Friday, 28 January 2011

Burns stuff in Ayr

It's some weeks now since I visited my sister just outside Ayr and since then the world has warmed up considerably. I may have been a bit on the negligent side in not posting this blog some time ago but at least now it has landed at a rather appropriate time of the year, Burns Night being only two days ago. Burns was born and brought up just outside Ayr and it's no surprise that on a wee walk about the town, while I was waiting for my train, that I spotted a few things relating to the bard.

Here is a statue of the great man commissioned from sculptor George Anderson Lawson and unveiled in 1891 which can be seen near the station.

Below is one of the two plaques on the base of the statue also produced by Mr Lawson. This one features a scene from Tam O' Shanter, the other one, not pictured here shows a scene from the Cotters Saturday Night. For completeness there is also a plaque with a scene from the Jolly Beggars by David McGill and a plaque featuring Burns and Highland Mary by George E Bissell gifted by some citizens of the United States. 

Now here's a thing. Shortly after I'd been to Ayr, I received an e-mail from Mrs Wright showing me some pictures she had taken in Melbourne, Australia. Amongst them was a picture of the Burns statue you see below. Not so much similar as identical - apart from the fact old Bob has his head in a tree.

Seen this plaque from the Melbourne statue somewhere before?

Melbourne is not alone. It seems the Ayr statue is a very popular model for statues of Burns from around the world. Melbourne's copy was unveiled in 1904, but there's also one in Detroit from 1928, Montreal in 1930, Winnipeg in 1936 and a smaller version in the Sorbonne in Paris. That's not to say that there aren't a few that I didn't find on my wee surf.
We're going to carry on from the plaque of Tam O' Shanter to the pub bearing his name, the Tam O' Shanter Inn. It also bears his image on the wall outside (right) and by the look of the eyes there, he's well on the way to getting fou and unco happy. Tam O Shanter is indeed a work of  fiction but there are, as you might expect, claimants to the real Tam O Shanter. One possible contender, and the excuse for naming this pub, is Douglas Graham who was the farmer at Shanter farm just outside Ayr. His cousin at the time was a brewer in the building that is now the Tam O' Shanter Inn and Douglas provided him with malted barley and, it seems, he also received some hospitality from his cousin, quite a lot of hospitality. Read the cautionary tale here - it really is a cracker.

The pub itself is one of the few thatched buildings left in Ayr - quite frankly, I'd be surprised if there are any other thatched buildings in Ayr but maybe the internet knows better and just isn't letting on. It's also got a muckle great oil painting bolted on to the outside of it by J.A.Patterson painted in 1956. Photos of the building from a much earlier period also have an oil painting on, and if you look carefully you can see it's not the same picture but I've had a good investigate about this and I can't find out a thing about it.

I did go in though and had a reaming swat (singular) (darn nabbit! it was poured before I noticed they had Hobgoblin on tap) and a plate of mince and tatties. It was very nice mince and tatties but twice as much would have been good - possibly even three or four times as much would have stayed on the plate without a great problem - the pub has no kitchen so it had to be carried in from next door (through the front door) covered in tin foil - still no excuse for meagre portions.

Lastly in this blog, is a picture of an old bridge that predates Burns by quite a long time. It was built in 1470 and is known as the Auld Brig. It features in a Burns poem called The Brigs Of Ayr in which Oor Bob imagines a conversation between this bridge and a newer bridge which is known as The New Brig. At one point the old bridge says to the new bridge, "I'll be a brig when ye're a shapeless cairn", which turned out to be pretty much as it happened. The New Brig, built in 1788, lasted barely 100 years when it was destroyed in a flood. A New New Brig was built in 1878 and the original Auld brig still stands.

Jings it was a cold day!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Reconnected and a last few pictures of 2010

Hello good people, I'm back. I had the pictures here uploaded and was just about to add a few words to them when I was struck down by the dreaded lergy. Before I was recovered, I was whisked away to work where I found my lab internet not working. I'm now much better, only a cough remaining, and a nice man from the computer helpdesk phoned this morning about another matter but I wasn't letting him away until he'd sorted my wee connection problem too.

The next 3 pictures of a pretty good summary of my musical year. Until August I hadn't been catching many sessions for a while maily because I was never there. This one below is one of the few, in one of the Castle Douglas pubs (I can't remember which it was now).

Any shortage of tunes was well and truely sorted in September with the Portpatrick Folk festival - previously blogged here . Being the person who takes most of my pictures, it's not very often you see me parked behind the guitar - still doesn't look like I'm doing much playing.

You're more likely to see a picture of my empty seat and unoccupied guitar as below at on of Frank's Sunday afternoon sessions - nice gentle sessions, usually completely without a background rabble (this one actually happened on a Monday as the Sunday was boxing day)

Back to tea briefly - I found a little tablet of tea for sale in a shop in Glastonbury. Willing to try many things, I bought it and popped some into my teapot with a little boiling water. It was awful!! ....truly awful! I couldn't read the label as it was in Chinese but it quite clearly has 2003 on it which is a lot of years ago whether this is a production date of a sell by date, so I suppose I had better give it the benefit of the doubt and say that it might have tasted better 7 years ago (I doubt it though)

This chap painted the whole High Street in 10 minutes.

On one visit to the British Museum, they had put out a table with little objects you could pick up and handle. This netsuke (or kimono toggle) is about the most delightful little object I've laid my hand on all year - it's been carved into the shape of a rolled up rat.

These two glorious little gold cups are also from the British Museum. One has suffered more than the other from a few millenia of being ploughed over. They were found in Kent and Cornwall and date back to 1800 to 1600BC - that's about as far back before the Romans invaded this apparently barbarian little Isle as we are from when the Romans left.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Tea, the religion of the art of life

On a tea related surf this afternoon I discovered the quote in the title of this blog (or at least the gist of it). It is by one Okakura Kakuzo who, in the early part of the last century, wrote a book  called The Book of Tea. I wonder if for Okakura, a cup of tea was something to be taken while slouched in an armchair with a good book or taken in a cafe while examining an afternoons purchases and wondering if your feet will ever be not sore again. Certainly for the atheist blogger it makes more sense as a religion than most others out there - I certainly never start my day without attending to my devotions and it is the poorest sort of day that doesn't contain evening vespers.

This is actually a special request blog requested by Miss McK on my page on the Dark Side yesterday. It just so happened that only a few months ago I received an email from her brother (curiously Mr McK) with a link to a very interesting page all about tea. The page explains how tea contains a substance called L-theanine ( a substance not found in coffee) which when combined with caffeine gives a sense of mindful awareness.

Below is a delightful cream tea I had on a glorious day last Summer in Chippenham - obviously tea may contain L-theanine and caffeine but it does not contain a scone and a big dollop of jam so you have to get these separately on a side plate.

Aha found it! First task when arriving in the apartment my work put me up in is to find the tea.

A cuppa in Cafe Nero while waiting for meal No 1 to arrive.

A fruit tea at work - they don't trust us with breakable mugs there!!!

Chinese proverb - Drinking a daily cup of tea will starve the apothecary.

Japanese proverb - If a man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.

I know this isn't a cup of tea but it seemed a reasonable place to put it. It is there to pay homage to the perfect toast created by my Granny all through the 70s and 80s in a toaster of indeterminate ancientness. It was always made with a Scottish Plain Loaf which I have never seen south of the border. The notable quality of the plain loaf is that it has virtually no crusts on the side and the crusts on the top and bottom are nearly inedible - once they are toasted they are absolutely inedible so they are cut off before toasting. I do occasionally buy a plain loaf and attempt to recreate my granny's lightly toasted wonder - often coming close but never quite making it.

As befits my itinerant ways, I drink a lot of tea out of paper cups.

A month or so ago, I was sitting in the kitchen on a sunny day with friends when I spotted little rainbows in the steam rising from a cup (maybe the cup I had was particularly high in L-theanine and caffeine that day). The next day when I was alone and my lunacy might not get discovered, I tried to recreate the circumstances that led to the phenomenon (my thanks to the weather for playing it's part here) - alas no rainbows, in fact not even a decent cup of tea - once you've reheated a cuppa in the microwave a couple of times it is horrible.

Thanks to my sister, Dot, who bought me this very useful mug for Christmas with a little slot underneath for a couple of biscuits - she even provided the biscuits :)

Dr Johnson wrote, " I am a hardened and shameless tea drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals only with the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the morning."

A rather nice box of fruit tea that has seen me over the new year.

Billy Connolly says, "Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on."

More tea?

2010 - A year in beer

Here's a quick pictorial view through just a few of the pints of beer that came my way during the last twelve months and where better to start than with a small offering from Arkell's.

Wychwood are the makers some very fine ales but to win one makes it taste even better.

Pressed Rat and Warthog - probably gets the best beer name of the year.

After 45 years, I finally get to pour my own beer - not bad for a first pint I think.

Not the same pint I poured, you can probably tell by the lack of drips, but one Bev poured for me.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

2010 - Wales and even more London

In March I made the first of two trips this year to visit Bev in Newtown in Wales. Weatherwise it was a bit dreach but that's a poor excuse not to go out and appreciate the country side a little and if Wales has plenty of anything, it's countryside. The river to the right there is the Hafren (the Severn in Welsh). It is named after the princess Hafren who, legend has it, drowned in this river. Below, a suspicious character is photographed by the river (Bev's dog Giz can be seen there too having a bit mouch about)

The remains of the Bryntail lead mines and the Clywedog dam towering over them.

Behind the dam, the Clywedog resevoir


This half timbered house in Newtown is typical of some of the older buildings in the area - a lot of other buildings are painted up to look half timbered

Ye Olde Nat Weste

This morsel is a local cake called bara brithe - this particular piece was bought from Fiore's cafe on the Newtown station platform.

My second visit to Wales was in August and can be found here.

I can't quite remember when I took the following pictures but it was very early in the morning when I stepped out of Embankment tube station in London to see Cleopatra's needle. There was plenty of sunshine for that time of the morning so it must have been fairly far into the year - didn't stop it being chilly though.

The needle is flanked by a pair of sphinxes

The above sphinx was a victim of the first ever air raid on London on the 4th of September 1917 - you can see some of the damage below.

My new camera half way through the year enabled me to take pictures of things that were previously too far away. As you walk from the statue of Eros in Picadilly towards Leichester Square, just after you've crossed the road (not while please), turn round and look up and you'll see the following statues - I really need very little excuse to show you them again.

At Paddington station on the way home, a lost bear and me.

2010 - Arty Stuff

It's been a good year for seeing bits and pieces of art now I look back on it. Much of it already appears on this blog. Only a few weeks ago there was the BP Portrait competition entrants on display in Aberdeen, then way back at beginning of my blogs here there was the curiously delightful 20:50 at the Saatchi Gallery in London (discovered completely by accident.). In sculpture there was the somewhat disappointing Ellesmere sculpture trail and of course our very own sculpture symposium, Big Art for Kirkcudbright. And much more.

Fellow blogger and up and coming photographer, Kim Ayres, had an exhibition at The Mill on the Fleet in  Gatehouse of Fleet in May which I only just managed to catch - I'll let you read about this at his own site here. There was a second exhibition on while I was there by archaeologist and artist Aaron Watson. I thought it was wonderful so here are some pictures I took while I was there.