Reflections and observations on life in general.

Apart but not isolated: walk, look, smell, listen…

I’m fortunate, living here, very close to the Forth estuary and no longer in the constraints of a flat (apartment), in that I can take my daily permitted local exercise* (see below) by foot or bike along a few hundred metres of lane to the river banks or a little further into dense and gently-managed woodland, each with their hidden wonders to discover.

One advantage of having been told to work at home, for which I’d already prepared, seeing the way things were going, is that I can do so to timings that suit my own energy and motivation levels better than the standard working day.  The work tasks I can do here are necessary but dull and repetetive admin, so it’s important to me to ensure I make best use of any good weather spells and the best daylight to take my permitted local exercise*.  If I could find a way of making a living that involved always working with this degree of flexibility, I would do so, anyway, while it lasts, I intend to enjoy it.  This is one way I’m approaching the enforced (and, I agree, for now, necessary) self-isolation that most people around the world are enduring right now.

Getting outside, even just into the small garden space I have (and very much appreciate), is important to me.  Taking walks within the constraints of, as far as possible, staying in my home zone is opening up opportunities for me to explore my local area in more depth and gradually find more hidden refuges for a restless mind to rest a while, stop, open out the senses and experience to see and hear beyond our busy and cluttered but self-centred human preoccupations.

I’ll share a few images and words from this, as time goes on.  For now, my work motivation is returning, so here are a few photos from the last few days.  Maybe some more and some sketches to follow.

* – permitted local exercise* … how easily have we fallen into accepting and, largely, complying with this immense constraint on our liberty?  While most agree that it is at present a necessary, provided temporary, measure to take, we must remain aware of and awake to the implications of this and the various forms of “emergency” legislation that have just been passed, with little real scrutiny.  If we want to return to a relatively free society as we get to grips with the COVID19 pandemic (and I am confident we will, despite the widespread incompetence and rampant dishonesty of governments), then we MUST keep questioning and challenging, responsibly, all of these constraints.  We have an opportunity to consider seriously the kind of society, institutions and “economy” (in its broadest sense) that we want to live in and participate in; a subject for a future article.  This extended “winter” is a time, as with the season itself, for new seeds to prepare for germination and when “spring” does return, those that grow leaves first tend to grow tallest.  To be continued.  

Wishing you well, wherever you are.

Stay well, prepare the seeds.

As if in the early days.

I’ve just read an article in the Independent about the continuing divide within the “United” Kingdom over the issue of the European Union:

I’ve refrained from writing about this topic so far, despite very strong feeling about it, in part because I have had my own priorities to focus upon and that has felt the more constructive and useful option. However, the issue of this, in my view, deeply mistaken and possibly disastrous decision to leave the EU is not going away, even if Coronavirus is giving our government some respite from Brexit scrutiny.

Here in Scotland in particular, this is an important matter that may well (and I hope does) galvanise more people to want to dissolve the chronically debilitating Union and have the confidence to make Scotland more psychologically as well as economically self-reliant, whatever our future relations with the rest of the British Isles nations and mainland Europe.

For most of us as individual citizens, though, it is too easy to become consumed from within by our feelings of impotent rage or despair at the venal stupidity of too many of those who stand for and whom we collectively (and unbelievably) vote into power. The way I’m trying to navigate these particular storms is, like a kayaker on a rough patch of water, to keep focused on what is within my own small radius of influence and control; that’s about one to two metres in a kayak! Here are a few points I try to keep in mind and follow:

  • Persevere,
  • improve your own bit of the world, even if it’s only by being polite and pleasant to people different to yourself ,
  • do not collaborate in spreading hatred and division, refrain from joining in the laughter and the “Likes” at the racist (etc) jokes that you may hear, or from reinforcing others’ narrow views and ignorance
  • maintain and build links at any level with our neighbours,
  • learn a European language and encourage your children to do so and to look outwards and upwards,
  • plant trees, literally and metaphorically, either way, accept you will never see what they grow into but you can be confident it will be something good,
  • question and look behind the facades of bullshit and lies peddled by most media and a majority of politicians,
  • vote wisely, for the best, not the loudest,
  • to quote/paraphrase Alasdair Gray: “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation
  • persevere.

It’s windy and showery today but I may take my kayak out to a sheltered bay for a gentle paddle around and short exploration, keeping it easy as it’s a solo trip.

Happy Sunday, whatever the weather.

skin-on-frame kayak

Waves and mist

8sep19 Shore rd & shore (1)

It was still and misty, this morning, muffled birdsong from small flocks of sparrows in the hedges and shrubs by the lane, a robin sitting on an electrical line, singing his territorial claims at a volume that seems impossible from so small a bird.  Further away, on the muddy banks of the Forth, waders and gulls were calling, songs in search of a singer.

8sep19 Shore rd & shore (5)

I took a slow stroll towards the estuary, noting the beginning of Autumn in the fields, harvested or nearly ready, great golden rolls of hay awaiting collection on spiked tractors, piles of the season’s manure ready for loading into muckspreaders and flinging over the fields, to give us all a pungent few days whenever the wind blows.  Abundant cobwebs on any suitable support, thousands of young spiders testing their engineering skills across any gaps they could find, their work now hanging with bright droplets of dew.  Quiet moments of contemplative beauty before turning home to breakfast, coffee and some slow Sunday tasks; cleaning, preparing some food, removing the dying bean plants and poles from the pots, oiling wooden kayak paddles, making a rescue towing line for planned sea trips.

8sep19 Shore rd & shore (10)

Yesterday, by contrast, was bright, warm, sunny; inviting outdoors.  The surf forecast was good, the first such opportunity I’ve had for exactly a year, and I was not disappointed.  Often, on these trips, I arrive buzzing with tense expectation but this time I felt relaxed, unconcerned if it turned out that the forecast was wrong, that the sea was flat calm, I was at ease with simply being on the beach, next to the sea, unhurried.

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As it turned out, the waves improved steadily, my lack of surfing in the last year had not had too much effect on my stamina – the canoeing and kayaking has helped, despite using different muscles.  After a slow start, I was catching good waves in the sets and staying balanced on glistening, flowing walls, my mind regaining some of those “thoughtless” moments of stillness amidst the flow of events.

7sep19 Belhaven Bay surf (3)

The beach, too, was showing signs of the change in seasons; lumps and bands of knotted seaweed, hundreds of “sea potato” skeletons (a kind of sand-dwelling sea urchin common in UK waters.), parts of crabs, seashells, occasional jellyfish, washed up on the shore for the curious to peer and poke at.

7sep19 Belhaven Bay surf (1)

Changes are in motion all around, some traumatic and dramatic, some gradual and mundane, some slow setting of seeds that will emerge in the Spring.  Only an attitude of acceptance and doing what is best now seems to run through it all, aiming for contentment with what is here right now  – not complacency nor inaction but acting within present conditions while looking ahead to anticipate what is needed next.  This is my aim with regard to the water activities, all work in progress to revive, update and build upon past qualifications and make more likely my ability to shift back into work that inspires me while enjoying the payback I get now, just getting out on the water.

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It’s like this, surfing in the mist, right now is good, I can only listen out and wait for whatever wave comes next.

Time to sleep now.  I wish you a good week ahead, happy even.


Food Future.

The UK Government has launched a public consultation on the future of our food and food production:  If you are interested in your food and are in the UK, I urge you to put in at least a comment, more voices are essential.

My initial contribution is here, below, followed by (not one but) three free recipes! 

As one who values the quality of the food we eat, the well-being of the animals whom we raise and consume and the long-term health of the environment of which we are all a part, I am deeply concerned about the future direction of our food production and import/export strategies.

I hear and see conflicting messages and strategies between areas such as economic activity, trade deals and food production that are at the least hampering and at worst actively preventing the changes to farming practices, food processing and trading, animal welfare and the related industries that we must make, starting this year, to achieve a genuinely sustainable way of living that promotes human and animal health and well-being.
Henry Dimbleby [the appointed lead for this consultation] rightly states:

“Intensive farming practises have caused serious damage to the environment and the food related disease is costing the NHS billions and drastically harming the lives of millions. Food security, too, is a growing concern: population growth, climate change, the global increase in meat eating are intensifying resource competition between nations”

but, even with so many influential people saying all the right words, we see examples of the likelihood of deeply unequal trade deals with (eg) the USA that will require us to accept and, through participation, support the very farming practices that are continuing to damage soil and organisms upon which we depend for healthy crops and continuted intensive crop and animal production to provide greater meat supplies; these [and other] actions contradict the fine words, however popular they may be among the many people who resist examining the consequences of their own actions. This is the route to disaster for us all.

Leaving the EU will open some opportunities for a few but, for the majority, I see no benefits and considerable harm arising from our weakened position in the world. Nevertheless, what this will demand is that we make real and immediate changes to domestic agricultural and fishing policies and practices in favour of both reducing harmful outputs (carbon emissions, chemical runoff and fossil energy consumption) and making more resilient domestic production networks.

It requires genuine, long-sighted political leadership of the kind not well-suited to our short-term democratic processes and certainly not in evidence of late. This may well require doing things that are unpopular – whether this means raising the cost of all forms of meat, standing our ground in trade negotiations in respect of food production methods and standards or working collaboratively with our neighbours in agreeing to restrict marine exploitation for the long-term benefit of that ecosystem, not the short-term benefit of a voting constituency. We may all have to share the load of supporting people through the transition from harmful to sustainable food production methods; we will all share in the future benefits.

Political courage and vision, both lacking at present, are urgently needed for this, based upon evidence and not nostalgia, tradition or ideas of cultural identity that are sustaining the unsustainable.

I look forward to seeing how this “debate” unfolds and contributing to it, as long as it becomes a genuine cause of action and not just another “consultation” that is ignored in favour of short-term expediency and dubious deals. It is time to walk the talk.

Thank you for reading this far, here are some recipes: bon appetit/eet smaakelijk!

Recipe 1: butternut squash and grilled red pepper soup

chop it all up small, grill strips of the pepper first then chop.
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded
1 onion, fried in the pan first
Olive or rapeseed or coconut oil
Ground black pepper to taste
Finely chopped ginger root
(Optional ground coriander seeds or ground cardamom seeds)

Chop it all up, fry onions then add all except the pepper, add enough water or veg stock to just float it all, boil then simmer for about 20min, blend until as smooth as you like, add chopped grilled pepper.
I like to stir in or garnish with coconut milk or yogurt.

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Recipe 2: Non-dairy Whack-a-mole!

Guacamole without dairy content: I substituted non-dairy soft cheese (from Sainsburys) for the usual cream, non-dairy yogurt or coconut milk would also do, plus mashed up avocado with lemon juice and pepper, a bit of sea salt too…
It was so nice that I forgot to take a photo, sorry, though it still looks like green mush so you can imagine it easily enough!

Recipe 3: Giant Puffball Fungus Feast

One of the advantages of cycling to work is that I can notice and stop to harvest some lovely wild food, yesterday I picked up one of these, about grapefruit sized, from the verge on a lane near home. It’s the first one I’ve ever found in perfect cooking condition.

This website gives good identification information and a recipe, which I used as below and per the attached photos.  [you’ll have to search on that site for Giant Puffball, they’d moved the page I originally linked to, it’s a good site]

I ate half last night and the rest is in the fridge…. I’ve got my eye on another one growing there…
A white wine would go well with it, in moderation of course, or Elderflower cordial. It has a delicate taste and a nice soft but not slimy texture when cooked that reminds me of a slightly firm Brie.

Washed, sliced, fried in olive & rapeseed oil, dipped in egg & seasoned (pepper, a bit of salt) flour, fried again, served with omelette &peppers, plus a blob of non-dairy (coconut-based) cream cheese, natural yogurt or a mild creamy cheese would do too. better with a simple salad or crisp stir fried greens, maybe stir-fried sunflower seeds with sea salt. Nothing too strongly flavoured or you’ll miss the point of the fungus. The egg and flour (or breadcrumbs) gives a nice crispy coating.

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The very hungry ATM

Yesterday a faulty atm ate my bank card, now cancelled and a new one ordered. The managing company staff on the emergency number were very helpful and also connected me direct to my bank to arrange a replacement.

Today I wrote a cheque for the first time in months and now have cash to do my monthly victualling.

It takes me back to when I didn’t have a cashpoint card at all and a hole in the wall was a thing to avoid. Mobile phones were only used on Star Trek and they never got distracted from a Klingon attack by a Twitchatbooksuptime notification text.

The coffee that was in my cup is diffusing into my brain, awakened by the magic beans. I feel ready now to trek to the aisles to hunt and gather, then exchange brightly decorated paper with the guardians at the checkout, bemusing them temporarily with the magical magnetic discount card.

Amongst all the sufferings in the world right now, I wish you peace and health and rest over the weekend.

Just one day?

It’s a bit late in the day, literally, I am referring to International Women’s Day, to post something on this subject but here’s my bit anyway.

I’ve been busy taking my car to a specialist garage on the edge of Glasgow and, while they were dealing with it (successfully I might add), I made use of the time to get some art materials and then visit Kelvinhall Art Gallery and Museum to see the exhibition of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci.  It’s a small exhibition but worth the visit, especially as it is easy to combine with time amongst other superb items: Dutch paintings from several Scottish collections, including beautifully precise paintings by one of the few Dutch women of that time, around the 18th Century, able to become professional artists; paintings by “The Glasgow Boys”; the Diplodocus skeleton from the Natural History Museum and more.

I went outside to eat a sandwich before taking the bus back to retrieve my car and sheltered from the drizzle behind an impressive statue of three figures; an aging man with instruments that I guess represented the scientific pursuits, a woman reading from a large book and in the centre, an imposing priest clad in heavy robes and his hand raised in a two-fingered gesture of blessing.

It was the woman’s figure that reminded me of International Women’s Day and got me thinking of how important it has been, and remains, for women/girls to have access to literacy and education to break out of the restrictions imposed by traditions and rigid views on people’s roles and abilities and, more subtly, men’s fear of losing power and privilege.

2019 kelvinhall lesende vrouw

I started to wonder why, when we have things like Black History Month, there is only one day set aside for remembering/celebrating/commemorating women.  One day….

Not enough time, considering …



Thank you for…

A post by PMu in Daily Doodle has reminded me of something important to remember, especially in these turbulent times of delusion, confusion, myopic avarice and collective stupidity, appreciating what I have rather than dwelling upon what I do not have:

I am grateful for many things:

  • a warm and safe place to sleep,
  • enough food,
  • the luxury of a shower and toilet and hot water,
  • a body that, despite its faults, allows me to explore mountains and sea, make things (including my comfortable bed!) and see/hear/feel well enough to make and appreciate art and the amazingness of the world,
  • knowing good people, educators, artists, musicians, scientists, volunteers, writers, military and ex-military, lamas and monks and dharma teachers, potters, carpenters and people without job descriptions who are and have been part of my life,
  • several friends in the forms of rabbits, cats, a magpie, a couple of horses and dogs,
  • having shared time and love with two amazing people over the years, most recently somebody who inspired me to learn Dutch and move to Scotland,
  • having done and planning to return to work that really inspires me and helps others,
  • the teachings of the Buddha,
  • living and working in Scotland, a nation with far more potential than many of its own inhabitants admit and than is allowed it by an increasingly remote government in London
  • both my parents (see past posts)
  • My sister and her family,
  • the National Health Service and the dedicated and overworked people who work within it despite continuing attempts to undermine and dismantle it,

Most of what I am grateful for, beyond the things necessary for basic needs, are not material things. They cannot be taxed, stolen, vandalised or, until I lose my memory and leave this life, lost.

It’s a day off, a Friday, it’s frosty and sunny and beautiful here, I’m going for a walk up a small hill before going to get some things I need in Glasgow.

If you’ve read this far,  may you continue to enjoy both the ephemeral and lasting things that you are grateful for.

Pass it on. 🙂

Cobwebs and clouds.

I’m enjoying coffee and cake after a short but quality walk up Ben Ledi, a mountain not far from Stirling. The new season of snow is becoming established on the mountains and making them shine against blue skies as I look out of the north-facing windows at the school where I work, stirring a feeling of confinement and determination to make changes that will allow me to return to spending more time outdoors.

I have been struggling to find focus and clarity in my mind to allow me to complete a painting I started nearly two months ago and to feel able to play, artistically.  The spiders of samsara have been busy spinning cobwebs of cluttered thoughts and feelings in my mind. Personal administration, preparing a training session series for some students starting their Duke of Edinburgh Award journey, making new contacts to explore future work options all demand time and mental energy.

Waves of desire for change, new meetings and companions, creativity, simpler living, stability and other things roll through my mind at various times during busy days and evenings preparing for the next day. Meditation helps stabilise and calm my mind for a while, enough to see that some of this activity is self-generated and that, on reexamination, I am willing to accept temporary turbulence if it is part of a course that I want to travel but what I needed today was to move my body through the landscape.


The simple act of driving away towards the mountains feels like a refreshing breeze, the beginning of the walk up a steep path, trodden to treacherous ice by many feet, cold fresh air making my nose tingle, legs pushing energetically upwards towards where rocks met clouds, blows the tangled woven webs aside like old grey threadbare curtains, revealing a simpler state of mind, clearer, more at ease.  Thoughts continue to arise but with a less persistent and “sticky” quality, the mind-spiders retreat into corners, leaving only fragile threads that are easier to examine and brush aside.

It has taken me a long time to find the realisation that I am happiest doing physical, practical and creative things, indoors and out, putting theory into practice, not exploring theory in an academic role nor being limited to organising and directing others to do the very things I want to be engaged in myself; I was never at ease driving a desk, nor, these days, a desktop. Perhaps one of the first times I encountered this clarity of view was during my Mountain Leader training, many years ago while struggling with the frustrations of my role as a junior Supply Officer in the Royal Navy, limited by my eyesight and maintaining a futile resentment at the administrative nature of my job. I sat on belay on a climbing crag in Glen Nevis, waiting for my partner to start climbing, when I noticed that I felt completely content in this situation and activity, it was exactly where I needed to be.  It was the glimpse of a clear mental sky that led me, a few years later, to work for the Outward Bound Trust and, thereafter for several years, in outdoor education.


Circumstances shifted and I explored alternative work that has taken me indoors and into a practical, technical support, role. Now, though, I am feeling again the longing to get out and share the experience with others.  My present role (mostly in a science lab) has come to feel like “just a job” and, while this is necessary and has enabled my move into Scotland, without that spark of inspiration that I feel with more creative and active work, it is not a satisfactory course to steer.  With the cobwebs blown aside, I can see this and the beginnings of paths that lead in the direction I want to go.


Sitting out of the wind on the summit, eating my lunch and watching the watchful ravens as they wait to see what food we might leave behind (it was busy up there), the clouds begin to break, revealing glimpses of the surrounding mountains, glens, forest and lochs. Strengthening sunlight illuminates strips of land, making undulating bright patches amid darker land forms in brown and grey.  Cloudscapes become landscape, layers of colours, rolling forms and bands of contrasting light and dark.  The view is complex and shifting, but it has a coherence unlike the earlier near-whiteout of my ascent here.  My mind state feels similar.  I descend the path, still early in the afternoon, wisely fitting crampons that allow me a safe and faster walk down, time to stop to chat with late ascenders.  I arrive at the car with daylight and time to spare, time to relax in Callander with that mug of good coffee and delicious cake.

The next day, I finished the painting, too.


Sunlight before dawn.

0450 – I have just woken up with a vivid feeling of immense warmth and light in my body and mind, most of all in my head and heart, the remembered faces of friends and family, and others, circling, all of us bathed in this feeling of warm light.

I’m sitting at a newly-made desk, rain falling outside in the dark early morning when I should really be sleeping, the experience from earlier still very faintly present, like the slow warmth of dull embers in last night’s fire.


It was a feeling of a warm spring day, a morning when you feel refreshed, relaxed, safe, healthy and able to sit or lie in the sunshine, no need to do or be anything else right now. I could describe it as a little like a solar system of people, some individual animals too. Some were very clear and close by, within embracing distance, others further out, so to speak. Some were present or past friends, some family, a few had been much closer for a while.

To say “faces” is incomplete, your images were clear but there was a feeling of your reality too. It felt a bit like a hug or sharing warmth and light, a metaphorical embrace that brings those sunlight-bathed feelings yet allows complete freedom to move, not constraining, not posessing.

This feeling lasted a few minutes, spurred me to sit up in bed and decide to get up and write this down; it felt important enough to share, however trivial it may seem to you as you read this.

If you’re reading this, you may well be one of those people whose presence appeared, vividly or not, in that brief early-waking experience. If you’ve read this far without dismissing this as trivial or inarticulate waffle, thank you. In any case, thank you.

My alarm is sounding, time to get up and do the necessary things today. I wish you some warmth, safety and sunshine, today, real or imagined.

False, and Real, Gold

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It’s the end of a busy week, less stressful than previous ones of late but wearisome with tasks I find uninspiring and the reality of working to live rather than living to work at present… a negative view I know but it’s what’s been arising of late, leading into more constructive rounds of reviewing my situation and aspirations.

Having a loose and non-functioning wisdom tooth removed probably didn’t help my energy levels either; the tooth now sits in a plastic tube, a sort of memento mori, a visible step in the eventual dissolution of my body, a useful “wake-up-now!” meditation.

Thus Friday evening is welcome, the weekend a time of recharging and opportunities to do some of the things I am really drawn to.  Last weekend it was a superb day on mountains I hadn’t previously climbed, some plein air sketching and painting too, achieving two objectives and enhanced by the company of a handsome Raven during my lunch, sitting on glittering crystalline snow.

I called by the railway station to collect my tickets, bought well in advance, for a Christmas visit to my sister, then into the nearby supermarket for a couple of things.

Music, loud and hammering in my weary brain, lots of people, slightly frantically searching, calling out, filling baskets, so much stuff, choices and more choices…. my mind felt numbed, I noticed I was wandering through the aisles, a feeling of nagging and unfulfillable un-satisfaction (not dissatisfaction)… I began to feel like a hungry ghost, mentally plucking goods from the shelves yet never losing the hunger.

Reaching the night air outside again felt surreal, a transition into a new phase of a dream.  Back to the car, home, through slow queues of traffic.  A welcome shower, food, recovery.

Now I feel simply tired, waiting for the washing to complete its spin cycle so I can hang it up to dry, a simple, useful, task that is surprisingly satisfying.

At the beginning of the week, I cycled to work on a bright, cold, crisp morning. The trees in Bannockburn heavy with bright autumnal leaves, beginning to fall around me.  I find these colours and the scent of the season  as rich and nourishing to my spirit as the best food and most subtle wine; that sweet beginning of decay and return to the soil, the hot colours in cold blue air and silvery frosts and mists.

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I’m reminded regularly by little things like these of a recurring question.. what is wealth, really?  What do I actually want to do with my energy and experience and time?  What is of enduring value to me?  What are the things I genuinely need and what am I holding onto through unhelpful attachment? How do I distinguish false Gold from real?

The rhythm of Pink Floyd’s song “Time” echoes in the back of my mind as I notice that the washing machine has stopped..

The washing’s done

The spin is over, 

Thought I’d something more to say… 

Goodnight, and I wish you a weekend rich in real Gold.