Wednesday, 28 July 2010

In Search of Bon Accord

There's a lot of work going on in my wee corner of the offshore world at the moment which requires a lot of people, not necessarily me. So on Saturday, the optimum point was reached where my bed became more valuable than me, so I was dispatched back to Aberdeen to await the call to return.

It's a mighty slab of a city is Aberdeen. Before the 19th century it was just a normal sandstone Scottish town like any other but then the Georgian city planners then the Victorians laid their hands on it and built umpteen square miles of granite buildings on top of it all. It sparkles a bit in the sunshine but in normal Scottish weather (a bit cloudy and damp) it grey nature comes to the fore. The buildings are for the better part rather plain and it is only really public buildings and banks and the likes that have any real decoration - although this decoration is as a general rule as sharp as the day it was carved as the stone is as hard as...well.....granite. On the whole, I find that Aberdeen can be a bit depressing, not helped by the fact that the local council seems to have a terrible poor grasp of the local homelessness situation. Union Street (the main street, pictured here) always (really always) has several down and outs planted by the side of the pavement and normally I find myself accosted by beggars when I pass through.

For all this Aberdeen has much going for it. it has a fine art gallery, maritime museum and several other museums of variable quality and it is well worth the abandoned chemist's time to spend it wandering around the city trying to look through the gloominess for something a little bit unusual. I was I'm afraid limited to the odd snap from my mobile phone as I don't take my camera offshore.

This curious object (pictured left) left me somewhat puzzled. You'd have thought that the local council might have put a little information near it to give a clue. If the makers (Walter Macfarlane and co of the Saracen Foundry) hadn't put their name on it then I would have had absolutely nothing to go on. Fortunately for the information seeker the internet has a nerd for every occasion and there is a site solely dedicated to Scottish ironwork which tells me that this is a ventilation shaft above an access tunnel - for what, it doesn't say or if it's current location on Holburn street is it's original.

One of Aberdeen's most famous sons is James Scott Skinner, who started out life as plain old James Skinner but adopted the Scott after one of his dancing teachers. Actually, he was born in Banchory and moved to Aberdeen as a boy and again chose to live in Aberdeen in his later years and bought the only house he ever owned there. Almost anyone who has ever played fiddle in a Scottish tradition style will probably be well acquainted with the man, or at least his music. He managed to live just long enough to have some of his music recorded - you can still get it but it's mighty crackly even after it's been cleaned up by technology - he doesn't half nip along when he's playing. I managed to find his house - it's completely anonymous, being completely devoid of the blue plaques that Aberdeen don't seem too shy about putting up for people I've never heard of. Skinner's grave is an impressive affair, sporting a bronze bust of the man himself and the first few bars of one of his best known tunes, the rather lovely slow air, "The Bonnie Lass of Bon Accord"
Just across the road from the graveyard is Duthie Park with the rather excellent David Welch Winter Gardens. I've been before many years ago, when my children were amused by the talking cactus (it's now gone) and we picked up a stray stick insect by accident - it appeared in the hall some days later and we guessed it must have come from there as they don't normally fly in on the wind in Scotland. Here's a few pictures -

As you can see by these pictures, the plants got more and more savage as I progressed round the greenhouses, from the things that looked like fancy nettles to the spiky and quite large cactus to the distinctly carnivorous types, so I though it must be time to heaf back to the B&B for a cup of tea. It's was a generally fine day rounded of by a couple of pints in O'Neil's - There was music provided by Fergal and Duncan - Fergal's a reasonable singer and guitarist but his mate Duncan was a mighty fiddler playing and Irish merging into bluegrass style - I would have enjoyed it far more if the mob had let them play what they wanted and not heckled until the played the old bog standard tunes you hear everywhere, but a fine night all in all.

Saturday, 17 July 2010


Most of my wanderings through London have found their points of interest in man made things and places of historical significance. Although not totally absent from Monday’s walk through the city, they took very much a back seat to the wild places of the city (although perhaps in places carefully managed kind of wild places). Even where I’ve taken an interest in the buildings, I’ve given it a miss here – I’ll keep the wonderful ancient chimneys at Fulham palace to myself and I don’t think you’d be interested in Marks and Spencer’s on Putney High Street (even though I’m not sure what happened yesterday, I recall it being mentioned in a conversation I had with a friend in 1976 although I haven’t seen him since the 70’s)

I started my wander by taking the tube to Wimbledon, where I promptly replaced my lost map with a pocket sized A to Z type thing with a far greater range  and went to a local café to get my bearings – not as easily done as said as even with the greater range map, I’d just wandered off it. So weaving my way through urban Wimbledon my first port of call was the Buddhapadipa Thai Buddhist temple – How foolish of me not to realise that the opening hours only applied to Saturday, so the little old lady in the hall seemed a little taken aback to be face to face with a hairy Scotsman, even a respectfully unshod hairy Scotsman. Neither the less, she did show me the temple room with it’s large golden Buddha. I did think that, what with my being there when it was really closed and the monk speaking to people in the room, that it wouldn’t be a good idea to fire of a couple of dozen pictures of what was really a rather lovely room. There were large grounds for wandering in with ponds and a huge temple behind but to be quite honest I didn’t feel I should be there but if I’m ever in Wimbledon again on a Saturday, then I’ll pop round – at the current visiting rate that should be around 2054. If you were to lead a selfless life of right thought and action etc. then a leafy suburban street in Wimbledon would be a fine place to do it.

I’d originally intended to go and have a look at the tennis courts but it was a mighty detour and I suspected a high wall would make my return for shoe leather rather low so I went for a walk on the common, which turned out to be a lovely couple of hours of wildlife moments. First of all I spotted a bird flying between the trees in a bit wood which I at first thought to be a pigeon, all be it a very silent one, but on a second look turned out to be a hawk – I’m used to seeing them out in the open, but not in woods. Then there was an unusual bird noise in a bush that I’d never heard before – a bit like those clacker balls that kids have – as I got closer it got faster – perhaps I’d become radioactive and somebody had left a Geiger counter in the bushes but just as I was nearly there it flew off and all I know about it was that it was small and very fast.

In the middle of the common is an old windmill (also only open on Saturdays – this seems to be the in thing in Wimbledon) where Baden Powell wrote some stuff about scouting for boys, but far be it for me to comment on other people’s private lives, and next to the windmill was, much to my relief, a café  where I had a cuppa and a slice of cake fashioned on bread and butter pudding (of quite extraordinary density – though not quite that of a Knockengorroch flapjack (Stephen Hawkins has written a number of books which cover these sort of things))

Just as I was leaving the common to continue my rambles through Putney and Fulham I heard the loudest cricket or grasshopper noise I’ve ever heard. But they’re elusive wee beasties, every time you stop, you can hear them all around but try to home in on one and it’s gone. I did spot a couple of butterflies instead as some compensation.

Some time later, I found myself in the grounds of Fulham palace – I was to late to get into the building itself. It has plenty woodland and lawn and an enormous walled garden, common to many large houses of yesteryear. Looking at it, it seems as if it’s only recently been paid any attention, for it is partially planted out in herby type plants and a number of fruit tree, which I imagine have been there for decades. The rest looks like it just gets a quick strim to keep it under control from time to time. Of note, just outside the garden, some years ago a tree appears to have fallen over the path. A slot has been cut in the tree for the path to pass through again and two leaves then carved into the exposed ends – the remains of the tree have since been consumed but the ivy on the ground.

After my semi wild urban adventure, which by the way also featured a flock of feral parrots in Fulham, it was a bit of a come down to be back to scabby city pigeons for the rest of the day and the occasional squirrels.

Pow Wow and other happenings

Here I am at the end of another 3 week chunk of life, in my little lab offshore with 1089 photos and a great bucketful of memories to sort out. There was an evening class in Qigong and an informative talk on herbs at the Avebury moot, a couple of nights supporting one of Calnes lesser successful skittles team (with the inevitable results) and a barbecue in the company of a man who once abandoned George Martin to the pool playing company of Spandau Ballet (how callous), many cups of tea and the odd pint of 3Bs and much much more.

Perhaps the unique outing of the time off was a trip to Bush Farm Bison Centre with Kes and Mark. There was a Native American Pow Wow on there that weekend. Mark is very much on the Native American spirituality path and Kes is starting to wander off that way too. Me?, well I just wander all over the shop and take an interest in what ever is in front of me. There were some wonderful outfits and much enthusiastic dancing to the drum throughout the afternoon. This was punctuated by the occasional wander around to look at the bison – very large and due to some substantial fencing, it wasn’t them that had a Sandy burger that afternoon. They also had elk, rheas and something called guanaco, which looked a bit like llamas to me. No doubt they were all destined for the freezer in the store. The evening was finished off with a delightful session of flute music in a clearing with a lightning in the twilight.

The Pow Wow was unusual but if you want odd you need to hopi ear candles. I’m quite sure if I was to stick my ear candle pictures up here, I would earn myself a mighty clout when I arrived back in good old Wilts but look it up on You tube or imagine somebody with a candle (perhaps one that resembles a very large illegal cigarette more than a candle) in their ear and you’re pretty much there. I also notice at the same time much concern on the net regarding their safety but Kes seems pretty much unscaved and seems to hear a bit better.

Morning afterwards:
The days sampling completed and reported, yesterday’s lightning round up of  a week and a half in Wiltshire was finished just in time for tea – very nice it was too, Cajun fried steak the kitchen decided to call it. Then feet up for a quick call to Kes for a report on Friday night on dry land, an hour or so in the company of Annie Proulx, several cups of tea out of plastic mugs (pottery mugs are one pleasure of going home) and the early night demanded of a long line of 6 o’clock rises. I did try to squeeze a bit tune on the ships guitar in there but someone years ago located the music room next to the cinema, which was in use, and the two are mutually incompatible. I must go and work now – Have a good day all.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Chelsea Thursday - Lost in Battersea

Battersea power station is somewhat iconic to the music lover of a certain age, so it made sense to head in that direction after my wanderings in Chelsea. So I was just about to wander across the Chelsea bridge for a look when I spotted a pagoda half way between where I was and the next bridge. I still had a good three hours before my train so I headed off along the Chelsea embankment instead.
Just as I was passing the Front of the Royal hospital's grounds, I spotted all the model elephants that had been gracing London's streets for the last couple of months gathered together awaiting their sale (I've been hunting these on the last few times in the capital).Alas, had I arrived a day earlier I'd have got in and seen them at close hand but today I had to make do with a couple of photos through the fence.
The bridge I was heading for was the Albert bridge and is currently under a fairly extensive renovation. For now it is closed to traffic and is largely a hoardings tunnel for the pedestrian but from the bits that you can see of the bridge it's going to be a rather attractive iron Victorian suspension bridge when it reappears from the building site in a couple of years time.
The Pagoda turned out to be the London Peace Pagoda which is situated in Battersea park. It was built by Buddhist monks, nuns and followers and opened in 1985 and dedicated to the realisation of universal peace. There is an annual celebration there in mid June and on the 9th of August a floating lantern ceremony is held to commemorate Nagasaki day - sounds interesting if you happen to be passing at the time.                      
Battersea park is a perfectly fine park with a very high dog to person ratio especially round about the cafe but since none of them tried to steal my chilled Kit Kat and cup of tea I didn't mind. There's also a small children's zoo in the park which I can't imagine being worth £7.50 as it just didn't look that big nor did I hear any growling noises coming out through the hedges. They did have a couple of cages outside the zoo which contained 2 carved owls and a carved bear (all of 2 foot tall). If anyone has reports of the Battersea zoo, I'd like to hear.
I must also report a sighting of the Harrods horse and carriage out on deliveries.

It was round about now that my excursion started to go a little astray. for as I was leaving Battersea park I could clearly see that I was nearly at the power station only a small jaunt along the side of the Thames and under the railway bridge and there it would be and I would head off for my train with well over an hour to spare. But it wasn't as simple as that as a building site for very posh flats blocked my way so I headed deeper into Battersea in an attempt to cross over. I passed the headquarters of the QVC Shopping channel (there obviously money to be made flogging things on the box) and came to a signpost for Wimbledon before I eventually found my way under the railway. I quite fancy a look at Wimbledon but I starting to run out of time and I'm sure the Wombles move out during the tennis anyway. By now I was off the map and passing the third thing I already knew about Battersea, the cat and dog home, when I at last got a decent shot of the power station, or at least my camera did (I had to hold it above a wall to take the picture and didn't see it properly myself. It was at this point where I had to abandon tourism and concentrate of getting to my train especially since I didn't know where the nearest tube was. It was with about 5 minutes to spare that I got to Paddington, not a comfortable margin of error, where I promptly mislaid my map. It had done it's job though and was pretty old and worn out after the last few months travelling though the city. If anyone finds it, "Please look after this map".

Monday, 5 July 2010

Chelsea Thursday - 20:50

Modern art for the layman, or this layman at least, is a funny old thing (or a funny new thing as when it gets old it ceases to be modern). Some of it I like and some of it I don't. Even less of it I understand. I approach it with an open mind and what ever I come away with or don't as the case may be, I try not to think, "that's not art!" or "you're having a laugh!" (I do quite often compromise with a, "Hmm" though). Most galleries the size of the Saatchi galley have a few things that I really like and few that I don't but for me the prize in the saatchi gallery just now goes to Mr Richard Wilson's 20:50

It's down in the basement and is an entire room flooded to about waist height with used sump oil (20:50 is the name of the grade of oil I'm told). It facinating to look at. You know it's a couple of feet deep but it just looks like a polished black floor which reflects the walls and windows (it can't be that much of a basement then) perfectly only in a slightly different shade. Smells a little too. It's viewed from a gallery but you're supposed to be able to go down a walkway into the middle of it - unfortunately this has been closed of - perhaps people have been unable to resist the temptation of dabbling a little bit in the edge to produce ripples when they're so close to it.

Of walking down the walkway, the catalogue says, "Though this altered perspective 20:50's phantasmical aura is enhanced, amplifying the disorientating and mesmerising experience of the space, and further confounding physical logic". It's a wonderful installation and the catalogue description....well....hmmm!

Chelsea Thursday - The Steam Clock

As I was walking around in darkest Chelsea last Thursday, I spotted three metal figures in the distance. It was only a little later on that I found the side entrance to the farmers' market open, so I went in as it seemed to be leading roughly in the direction of the figures.

On top of an iron frame I found the figures 25 feet in the air - the main reason I had managed to see them earlier. They live on top of one of the worlds few steam clocks made buy Hunkin and Plant. At the time of building, in 1984, it was one of only 2 in the world - the other was in Vancouver (it still is as it happens). Alas, it's a difficult thing to maintain and in recent years it has fallen into disrepair and no longer works. The pet shop behind it has lovingly bolted their sign onto it though.

From the boiler at the bottom, from a christmas tree factory, to the 19th century US railway engine whistle at the top, satisfyingly complete with a bullet dent, there is a truely eclectic selection of parts. There's a boiler timer from the Midlands electricity board, bits from a lawn mower, a windscreen wiper motor, a firework firing tube, some ships rigging screws and bicycle gears amongst others. The figures on the top were made from copper from hot water cylinders, one of whom apparently used to stick his fingers in his ears when the whistle went off, and the whistle itself has been fitted with a saucepan as it used to spurt boiling water - perhaps not ideal when it was located above such a public place.

According to the small surf I've had in relation to this, there are now a few steam clocks around the world but it would seem that the rest are working. This may be the only broken down steam clock in existence - what a privilege to stumble on such a thing on my travels.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Chelsea Thursday - The original Sloane

The problem with taking the night bus into London is that it arrives in at six o'clock in the morning and London doesn't open until ten, except that is for the wee cafe round the corner from Victoria Bus Station. So it's a few hours of wandering around the street admiring the brickwork and looking in shop windows.

Today it's Chelsea's turn for a visit from me. I was in all honesty just going for a look at the Royal Hospital with the intention of a quick left turn towards Battersea power station, but no, there's always something interesting on the map to tempt you just a couple of streets further away from the river. Sloane Square is a must see location for anyone that remembers the '80s and as a square it is completely unremarkable - fountain, trees and a down and out waking up - obviously a better class of down and out but still unlikely to be allowed into any of the rather classy shops around the square - mind you, I think it's unlikely that I would get into them either.

I wandered down the Kings Road where I found a baker who was unable to sell me a chelsea bun. So I had to make do with a pain au chocolat as I wandered down a side street having spotted a delightful Italianesque (excuse my rather basic and probably wrong architectural vocabulary) building covered in ivy at the far end of it. It was the home of the Chelsea Open Air Nursery School. A bloke coming out of the gate informed me that the older building attached to supposed to have been stabling for Henry VIII and that to get in I would probably need about £15 000 000, guv'ner (alright he didn't say "guv'ner" but it wouldn't have sounded out of place if he had)

The chap above looks like he's made of tin of fibreglass or something. He was shot through the bars of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea and was too far away to give a rattle to see exactly what he was made of. To my satisfaction there were quite a few real chelsea pensioners out and about in Chelsea with their little brown day to day caps and red stripes down their trousers but I left them in peace to wander about on their business. They must be fed up to the back teeth with people going, "Oh look! A chelsea pensioner", SNAP!. (In case anyone is passing from my last blog - the same rule does not apply to Boris Johnson)

By the time I arrived out side the Saatchi gallery there was still quarter of an hour to opening time. Actually I was quite glad of the rest, so I sat down to admire the statue of the rather dapper Sir Hans Sloane. It wasn't a bad guess to make at the time that he was the person for who Sloane Square was named after and thus gave name to those 1980s super starlettes of champagne and frilly collars, ok yah. I discovered today on a wee surf that the man is indeed worthy of a larger than life statue, indeed the local council should consider popping round and gold plating it - though perhaps after the credit crunch has worn off. Sir Hans was the physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II and while he was in Jamaica he discovered the locals drinking a rather horrible drink made out of cocoa. He managed to make it more palatable by mixing it with milk and brought the recipe back to Blighty. It was originally sold as a medicine but by the middle of the 19th century Cadbury's were selling tins of Sloane's drinking chocolate.
Not content with inventing chocolate, he followed Issac Newton as president of the Royal Society and it is his collection of books,
flora, fauna and other odds and ends that went on to be the foundation of the British Museum after his death.

Moving blog

It's with some degree of trepidation that I'm moving my blogging activities to here from Windows Live Spaces. As with any flitting, it's going to take a wee while to unpack all the boxes and find suitable corners for things and with the bare walls, I'm sure it's going to be a bit echoy in here for a while.

Anyone popping in from my old blog has probably noticed that I go absent for a few weeks and then there's a period of activity for a fortnight or so until I disappear again. I've simpley been unable to operate my last blog in certain locations, so hopefully that situation will be sorted here at Blogger.

It's going to require a bit of a change of style for me. I enjoy a big day out looking at everything and anything that takes my fancy, snapping a few photos here and there (I make no claims to be a photographer) then the next day soaking my weary feet in a bowl of hot water and typing up a great big ramble and posting an album of photos. My intention here is to type shorter blogs with the pictures within them, though I will try to link blogs from the same trip with a common title.

Enough wittering just now. Let's give it a birl and see how it goes.
By the way the old blog is still there at