperweights (ie clutter) on my desk:

It's a Dog's Life

Pat caught this picture the other day. Can't you just tell how much Briagha loves the company!

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook: The Original

I have never possessed a Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook. I decided a few years ago that I would like one of the originals rather than the "All New" version. Suddenly a book that had been on every charity shop bookshelf disappeared. I had not given up hope but certainly had resigned myself to making do with the other 50 or so cookery books that I have. Now I have one!! A surprise package in the post from CJ yesterday. Whoopee. Lots of straightforward recipes for that casual evening with a few friends or for when I have visitors. And I do like having a picture of what I am aiming at. Like many people who cook I'm not slavish about following recipes but that is not usually the issue. The point is having an idea of what to cook in the first place and then some idea as to how it's done. I love simplicity.

Song Thrush

Years ago at the house in Coll where we lived when we came to Lewis we used to get many Song Thrushes and they would treat us with their songs from the top of the garage. It seems to me that it is many years since I have seen a thrush here and so I was particularly thrilled to have one in the garden yesterday:

A View To Live For

I know that you must be getting a bit sick of photos of morning views from Tigh na Mara but when the view is like this I can never get tired of looking at it. And looking is not enough. I want - no, I need - to share it.

Monday 22 September 2008

The Piano Shop On The Left Bank

I have just read the third book in a row which was a first publication by the author. None has disappointed me. When CJ and I were in a charity shop browsing through the books as we are wont to do I came across The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, subtitled The hidden world of a Paris atelier, by T E Carhart an American living in Paris. I was attracted to the book but for some reason let it lie and CJ acquired it. However it prayed on my mind and I eventually 'borrowed' it from him. I use the parenthesis 'cos he has allowed me to keep it after I fell in love with it.

Rarely have I read a book of such charm which has completely captivated me. Not just as a read but as an inspiration to look more closely at things. Carhart's subject is pianos but he could have brought a similar insight to some other subject. Around the subject he weaves a charming, quiet story of people, relationships and music.

This would not have struck me as a book which would have made it into the top selling lists but it would appear to be into its third paperback edition at least and when a friend saw it on the breakfast bar last week she, too had read it and was full of praise.

It is also quite a coincidence that the importance to the author of his piano was a very strong part of the story in C'est La Folie which I so enjoyed and blogged about a few weeks ago. And I learned from both books that it is the French custom when one's hands are wet or grimy to offer one's right forearm to shake instead of a hand.

I was amused by the Guardian's Reviewer's opening paragraph: "Picture the scene had Carhart taken his proposal to the more ruthlessly commercial kind of publisher. "Well, I want to write a book about how I hung around in Paris, and got friendly with a piano restorer," mumbles the author uncertainly. "Then I buy a piano from him, start playing again myself after 20 years, and think quite a lot about pianos." The publisher fixes him with a disbelieving stare. "And that's a book? .................." "

The Observer's reviewer concluded "Perhaps the best recommendation of his book is that it makes you want to reach immediately for Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Scarlatti and the other composers whose names litter the book; if his aim was to inspire in his readers a renewed love for the music, he has succeeded admirably."

I'm not necessarily suggesting that you read this book. Unlike the last two I've mentioned this may not be to everyone's taste. However I thought it was both enjoyable and inspirational.

"Life is a river" he once told me "and we all have to find a boat that floats."

"Ah, I never wait for 'eventually'."

I hadn't considered the suite, as the French put it, the follow-through to circumstances and events that lend life its air at once poignant and meaningful.

...on a modern grand piano [there is] a combined torque [on the strings] of over thirty thousand pounds across an entire keyboard. [Wow]

..even Voltaire dismissed the piano as late as 1774: 'The piano is a boilermaker's instrument compared with the harpsichord'. [Another of Voltaire's statements for me to take issue with with Fiona]

More than any other composer's, Chopin's music addresses the central paradox of the piano: how to make a percussion instrument sing.

'There are many ways of doing things, but there is always one way that is natural.'

'A polytechnicien knows everything, but nothing else.'

'We have to accept that things are ambiguous.'

I wanted to thank him. I wanted him to play more, but finally I saw that the sincerest form of homage would be to follow his lead and talk about the instrument. He knew that we knew [how great his playing was], and the rest was noise.

The Deed Is Done

Leastways it's started and I suppose it would be true to say that this small step marks the point of no return. Let me explain. When I was down in Exeter with CJ staying with Helen and Ian we went to the Otter Nursery. Helen and I were discussing the possibility of me having an ornamental grass garden when CJ came up and asked me if I'd ever given any thought to an ornamental grass garden. Such thought reading is not uncommon between us though. So CJ bought me a book on ornamental grasses. Ever since I returned to Lewis I've been trying to work out how best and most speedily to achieve the garden given that I'm away from Lewis from the end of October until the end of April next year. I wanted to plant the garden this autumn so that it would have a good start in the spring despite the books saying that the spring is the best time to plant. I have lots of patience for some things but not for creating gardens!

Anyway I have decided that the compromise is to prepare the ground now for a spring planting.

This afternoon I took the first steps on the ground:

Saturday 20 September 2008

Montbretia v Crocosmia

When I was a child I loved the clumps of Montbretia which we had in the garden and it has stayed a favourite ever since.  I have a fairly big display in the garden but the Montbretia in the wild around here are spectacular at this time of year.  Although, unfortunately, the recent rain has discoloured the flowers that does not detract from the overall visual effect.  On the road down to the beach and Bayble Pier the flowers stretch all the way down at the side of the stream. Unfortunately no photo that I've taken has even come near to representing the true effect.

To me the plants will always be known by their common name of Montbretia although now they appear to be more often referred to by their genus: Crocosmia.

I Wake

I wake.  It's neither dark nor light, night nor day.  It's nearly six o'clock. I've slept soundly for a whole five hours:  dreams but no nightmares.  Not that I remember anyway.  The smell of fresh bread permeates through to the bedroom.  I love the breadmaker: fresh bread on demand.  I cannot remember when I last rose and had to put the lights on.  I don't like lights in the morning.  It presages winter. It's raining.  It's windy.  I raise the blind and look out of the Study window.  I can only see perhaps a mile out to sea and then there's just rain.

Switch on the kettle.  Switch on the computers.  Visit the smallest room.  Actually the bathroom is not the smallest room in my house: at least two are smaller.  Put in the passwords.  Make Lady Grey. Return to the Study to find out what missives await me.  Two from New Zealand.  Two from CJ.  They are the important ones so far this morning.  Open up the blogs.   Only Rambles from my Chair has anything new.  

Music.  I can't decide what mood I'm in so I can't decide what music to play.  So I sort of decide on Khachaturian's Piano Concerto.  After a few minutes I realise that is a really silly choice for before 0700 on a Saturday morning.  Or any morning at that hour. So I spend five minutes casting around for something to match my mood.  Perhaps I can determine my mood by playing the music.  It doesn't work.   Elgar.  No something quiet.  Ah yes.  Silence.  No music.  That's the mood I'm in.  Should have realised that earlier.

What shall I plan for today?  My television should be returned this morning.  It went away for a small repair ("It'll take 3 or 4 days") five weeks ago.  It's Strictly Come Dancing this evening.  I do not want to be without the television.  Yes, there is a lot to do today.  How lucky I am.

Friday 19 September 2008

Before I Die

I can't remember (so nothing new there then) whether friends who had read Jenny Downham's novel Before I Die and extolled me so to do, did so before or after CJ had read it and blogged it on A Book Every Six Days. Anyway it makes little difference because this week I read it. I am so glad that I did.

The book is ostensibly written for the teenage market. How many teenagers would appreciate it I'm not sure because the possibility of dying or even the idea of dying is too far away. The Before I Die website précis describes the novel thus: Tessa has just a few months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It's her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is sex. Released from the constraints of 'normal' life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa's feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallized in the precious weeks before Tessa's time finally runs out.

Looking back over Andy's fight against cancer I see similarities of attitude on occasion; flashes of acceptance, optimism, anger, bitterness and so many more emotions that someone who has not faced the imminent probability of death by illness (and specifically by cancer) must find hard to comprehend. I certainly do. For most of us, the reality of someone young facing these emotional challenges is incomprehensible. But somehow the author guides us through the last days of Tessa's life with an astonishing understanding from all perspectives.

This is a book that everyone should read. I won't give a reason: there are too many. But, whoever you are, make sure that you have a large box of tissues to hand.


I want to live before I die. It's the only thing that makes sense.

How long can I stave it off? I don't know. All I know is that I have two choices - stay wrapped in blankets and get on with dying, or get the list back together and get on with living.

'What will happen if anger takes you over Tessa? Who will you be then? What will be left of you?'

I feel a strange warmth filtering through me. I forget that my brain is full of every sad face at every window I've ever passed.

'You want some sweet and lovely things, Tessa, but be careful. Other people can't always give you what you want.'

I want to die in my own way. It's my illness, my death, my choice.

I want to be empty. I want to live somewhere uncluttered.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Briagha and Misha

Photos by Pat of Briagha and Misha (the new cat on the block) at Pat and Dave's 

I'm not stepping over that (and she won't!)

So I'll just sleep here instead

Evening on Lewis

After the fabulous morning sky and a lovely day in which I managed quite a lot of time in the garden the evening does not bode well.  I was at Pat and Dave's across the valley for dinner and this is taken from their house (and on Pat's camera - I can't believe I didn't return for mine when I got into the car and realised I'd left it behind - a cardinal sin in Edwards terms).

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Another Morning On Lewis

Says it all really!

Tuesday 16 September 2008

Art On The Wall, Glasgow

On the way home from the Theatre on Friday Anna drove back along North Canal Bank Street in Glasgow's Port Dundas. She showed me one of the most amazing walls of art that I've seen. So far I have been unable to find out anything about it on the Internet. Very curious.

A Question of Light and Time

I wake.  I wonder what time it is.  No point lying here.  The time doesn't present itself as a thought.  I open an eye slowly.  As I do so I am blinded by a bright orange light.  I close my eye hurriedly.

This is not what I expected.  I haven't woken from a nightmare or even a dream.  So why the flash of light?  Where am I?  It is silent.  It is warm and cosy.  I'm not in France - the window would be open and I'd hear the noises of the night.  The air's different too.  I remember.  I'm in Glasgow at a friend's.

So why the bright orange light?  I open my right eye very carefully.  It's still there making other visual contact impossible.  This is becoming a game.  I've had lots of very weird and horrible dreams and nightmares recently and often the worst nightmares have occurred when I've 'known' that I was awake.  I know I'm awake now.  But this isn't a dream.  It isn't even a nightmare.  So am I awake?

I open my eye again.  Again the light enters.  The question of time remains unanswered.

I try to re-group my senses.  My watch, I remember, is on the bedside table.  The bedside table is on the other side of the bed to the one I'm facing.  I turn over and gingerly open an eye for a third or fourth time.  I don't want to be temporarily blinded again.  This time the light's gone.  No.  I realise that's not true.  The light is not bright but a soft orange glow.

And now the realisation.  There is a tiny crack between the curtains where I didn't draw them properly  Outside there is a bright orange street light.  Something that could not be further from the reality of anywhere I usually stay.

I lay there wondering how long all this has lasted and why my brain failed to analyse the issue more speedily.  Then I wonder why I'm wondering that.  So I decide to get up and make a cup of tea.

"It's a funny old world, Dad."  as Andy would have said.

Monday 15 September 2008

Donald Dewar

Donald Campbell Dewar (21 August 1937 – 11 October 2000) was the first First Minister of Scotland from 1999 until his death in 2000. He was the first person to hold the position of First Minister following the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

In May 2002, the Prime Minister, Tony Blair unveiled a statue of Dewar at the top of Glasgow's Buchanan Street — and in keeping with his famous unkempt appearance, it showed Dewar wearing a slightly crushed jacket. The statue was taken down in October 2005 to be cleaned and was re-erected on 6-foot (1.8 m) high plinth in December of the same year in an effort to protect it. Not from malicious vandalism but a glaswegian cultural trend of putting orange traffic cones on the statues head, one such attempt damaging the statue's glasses, Ironically it is considered a gesture of respect by many in the city as most of the cities statues have found themselves wearing the familiar orange cones, On the base of the statue were inscribed the opening words of the Scotland Act: "There Shall Be A Scottish Parliament", a phrase to which Dewar himself famously said, "I Like That!".


John and Sue don't have a visitors book at their house in France. Since 2001 it has been the tradition that everyone who stays leaves an impression of their hands on the walls of the back passage. The left hand wall as you look down the corridor is reserved for first time visitors and the right hand wall is for subsequent visits. My hand prints appear every year except 2002. I wonder what I was doing that year.

A Visit To The Theatre Royal, in Glasgow

I travelled up from Hazel Grove on Thursday to spend a couple of nights in Glasgow with Anna whom I first met in New Zealand. On Friday I had a taste of the Glasgow social whirl when, having left in the morning for lunch with Anna's daughter at Massimo's in Bearsden, picked up and dropped off grandchildren, we returned to Glasgow for a pre-theatre dinner at Cafehula, and then went to see Alan Ackbourn's Absurd Person Singular at the Theatre Royal. Not having been to the theatre for a while I really enjoyed the experience; all the more so because of the voice of Honeysuckle Weeks who, although not another Fenella Fielding or Liza Goddard, has a voice to which I enjoy listening. It was a shame that in the second Act she spoke not a word.

The all-star cast included Sara Crowe, known for her outstanding performances in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Acorn Antiques the Musical; Matthew Cottle, who starred with Samantha Janus in the hilarious BBC comedy Game On; Honeysuckle Weeks, who starred in the hit ITV drama Foyle’s War; Marc Bannerman, best known for his role as Gianni Di Marco in EastEnders; Deborah Grant, well known for her roles in Bouquet of Barbed Wire and Bergerac and who most recently appeared in the BBC’s hit series Not Going Out and David Griffin from Keeping Up Appearances.

The Journey: Comparisons

One of the joys of motoring long distances in France is the Autoroute system. Where there is a national road supplying the same route then the Autoroute is toll otherwise it is free. What it means in practice for me is that when I leave John and Sue's near Charroux I can join the Autoroute after 40 minutes travelling North and thereafter travel in supreme comfort with the cruise control set for the next 655 k when I arrive at Boulogne-Sur-Mer where I invariably stay before resuming my journey home the following morning. The speed limit on most Autoroutes is 130 kph (82 mph) in the dry and 110 kph in the rain. For the greater part of the journey, except where the Autoroute skirts or goes through cities like Tours, there is little traffic at the time I travel. There are plentiful rest and coffee stops.

Despite the misgivings of friends like Fiona I favour travelling through the Channel Tunnel on a Eurotunnnel train. I can arrive at the Tunnel in Calais at 0720 French time and be driving off the train at 0725 UK time. This give me a good start on the UK sector of my journey North.

Initially the Motorways through Kent were not too busy but as I got nearer the M25 the traffic slowed as the volume rose and by the time I was on the M25 it was dire.

The Thames crossing at the Blackwall Tunnel and the Queen Elizabeth Bridge was not as bad as I feared:

The M1 and M6 were horrendous so I opted for the toll M6 which gave a respite from the constant traffic.

Later the journey skirting the Lake District was almost the joy it was in France: