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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Burns Suppers

Robbie Burns1 Last week saw the 253rd anniversary of the birth of the man who became Scotland’s most famous bard – Robert Burns, who  was born on 25th January 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire.  Robbie Burns2 His life was short but packed to the gunnels nonetheless.  He is well known for his poetry, and also for his reputation as a carrouser and womaniser.  Even most Scots don’t understand the language he writes in – Lowland Scots, with influences of English, French and Latin thrown in - but we know well the story of Tam o’Shanter and his grey mare Meg, who had her tail pulled off by witches.  We know about the wee fieldmouse whose nest Rob destroyed accidently with the reaping machine.  We know several of his love songs, and some of his political poems too, and even if we don’t know all the words by heart, we hold them all in great affection.  Burns was only 37 when he died, leaving behind a wife and family and a collection of poems and songs, and each year on the anniversary of his birth we celebrate his life and works with a Burns Supper!  The supper consists of several dishes, the main one being haggis, accompanied by champit tatties (mashed potatoes), and bashed neeps (what non Scots call Swedes, but we call turnips, and some folk rutabagas!)  It was good nutritious food easily come by, and of course tasted all the better with a wee dram of whisky. 

BDC Piping in the haggis The format of a Burns Supper follows a traditional pattern.  First, the diners sit up to the table, and the master of ceremonies welcomes everyone.  The grace  - the Selkirk Grace – is said and everyone is then asked to stand while the haggis is borne in on a trencher, or ashet as is the Scots word, by the chef,Lachy and Angus

or a member of the company,  led by a piper who marches around the table/s, to a slow handclap – in time to the pipe music - and back to the top table, where the haggis is set down in front of the MC.  The piper and chef then take a dram of whisky offered by the MC. 

Everyone sits, and waits in anticipation for the MC to address the haggis in Robert Burns own words…..

“Fair fa yer 'honest sonsie face, great chieftain o’ the pudden race.  Abune them a’ ye tak yer place, painch, tripe and thairm.  Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace As lang as ma airm……..” (Basically  saying that the cheery round face of the chief of puddings is the best of all and worth praises galore)     It goes on to describe its round hill –like  appearance, and the anticipation of cutting into it, the wonderful sight and  smell of it… cal haggis The big moment comes when the knife is raised and with great show plunged into the haggis to cut it open, across and from end to end.  BDC Cutting the haggis In due course the poem compares it to the dishes of other countries – of course the haggis comes out on top – and finally it ends with a piece of advice, that if the men wish to impress their lady they should “Gie her a haggis"!”

Cheers and applause – and the trencher is removed to the kitchen. BDC Supper Plates of haggis neeps and tatties are set in front of each of the guests and the meal begins.  lgc soup

In some instances a bowl of soup precedes the appearance of the haggis, but the main dish is the important one!   Again it may be followed by a Scots trifle or other Scots dessert – pudding, we say, regardless of whether it is ice cream, apple crumble or gateau!  Cranachan is another favourite pudding.   Shortbread, cheese and biscuits…all Scots favourites, are possible choices to follow the haggis.

The meal finally over the MC calls on one of his guests to deliver the “Immortal Memory of Robert Burns”, a speech about the bard, extolling his virtues as well as outlining his failings; what he means to us; what has been his legacy… things like that, and ending with an invitation to drink a toast to the man himself – Robert Burns!  There’s a lot of toasting goes on at a Burns Supper!  The next speaker in fact is asked to toast the lassies, which he does after as humorous a speech as he can make it, generally making fun of the female of the species, telling jokes and funny stories, but ending of course with an Of course we love you really, and a toast!

Of course the lassies are allowed to respond these days and the representative of the ladies of the company replies in similar vein, bringing up all the complaints women usually have about men – they never listen; they walk away when you’re trying to have an argument with them;  they think a new vacuum cleaner the ideal birthday gift……. and maybe giving them some advice on how to understand their womenfolk. Of course everything is resolved in the end and the laddies are toasted by the lassies.

Then there’s the toast to absent friends, and  anyone else that merits a toast from anybody.  Often there is entertainment laid on – BDC Helen Love is like... singing, dancing -  agay gordons and finally everyone stands taking hands with the people next to them, to sing another of Burns songs – famous the world over - Auld Lang Syne, which looks back to the past and remembers friendships which should never be forgotten, present friendships in which we enjoy the company, and more toasting , this time to times past! Auld Lang Syne!

I was at two very different Burns Suppers this weekend, but as you can see from the photos they followed tradition!  One, on Friday, the smaller of the two was held at the Borders Deaf Club where the speeches were signed, instead of spoken.  Mike  signed the Grace, signed the gist of a few verses of the Address to the Haggis and later gave the toast to the lassies  I spoke the Immortal Memory, aided by Morag signing it.  Above Helen is signing My love is like a red red rose.   BDC Denise Sam The guests were fascinated by the bagpipes and those with no hearing at all got a chance later to investigate the bag and the drones.BDC Sam David

BDC Jim David Sam

It was a great evening.

The Saturday Burns Supper was hosted by the Lothian Gaelic choir of which I am a member.  It was altogether rowdier and the speeches long and funny. We sang a couple of songs, which were followed by dancing to a band playing on the stage.  dashing white whatsit You can see by the out of focus dancers just how fast they were moving.  Scottish ceilidh dancing is not sedate!  I can’t dance any more so sat on the sidelines watching for a while but then with a drive home to Peebles in front of me and a possible threat of snow – which thankfully came to nothing – I decided to head off home.  I left the hall to its fun and laughter, and headed off into the night!

Talk again soon.

Monday, 23 January 2012

A spot of DIY

Well, if I’m honest I have to say it wasn’t me doing the DIY!  Colin came up from North Yorkshire for the weekend, and did some jobs for me that have needed to be done for some time!  First of all he fixed the Ramsay ladder hatch to the attic so it didn’t keep falling open and letting the draughts in!  I think that is ace!  I just need to nudge the hutch and it opens!  Then it closes with a push and a click!  (He oiled the ladder itself and got it running smoothly last time he was here!)

Then he put up a pulley - an airer you can pull up to the ceiling level – it’s only a little wee short one but I can hang plenty of wet teeshirts and jeans from coat hangers on it!  I’ve never lived so long without one of these fabby creations!  Been here 10 years and a bit. Now I won’t have to festoon the house with washing on a wet day – I don’t use the tumble drier that much as it’s too expensive, and I can wait for stuff to dry naturally! 

colin master joiner He also put together a shelf unit for my laundry/airing cupboard, and put new longer legs on my sofa so I don’t have to struggle out of it any more!  It was a struggle too!  Sore hips and gammy knees, a frozen shoulder that won’t allow me any leverage, and now, well, as they say, Bob’s your uncle!  No problem!

 calendar colin We went out to the pub across the road for tea yesterday, so here’s Colin, with the vase of roses in the picture to make it look romantic(!!!  Hmmm!) and just before I tucked into the strawberry Eaton mess!  colin 005 (He had Auntie Someone’s apple crumble, but this looked better!!)

Recently I bought a tabletop dishwasher on Gumtree, and since then it has been sitting on the back seat of my car, as I’ve not been able to lift it, far less carry it down 24 steps from the street and up 9 to my flat, so enter Colin….and now the dishwasher is set up in the house and ready to go, though I really ought to steel myself into washing all the dishes at night before I go to bed, instead of leaving them in the sink!   So now, I am no longer the only person in the world with a dishwasher in their car, but am now probably the only person to have a combi microwave/convection oven/grill in it!  It’s been misbehaving for a while now – and I think there’s just a loose wire somewhere, so tomorrow it’s going to the repair mannie up in Penicuik to see if he can fix it!  I hope he can!  As you might guess it broke down when it was not long out of warranty!!!

Anyway, as well as helping me clear out a lot of stuff, and taking bags of rubbish and recycling stuff to the recycling centre just out of Peebles, Colin also showed me how to make barley pudding!  Now barley pudding is not your typical Scottish fayre.  In fact, even despite living in Yorkshire for some years, I have never ever eaten barley pudding before in my life – and you know what?  It’s not half bad!

Basically you put a cup of barley and maybe about 3 cups of water into a pot/pan, and simmer  on a very low setting on the stove - for hours if necessary - topping it up with another cup of water from time to time, and adding some sultanas or raisins, until the barley is tender, the fruit swelled  and the water almost dried off!  barley pudding Then add about half a can of condensed milk and stir in, warming it up on the same low setting.  Stir occasionally to stop the pudding sticking to the pan, and add a sprinkle of nutmeg before serving with a drizzle of condensed milk over the top!    Pretty good, though I’d say ours was still a bit chewy!  Didn’t cook it long enough, obviously! 

Anyway, a big thank you to Colin for all your help over the weekend.  Couldn’t/Wouldn’t have done it without you!

Talk again soon.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

after the frost

Just a quick entry today as I have lots to go and get on with in the way of,.. I can hardly bring myself to say the word…. housework!  I saw a card once that summed up my feelings on the subject.  It said, “I hate housework.  You make the beds.  You do the dusting…. and six months later you have to do it all again!”

I just wanted to show you a couple of photos,

one taken yesterday ……… and the other today!calendar prims                    thawed primroses


How does something as delicate as a little primula survive that hard frost!

I really thought it was going to be even thicker frost today, but sometime early this morning the temperature went up and by lunch time, even my garden had lost its frost cover!  The ice in the pond has melted and the stones are clear of their “furry coats” too .stones1  stones square







aftter frost Now these I didn’t even bother to take a photo of yesterday, but you’d never know they were an eighth of an inch/2.5mm deep in frost when you see how lovely they look today!!

The council guys were out cutting bits of branches off the trees on the Green this afternoon!  I’m really not sure what they actually achieved – just a few twigs gone!  beforeIt wasn’t as if they would have taken anybody’s eye out.  duringThey were well above even his head!after


There were three of them though!  One to cut the branches; one to pick up the branches and put them in the back of the truck, and one to drive the truck!   Oh well. keeps them out of mischief.

Talk again soon.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


The weather has been quite mild recently but yesterday morning was frosty – for a while before the sun came out, unlike today when the frost never melted at all, and the sun didn’t shine much.  It was cold outside, and I thought twice about going anywhere in the car, as it would mean scraping the windscreen to try to defrost it.  Instead I went out for a bit of a walk along the riverside, up to Fotheringham Bridge and back on the opposite bank.  frost However, first I took some photos of the frost on plants and stones in the garden.calendar frost 

I love looking at the frost crystals and wonder why they tend to be thicker and longer round the edge of a leaf or stone.  I have some pieces of slate and groups of little stones by the pond and they too were really pretty.frost on slate

frosty stones





frost on the christmas tree

My little Christmas tree in a pot went to live outside after Twelfth Night, and here it is with a covering of frost on the needles.  You can clearly see the regular pattern in which the needles grow.  Nature is very clever!frosty bloom  

I’m not sure what this plant is but I loved the appearance of a frost bloomfrosty clusters


and these clusters of leaves are very pretty too.

Leaving the garden behind I headed across Tweed Bridge, view to lee pentaking a picture downriver to Priorsford Bridge, Lee Pen the hill in the background, before crossing the road to take another picture up rivercauld to neidpath


past the cauld and the park to Neidpath Castle, misty in the distance.  I would walk up the left bank as far as the next foot bridge.  Of course wasn’t it just then that I realised I had forgotten to put the charged camera battery in my pocket… and the one in the camera was on its way out!  Oh well! 

the islandI had never taken a picture of the self-made island between the cauld and the bridge before, so snapped it quickly before taking the path to the riverbank.town and swimmingpool

Views back towards the town are always good from this side of the river.  The building on the left is the local swimming pool that was built some years after a tweed mill on the same spot burned to the ground.  You can see the island here too with a fallen tree that was probably not very deep rooted lying in the water, a victim of the recent high winds.perching gulls

Just above the cauld a couple of trees have piled up, making good perches for the gulls that frequent the river.  Some tree trunks manage to fall over the cauld – I’ve seen them float by from my windows – but these two have obviously hit some sort of barrier. The long straight tree trunk is a recent addition here, again a victim of the storms.   I was just taking this picture when a couple of friends walked by going in the opposite direction.  We stopped and blethered for a few minutes before they continued on their way and I….. I was going to say “and I on mine”, but before I did, I took a photoout for a walk of them heading towards Tweed Bridge.

Here’s another look across at the parish churchabove the cauld


ash tree and peeblesand another, this time with a self seeded ash sapling to enhance the view.  It’s such a photogenic building!

church reflection

This is my favourite view.  I love it when you get the reflection like this!  Talking of reflections…reflections       

pine reflections         


These Scots Pines standing at the beginning of Hay Lodge Park always reflect in the water here as it is generally still and calm before reaching the cauld.haylodge and riverside

Just before the park Hay Lodge itself stands above the river bank alongside Riverside House, built as a hotel but now sheltered flats/apartments for the elderly.  I wouldn’t mind ending up here when I can no longer manage the steps to and from my present house – just as long as I can have a flat with views of the river. I know a couple of people who live here and their little flats are very attractive – and there’s a lift/elevator!  frosty grasses2

 So, I was in view of Fotheringham bridge when I took this picture of the grasses against the backdrop of the river…..and this was where the battery finally gave out!  Hmmmm!

I carried on to the bridge as planned and came back to town on the far side.  Why didn’t I remember to pick up the recharged battery before I left home?  I could have kicked myself – but then I would probably have had to split this post into two parts.  Maybe I’ll get another chance to take frosty views from the other bank tomorrow!  It’s still very cold and frosty tonight, so fingers crossed for another frosty and maybe sunny day to follow!  The sun was what was lacking today!

Talk again soon.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Edinburgh with Katrina

katrina at castle She thinks her photo will make her look like a dingbat!!!! Not at all  - and just to prove it here she is, at Edinburgh Castle.  This was towards the end of our day together, after we’d done a fair bit of walking and exploring, blethering and being blown about by the wind  Not for nothing is it called the Windy City!  

We started off, having met at the bus station, by taking a walk to the end of Princes Street, up Waterloo Place heading for Calton Hill, but first we made a detour into the old Calton cemetery so Katrina could take a photo of the Martyr’s monument, the tall obelisk, left of centre in the photo below.

Calton Hill from Bridges

She has a family connection with one of the five 18th century campaigners for political reform, who were transported to Australia for their troubles, two of whom died of illnesses out there after only a few years.  calton hill from Waterloo Place

The view up to Calton Hill is quite impressive, with the classical buildings of Waterloo Place making a frame for the National  and Nelson Monuments.  It was the Nelson Monument we were heading for, and the climb up almost to the top for views round the city.   However just before we started climbing the hill, I had a discovery to make!   I mentioned recently an ancestor, David Octavius Hill, who worked with Robert Adamson, pioneering the art of photography.  calton hill rock house DOHI knew he had lived on Calton Hill but never knew where, but having seen a photo of the house recently, I was able to pick it out – the white house in the terrace!  One of the gates in the wall below was the one Hill was photographed at in the 1840s.

Onwards and upwards….calton hill nelson monument 

The Nelson Monument was built to commemorate  Nelson’s success at the Battle of Trafalgar, which, though it didn’t signal the end of the Napoleonic Wars, did establish Britain’s position of ruler of the seas (Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves…..).  It was built to look like a telescope with its  narrow tower at the top, wider section in the middle and an even wider section at the base.calton hill edinburgh's disgrace

There are several buildings on the hill, the one we had seen from below, Scotland’s National Monument, having been intended as a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, but which was abandoned when the funds ran dry.  It seems like history could be repeating itself with the Edinburgh trams fiasco.  Maybe one day it will be the trams and no longer this building that get the nickname of Edinburgh’s Disgrace!calton hill dugald stuart monumentt

Another of the Monuments on Calton Hill is the one built in memory of a 19th century Scottish philosopher, Dugald Stewart, and on the flat top of the hill is the City Observatory which you’ll see later as I didn’t get a decent picture from ground level – just a few steps to the right would have made all the difference!  Nelson Monument

You can see at the top of the Nelson Monument what looks like a cross but is in fact a mast with four directional points.  Each day just before 1.00 o’clock a large ball is raised on the mast, and at 1.00 precisely, it drops down again – a signal to ships on the Firth of Forth to set their chronometers by.  Of course in the early 19th century the Firth would be hoaching with sailing ships – the sea providing the main traffic routes before trains, cars and trucks came along.  Nowadays you may see the occasional tanker on its way to or from Grangemouth or perhaps a cruiseliner heading for Queensferry, but there’s little else in the way of ships these days.  We had time to climb the hundred and forty-odd steps to the top of the middle section, before 1.00 p.m.,to take in the amazing views of the city round about us.National Monument and northeast of Edinburgh

Here, we are looking northeast-ish, over Edinburgh’s Disgrace, and the city to the widening Firth (or estuary).Arthur Seat



and turning a little to our right we are now looking at the extinct volcanic hill called Arthur Seat – nothing to do with King Arthur, but from the Gaelic language which when anglicised sounds a bit like the words Arthur Seat.  The name means Hill of either ‘the fairies’ or ‘the axes’!  More likely to be the axes of a prehistoric settlement!  Below the hill and its craggy outcrop, which was once a quarry, is the royal palace of Holyrood next to the now ruined abbey that was built by David I, King of Scots, in thanks for being saved from harm while hunting in the forest by the intervention of a white hart with a cross between its antlers.  The royal palace came later. 

Most of the white buildings comprise the incredibly expensive Scottish Parliament - designed by a Spaniard, as if we didn’t have enough Scots architects who could have done the job.  Probably one of only a few Scots I DO like the building!  I didn’t like the price though!  The spiky white tent thing is an exhibition of our Dynamic Earth, which I still haven’t visited!  In the foreground is the former Royal High School which was once earmarked as the debating chamber for the Parliament, before the choice of site was changed. st andrews house and west along princes st

Further round again we were looking down on St Andrews House, Waterloo Place  and Princes Street, with the castle on its own volcanic plug almost on the horizon.  The top of the church spire to the left of the castle is the highest point of the city!  Behind St Andrews House is the main railway station – I refuse to call it a train station – for the city.  The line east runs below the castle and the question has been asked by tourists - “Why did they build the castle so close to the railway line?”  Um, they didn’t!  The castle dates back to around 600 A.D, though there is evidence of occupation of the rock itself going back to 900 B.C.  In the great scheme of things the railway is practically brand new!

city observatory_northwestRound the monument platform again and on the windy side, we are looking west-ish, over the City Observatory with Observatory House on the left corner of the wall and a monument to architect William Playfair in the foreground at the right hand corner.  view to forth bridge

The distant water is the river Forth again but looking upriver to the Forth Bridges.  Fife is the region across on the other side. I was keen to see the ball on the top of the monument raised, so we came back down the 140-something steps and headed outside, meeting the engineer on his way in to wind up the mechanism.  going u-upWe stood in the shadow of the monument and waited, till sure enough, the ball  began to appear in view.  Now, at the castle there is a famous gun that is fired daily at 1.00 p.m. and the joke is that when the gun goes off all the natives and local residents will check to see that their watches are correct.  Actually, a lot of us do!  I say “us” because I was born and brought up in the city, though I don’t call it home any more.  The other joke is that the i o’clock gun is thought by some  to shoot the ball down on the Nelson Monument.  I was watching the ball as 1 o’clock approached… heard the gun go off and saw the ball drop down the mast again.  Been there!  Seen it! 

As we headed back to the building to see the exhibition on the ground level we met John, the engineer again.  We asked him about the size of the ball - probably about 4 or 5 feet in diameter - and how the mechanism worked.  It takes 50 turns of the winder to bring the ball to the top – and he SAYS he waits till he sees the puff of smoke from the 1 o’clock gun at the castle before he releases it again!  castle_gun Now I really don’t know if he was just “winding us up”, but it used to be triggered by the clock at the observatory!  Anyway, it makes a good story!  John has been climbing the stairs there almost every day for the last 20 years. He had planned to do it for only a couple of years after taking early retirement, but he’s still there and looking as fit as a fiddle!

The exhibition, really just a series of information boards about the monument, the Battle of Waterloo and Horatio Lord Nelson, is set out on the walls of a series of small rooms that encircle the spiral stairs to the top.  Katrina noticed in the largest room – still not that big, that there was a large hearth in front of one wall.  There must have been a large fireplace, and so it had been, we found out when talking to the caretaker.  Up till about 7 years ago, someone had actually lived in these ground floor rooms. The room with the hearth – and beautifully corniced ceiling – had been the living room and had had a wonderful Adams fireplace – which “walked” during the alterations and renovations to form the exhibition rooms.  How tragic!  I wondered if there were any photos of how the room had looked but it seems that there aren’t. We both decided we could have lived quite happily in the apartment in the monument – next best place to a lighthouse, i think was Katrina’s observation.  I’d drink to that!

calton hill seat sign So, we had a final wee walk on the hill, round the outside of the Observatory, where this plaque on a bench made me laugh!  Nice place to rest your weary… whatever, though!  You can get some more information and photos of Calton Hill here.

Time for a bite to eat, so back we came to the St James Centre, where over a sandwich we carried on blethering!  Not sure where to go next we wandered along Princes Street – poor old Princes Street, bring dug up yet again for the sake of the tram system that it seems no-one wanted in the first place – well someone obviously did……  We climbed the Playfair Steps alongside the Mound, turned into what is now being called Makars Court which I like as it’s the Scots word for writers, and it was called Writers Court till very recently.  edinburgh weiters museum Here is to be found the Writers Museum dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson.. Deciding it could be left for another day when there was more time to spend on it, we continued up to the castle esplanade.  The sun was sinking and what a pretty sky!edinburgh sunset

hew college Down Ramsay Lane – steepest road in Edinburgh, taking a quick peek into the quadrangle of New College (of Divinity) to see old Calvinistic John Knox on his pedestal, and then back to Princes Street and the bus station.  There was a Kirkcaldy bus in, so there we parted company with a hug and a promise to meet up again soon.  I waited till Katrina’s bus left, gave her a parting wave, and headed off to get my bus.  It was a lovely evening and I took two last pictures as I headed for the top of the Bridges.edinburgh casrle twilight edinburgheast end

Thanks for a lovely day,Katrina.  Look forward to meeting again -  with or without all the bloggers, commentors and lurkers!

Talk again soon.