Monday, 30 November 2009

St. Andrew's Day

I've chosen to mark St. Andrew's Day with a poem by Scotland's Bard, Robert Burns. As a twist, though, I've not gone for one of the most obvious poems, but rather one which is critical of the main driver in the 1707 union with England - Money!

The Scots' plan for an overseas outpost and colony (the Darien Scheme) in the 1690s had gone disasterously wrong and forced the Parliament to seek political as well as monarchical union. Burns laments that gold had suceeded where steel hadn't.

Of course, whatever the whys and wherefores of the union in the 18th Century, as a 21st Century Scot, I am very much a Unionist. Regardless of its flaws, Scotland has been well served by it and has also served it well. The relationship between the constituent members of the
United Kingdom may change, but it would be sad to see it broken.

, here's the poem:

to A' Our Scottish Fame by Robert Burns

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory;
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
Sae famed in martial story!
Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
And Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England's province stands -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

What force or guile could not subdue
Thro' many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few,
For hireling traitor's wages
The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane,
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

, would or I had seen the day
That treason thus would sell us,
My old grey head had lien in clay
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration:
We're bought and sold for English gold
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!


P.S. It could be argued that the poem has added resonance in the light of the recent loans and other support the Scottish banks have received from HM Treasuary and the Bank of England!

Click here for more poetry posts.

50 not out

This is my 50th post to this blog. To mark the occasion, I'm going to do some analysis of my postings so far, with the intention of seeing how things change and develop over the course of each 50 posts.
Top tags:
  • Sport (9)
  • Blog (6)
  • Photos (6)
  • Remembrance (6)
  • 5 on the 5th (5)
  • Poetry (5)
Number of posts with comments: 26
Most number of comments for 1 post: 5

I've surprised myself at the relative balance between sport-related blogs and political topics. I'm also surprised at the number of posts about the process of blogging, but that perhaps betrays a certain introspection. I'm pleased to have introduced poetry to the blog, and also the Virtual Gallery. For further entries related to these, see the list of tags to the right, or use the search box.

For the next 50 posts, I anticipate a similar eclectic mix of topics. My recent excursions into poetry are set to continue on a weekly-ish basis. I've lined up my next guest blogger, to follow on from Stephen. Talking of Stephen, my monthly postings to his "5 on the 5th" will continue. I hope to add to the Virtual Gallery and widow's web series of posts. I'm also planning on sharing more of me through a "10 things about me" feature, just as soon as I can think of 10!

If you have any other suggestions for features and topics, please leave a comment below.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

the widow's web, part 2

This is the second in an occasional series in which I share some of the websites I've come across and liked. Some I'll visit often, others just now and again.

When putting together this recent post, I visited the website of the Rembrandthuis Museum. It transpires that the site has lots of interesting stuff on it - including a virtual tour, information on etching and, of course, lots of information on Rembrandt's life and work. Although everything you click seems to generate a pop-up window, it's a well constructed site and well worth a visit!

One site that I've been aware of for years but only recently started to use regularly is Digital Spy. It's great for entertainment stories in handy bite-sized chunks. The stories are often gleaned from the press, and should sometimes taken with a pinch of salt, but it's a fun source of celebrity gossip and reality TV news. It also caters for those with an interest in cult and American telly shows.

The final site is one I've not explored as much as I want to yet, but is the inspiration behind my other blog. Have a look at Authentic Happiness for more information on Positive Psychology.


Friday, 27 November 2009


A few days ago, I posted this entry about ways to become more positive. One of the techniques suggested was to record, on a daily basis, 3 positive things that had happened that day.

In the interests of scientific research, I have decided to start doing so, and have set up a side-blog for the purpose. I also hope to look at other techniques and blog about them either here or there, as the mood takes me!

You can follow my daily ups - no downs are allowed - at


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Virtual Gallery - Room 3

The third room in my online gallery features the work of an artist that I first came across around 5 years and 1 week ago, when I went to Amsterdam for my 30th birthday. At the time, his work was the subject of a retrospective at the Rembrandthuis museum.

His name is Erik Desmazieres and he creates large scale etchings. Some are figurative works, but many are warped town and cityscape's. Unfortunately the scale and detail of the prints is lost slightly, but I hope this gives you a flavour of his work. Below the pictures I've put links to webpages featuring a number of his works - as it happens, one of these is an old page and makes reference to the exhibition I saw 5 years ago!

From top to bottom, with apologies for missing accents:

L'Atelier de Rene Taze III (1981)
La Magasin de Robert Capia (2008)
Herengracht (2004)
La Librairie Paul Jammes (2000)
Galerie Vero-Dodat (1989)

You can see more of his work here and also here.


For previously featured artists, click here.

And Now for Something Completely Different...

After last week's poem - Warming Her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy - I've decided to go from the sublime to the ridiculous with a piece of nonsense verse by Edward Lear.

The Table and The Chair by Edward Lear

Said the Table to the Chair,
'You can hardly be aware,
'How I suffer from the heat,
'And from chilblains on my feet!
'If we took a little walk,
'We might have a little talk!
'Pray, let us take the air!'
Said the Table to the Chair.

Said the Chair to the Table,
'Now you know we are not able!
'How foolishly you talk,
'When you know we cannot walk!'
Said the Table with a sigh,
'It can do no harm to try,
'I've as many legs as you,
'Why can't we walk on two?'

So they both went slowly down,
And walked about the town
With a cheerful bumpy sound,
As they toddled round and round.
And everybody cried,
As they hastened to the side,
'See! the Table and the Chair
'Have come out to take the air!'

But in going down an alley,
To a castle in the valley,
They completely lost their way,
And wandered all the day.
Till, to see them safely back,
They paid a Ducky-Quack,
And a Beetle, and a Mouse,
Who took them to their house.

Then they whispered to each other,
'Oh delightful little brother!
'What a lovely walk we've taken,
'Let us dine on Beans and Bacon!'
So the Ducky and the leetle
Browny-Mousy and the Beetle
Dined and danced upon their heads
Till they toddled to their beds.


See more poetry related postings here.
Find more of Lear's nonsense works here.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Three Positive Things

It's been a little over a week since I last posted, for which my apologies.

Although I was supposed to be off last week, I ended up working the whole week, and particularly late on Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the week I was catching up on telly and relaxing when I could - including having a bit of a break from the internet!

On Tuesday, I was driving home listening to the wireless and I heard this edition of "All in the Mind". The programme was about optimism and, more aptly, pessimism and ways these can be used and combated.

One of the interviewees featured was a Doctor Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania. He had a number of interesting suggestions, including determining your key strengths and then working out ways to apply these to the tasks which you disliked least. Another was to get into the habit of writing down at the end of the day 3 things, however trivial, that had gone well that day. Studies have suggested that doing this can improve mood and productivity.

This website has a number of tools and links relating to Dr Seligman's ideas. I've not yet explored it fully, but am going to take some of the tests and see if I can become more positive.

For now, I'm going to try to think of three positive things each day. I'd have struggled to think of that many last Tuesday, but today I'm going to list the following:

  • I got today's key item of work completed, and approved.
  • I was able to relax a bit and have a bit of banter with my colleagues
  • My holiday requests were okayed by the boss


Sunday, 15 November 2009

Warming Her Pearls (Attempt 2)

Yesterday I published a post of a poem by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. As as I had began preparing it last week, however, it's been slotted into my blog around 2 or 3 entries further down, making it look like I hadn't posted anything new for a few days!

If you missed it, you can scroll down to find it or click here.


Monday, 9 November 2009

Remembrance Wordle

Here is a word cloud from of the 5 posts I've made on the subject of Remembrance:

Wordle: Remembrance

A better version of it can be seen here.


Sunday, 8 November 2009

Comeback Brits

Last weekend saw the first meeting of the Cycling World Cup series. Taking place in Manchester, this was a chance for the British team to establish a strong start to the series and to continue the success they have enjoyed over recent years.

It also saw the return of Sir Chris Hoy to international cycling competition after a lengthy lay off with a hip injury that saw him miss the World Championships earlier in the year and only returning at the British Championships in October.

So how did it go? Well, 11 Golds were won by Brits, with Hoy (riding for the Sky+ HD team) winning three of them. A superb achievement - here's hoping they can build on this in the next round in Melbourne in a couple of weeks. It should be noted that some of our riders have now qualified for the World Championships next year and will be concentrating on training instead.

Another Brit making a comeback this week was Andy Murray. After several weeks out of competition with a wrist injury, and having slipped down back down the rankings from 2nd to 4th, he was competing in the Valencia Open. He was top seed but how would he perform after so long out?

The answer: he won his 6th tour title of the year. Next stop: The Paris Masters ahead of a trip to the O2 at the end of November for the final tournament of the year - the ATP World Tour Finals - at which only the top 8 compete.

So, onwards and upwards for Hoy and Murray - both proving that they have the competitive edge to see them through set-backs and get back to winning ways.


P.S. Our Para-cycling team has also enjoyed a great deal of success this weekend, winning 14 medals (10 of them Gold) at the World Championships this weekend.

For more related entries, see here.

Warming Her Pearls

Recently I posted the poem "Dulce Et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, I've also previously mentioned Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, and linked to her Poem "Last Post" within this post.

I posted these in connection with the subject of Remembrance, but I want to explore my poetry horizons further. I'll hopefully be posting other poems as time goes by and I'm kicking off this occasional series with a narrative poem by Carol Ann Duffy.

Warming Her Pearls by Carol Ann Duffy

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
Bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
When I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
Round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,

Resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
Or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
Whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
Each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She's beautiful. I dream about her
In my attic bed; picture her dancing
With tall men. Puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
Beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot
Watch the soft blush seep through her skin
Like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
My red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
Her every movement in my head... Undressing,
Taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
For the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

She always does... And I lie here awake,
Knowing the pearls are cooling even now
In the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.


Remembrance Sunday

It's Remembrance Sunday today, and the annual ceremony of laying wreaths at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier has taken place in London.

I wanted to post this video of the 2-minute silence, puncutated by the chimes of Big Ben, followed by a rendition of The Last Post, but it's only available on the BBC website, so please follow the link.


Thursday, 5 November 2009

5 on the 5th - November

This is my latest entry to Stephen Chapman's "5 on the 5th".

This month the theme was colour, and I've chosen to photgraph things that are a particular for a reason - either through legislation, custom or for safety reasons.

I'm not sure about how things have worked out for this one but I can always fall back on the maxim that it's the taking part that counts. Due to phone/camera issues, I've had to use an older phone with a poorer camera.

From top to bottom:
  • Car Indicator
  • Safety Hammer (for smashing glass in an emergency)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • "Power On" light on Sky box

You can see previous entries here.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Carrying on this week's theme of remembrance, I thought I would post this poem by the Great War poet Wilfred Owen. Describing a gas attack in the trenches, it takes its title from lines in an Ode by the Roman writer, Horace. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: It is sweet and honourable to die for your country.

Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clunky helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime. -
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of spin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

This is a beautifully simple poem that, as with many pieces of poetry, benefits from repeated reading. It is also referenced in Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Last Post", which I've mentioned before on this blog and can be read here.


Monday, 2 November 2009

Lest We Forget

Today I, and my colleagues, each spent some time collecting money for the annual poppy appeal.

As ever it was a privilege to be collecting for the Royal British Legion, who support ex-servicemen and woman throughout the UK (although in Scotland, the poppy appeal is managed by the Earl Haig fund).

The poppy appeal is, however, about more than charity. Wearing a poppy is not just a badge of generosity but a statement. For some that statement is support for armed forces. For others it's about remembrance. For still other's it's about respect. For many, such as myself, it's a mixture of all the above.

While I may not be in favour of every war we, as a nation, fight, it is important to divorce opinion on the policy and those who made it from that of the people who carry it out. Our servicemen and women are charged with exercising their duties to the best of their abilities and risk life and limb in doing so. They deserve our support as they strive to do so.

Remembrance is about more than wreaths and monuments to the war dead, it is about examining and learning from our history. Remembrance is about sober reflection and contemplation of what we ask of others in the name of the state. Remembrance is about hope that we can prevent history from repeating itself.

Finally, the poppy symbolises respect - respect for those who have fought and died. Respect for those who have been injured in the line of duty. Respect for those who are prepared to risk all for the defense of this country. It also indicates a respect for the values of our society - an acknowledgement that we do have a common interest and shared beliefs.

I know there are those who do not wear a poppy. Many of these people take what they believe to be a principled stand, whether that be a general pacifism, an antipathy to particular wars or aspects of the armed forces or a feeling that the poppy collection, and remembrance services, glorify war.

They are though, I believe, fundamentally mistaken. We have to believe that the collective act of remembrance can affect our futures. Our history is what makes us, what we do with the knowledge and experiences we have had will determine the legacy we pass onto our children.


Read other posts on related subjects here.